AutosBMW 3 series (2012-2019): Balancing advanced tech and repair costs

BMW 3 series (2012-2019): Balancing advanced tech and repair costs

BMW 340i Gran Turismo
BMW 340i Gran Turismo
Images source: © Press materials | Tom Kirkpatrick
Marcin Łobodziński

30 June 2024 18:49

The sixth generation of the BMW 3 Series, identified by the F30 code, keeps brand enthusiasts with more modest budgets awake at night. They wish to purchase something newer but are apprehensive about advanced technology and high repair costs. The car indeed looks excellent, but caution is necessary when buying.

The car was unveiled in 2011 and introduced to the market in 2012, even as the previous E90 generation was still on sale. Initially, the sedan was showcased, followed by the estate, which surprisingly enjoyed significant interest for this type of body style. The Gran Turismo version, with a wheelbase extended by 10 centimetres, was introduced in 2013.

In 2015, the BMW 3 Series underwent a facelift, altering the front and rear, mainly the lights and bumpers. However, the most significant change was the new range of engines, especially the petrol ones, with the most interesting being the three-cylinder 1.5-litre engine. The Euro 6 emission standard drove these changes.

BMW 3 Series (F30) after faceliftBMW 3 Series (F30) after facelift
BMW 3 Series (F30) before faceliftBMW 3 Series (F30) before facelift;
Images source: © Press materials

BMW 3 Series (2012-2019) - what kind of car is it?

The F30's noticeably larger cabin space distinguishes it from the preceding E generation, although it still doesn't match the roominess of the Passat, Mondeo, or French competitors. Apart from the increased rear space, the sedan's boot capacity grew from 425 to 480 litres, and the estate's boot capacity grew from 453 to 496 litres. The estate retained the classic opening rear window in the tailgate. The Gran Turismo model is the most spacious and has the largest boot, at 510 litres.

BMW 3 Series (F30)
BMW 3 Series (F30)© Press materials

The traditional rear-wheel-drive BMW spirit has been maintained. Sporting spirit and excellent driveability are never in short supply, although the BMW 3 can be more comfortable or sportier depending on the specifications and equipment.

It remains a beautifully crafted, comfortable car for daily use and long journeys. It is quiet and has outstanding high-speed driving characteristics. The differences in the interior compared to the previous generation are surprisingly minimal, with some elements being the same. Transitioning from the E90 to the F30 is not a drastic change.

BMW 3 Series GT bootBMW 3 Series GT boot
Boot of the BMW 3 Series GTBoot of the BMW 3 Series GT;
Images source: © Press materials

BMW 3 Series (2012-2019) - technology

Compared to its predecessor, the F30 received an entirely new platform and all turbocharged engines. The chassis is of the multi-link type, and many cars feature adaptive dampers. The steering system is electrically assisted, and well-known driver assistance systems are regularly featured in the car.

The xDrive system provides outstanding driving characteristics.
The xDrive system provides outstanding driving characteristics.© Press materials

The xDrive all-wheel drive is a familiar system with an electronically controlled clutch engaging the front axle. In practice, it operates the same in every BMW model. The 3 Series is sportily tuned with a rear-wheel bias, providing near-perfect traction on snow or in the rain.

BMW 3 Series (2012-2019) - engines

The BMW F30 exclusively received turbocharged direct fuel injection petrol engines. Before the facelift, the N series of engines were used; after the facelift, the B series was used for petrol and diesel engines.

The four-cylinder petrol engines have capacities of either 1.6 or 2.0 litres and outputs ranging from 136 to 252 HP. There was only one six-cylinder engine, with a capacity of 3 litres and 306 HP (N55), and after the facelift, 326 HP (B58). This does not count the sporty M3 version, which should be considered a separate model. The smallest 1.5-litre unit has three cylinders and debuted in 2015, replacing the 1.6 motor.

2-litre petrol engine of the 328i model
2-litre petrol engine of the 328i model© Press materials

The diesel range was similar. Initially, the N family had 2.0- or 3.0-litre units and power outputs ranging from 116 to 313 HP, then the B family. However, the N57 engine in two power variants didn't find a successor and was consistently offered until the 2018 model year.

There were also hybrid variants of the BMW 3 Series. Two options were offered. First, the BMW Active Hybrid 3, with a six-cylinder petrol engine, was a traditional hybrid with 340 HP. In 2016, a plug-in hybrid appeared with a 2-litre engine. The model name changed to 330e iPerformance, with a system power of 252 HP. Both hybrids feature rear-wheel drive only.

The hybrid after the facelift can be charged from a socket.
The hybrid after the facelift can be charged from a socket.© Press materials

Understanding the model naming and linking it with the engine is no longer as simple as assuming a '2' in the middle means 2 litres and a '3' means 3 litres. BMW typically used smaller units than in previous generations. Therefore, it's helpful to use the following list.

Petrol engines:

  • 316i – 1.6 litres, 136 HP (pre-facelift)
  • 320i EfficientDynamics - 1.6 litres, 170 HP (pre-facelift – sedan only)
  • 318i - 1.5 litres, 136 HP (post-facelift)
  • 320i - 2.0 litres, 184 HP (pre- and post-facelift)
  • 328i - 2.0 litres, 245 HP (pre-facelift)
  • 330i - 2.0 litres, 252 HP (post-facelift)
  • 335i - 3.0 litres, 306 HP (pre-facelift)
  • 340i - 3.0 litres, 326 HP (post-facelift)

Diesel engines:

  • 316d - 2.0 litres, 116 HP (pre- and post-facelift)
  • 318d - 2.0 litres, 143 HP (pre-facelift)
  • 318d - 2.0 litres, 150 HP (post-facelift)
  • 320d EfficientDynamics - 2.0 litres, 163 HP (pre- and post-facelift)
  • 320d - 2.0 litres, 184 HP (pre-facelift)
  • 320d - 2.0 litres, 190 HP (post-facelift)
  • 325d - 2.0 litres, 218 HP (pre-facelift)
  • 325d - 2.0 litres, 224 HP (post-facelift)
  • 330d - 3.0 litres, 258 HP (pre- and post-facelift)
  • 335d - 3.0 litres, 313 HP (pre- and post-facelift)

Hybrids:

  • Active Hybrid 3 - 3.0 litres, system power 340 HP (pre-facelift)
  • 330e iPerformance - 2.0 litres, system power 252 HP (post-facelift)
3-litre petrol engine B58
3-litre petrol engine B58© Press materials

Except for hybrids, in all petrol variants and 2-litre diesels, the customer could choose between a manual transmission and an 8-speed ZF automatic. Additionally, the petrol cars had two variants of the automatic - standard and sport. In 3-litre diesel, such a choice was not offered; the customer received an automatic as standard.

xDrive was standard only with the most powerful 335d diesel but optional in all 2-litre petrol versions (except the 320i pre-facelift estate). It was not available only in diesel with the 316d and 320d EfficientDynamics variants.

BMW 3 Series (2012-2019) - which engine to choose

The choice of engine, considering only performance, in the BMW 3 Series is straightforward. If performance is not a priority, opt for a model with a "1" in the middle of the name. If you seek a balance between performance and fuel economy, then a "2" in the name is suitable. For those aiming for good dynamics, models with a "3" are best. This advice holds if you're not considering maintenance costs.

BMW 3 Series Touring
BMW 3 Series Touring© Licensor | ALBERTO MARTINEZ

Unfortunately, the choice is not that simple. It's worth noting that the 316i petrol engine is the N13B16, also known as EP6 or Prince - a Franco-German creation best known as the 1.6 THP. A marvel of technical defects, the engine, when well maintained, can surprise with good dynamics and decent fuel consumption. However, it is not an engine for everyone. More about this engine can be read in the following text.

Its successor, the 1.5-litre B38B15, performs much better. Although opinions are mixed, it is a successful, durable, and reliable unit that requires proper maintenance.

In 2.0-litre engines from the N family (pre-facelift), special attention should be paid to the timing chain, which has a durability of about 100,000 kilometres. Even if it seems in good condition, it's worth replacing at that mileage. The kit to replace three chains, gears, guides, etc., costs about £295 to £500, depending on the parts supplier. Additionally, the oil pumps had reliability issues, so it is best to replace them during every overhaul.

BMW 3 Series (F30)
BMW Series 3 (F30)
BMW 3 Series (F30)

The larger six-cylinder N55 engine is slightly less reliable than the four-cylinder, with timing chain drive problems and issues in the Valvetronic system. Here, repair costs can double or triple.

Therefore, the best choice in a pre-facelift car is a 2.0-litre engine. Neither the 1.6 nor the 3.0 engines are recommended, although each has advantages only with thorough servicing.

Newer petrol engines from the B family are much better refined, although the placement of the timing chain on the flywheel side generates higher replacement costs. It's better to buy a car with such an engine, even if it costs a bit more, to save on potential repairs. Here, it doesn't matter much whether you choose a 1.5 or 3.0 engine, although the larger the engine, the higher the repair and servicing costs.

3-litre diesel N57
3-litre diesel N57© Press materials

The same principle applies to diesel: 2-litre units for the economical and 3-litre for those who enjoy fast driving. The 325d variant seems optimal, offering a good compromise between the costs of a smaller engine and the dynamics close to a larger one.

Particular care should be taken with the timing chain in N47 diesel, whereas it's less problematic in the N57. However, each fault related to the number of cylinders will cost more. Although the N57 is considered excellent and durable, initial sporadic cases of crankshaft-bearing seizure appeared more frequently.

BMW 3 Series (F30)
BMW 3 Series (F30)© Press materials

The modernised N47 received the designation B47. Initially, it had issues with the turbocharger and cooling system, which were usually resolved under warranty.

In conclusion, any diesel can be recommended. Nevertheless, it's important to know the higher potential repair costs than petrol units. I think the best versions of the BMW 3 Series F30 are the 2-litre petrol engines, preferably post-facelift.

BMW 3 Series Touring
BMW 3 Series Touring© Press materials

BMW 3 Series (2012-2019) - what breaks?

One of the more serious faults in this car is the wear of the bearings and teeth breaking in the rear differential. BMW did not ensure proper lubrication here, so ensuring the oil is fresh is crucial. It's advisable to change it every 2-3 engine oil changes. Leaks must be checked. Additionally, vibrations during acceleration or throttle release while driving can result from worn couplings connecting the shaft to the rear differential.

Understandable concerns exist about the durability of the xDrive system, which in older BMW models wore out relatively early. The situation is similar in the F30 series. Problems typically emerge between 150,000 and 200,000 kilometres. The front shaft can wear out (a more durable replacement can be purchased), or the drive distribution mechanism can wear out via a chain and clutch.

BMW Series 3
BMW Series 3© Press materials

The fault can be identified by warning lights, jolts during acceleration, wheel locking while manoeuvring in a car park, and noticeable chattering. Depending on the extent, transfer case repairs can range from £395 to over £800.

Cracking headlight housings, failing rear lamp mounts, degrading front windscreen seals, faulty mirror folding mechanisms, not very durable door seals, squeaky rear door seals, or the steering wheel making noises while turning are minor but irritating issues that shouldn't affect even a 10-year-old premium-class car.

BMW 3 Series GT
BMW 3 Series GT© Press materials

In case of any electrical issues, it's worth checking the power cable that carries current from the boot to the bonnet. The battery is located in the boot, and the positive wire connects with another under the bonnet via a special connector that tends to rust. Inspecting the wire where it exits the boot space under the car is also wise.

On the bright side, the suspension, braking, and steering systems are durable, and the car resists corrosion. However, drivetrain components—from the engine to differentials—will have high repair costs. Only the gearboxes are exceptionally durable, but changing the oil regularly is important. Unfortunately, operational and repair costs can be considered high as only expensive components usually fail.

BMW 3 Series (2012-2019) - how much can you buy one for?

The BMW 3 Series is one of the most popular cars and has been at the top of the used car import rankings for years. In terms of market availability, the F30 generation is second after the E90. Therefore, there is no shortage of offers, and the price range is extensive.

Prices start below £5,200, and facelifted cars cost from around £7,000 and upwards. The most expensive cars are priced between £22,800 and £24,300.

Diesel dominates the market (65 percent), and five-door body styles (estate and Gran Turismo) account for about 67 percent of offers. Almost 72 percent of cars are fitted with automatic transmissions, but only 35 percent have all-wheel drive.

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