BMW 3 Series vs 5 Series

Two legendary sedans, but which one should you choose?

BMW 3 Series vs 5 Series

The Lowdown

The BMW 3 series is a compact size family sedan, whereas the BMW 5 series is a midsize family sedan. That means the 5 Series has more interior space and cargo room, as well as bigger engine options. It also has a higher price tag, though more luxurious features come as standard – like leather seats.

2021 BMW 3 Series Sedan 330i Sedan

MSRP
$41,250
Body Type
Sedan
Horsepower
255
Weight
3,582 lbs
Seating
5
MPG (City/Hwy)
26 / 36

2021 BMW 5 Series Sedan 530i Sedan

MSRP
$54,200
Body Type
Sedan
Horsepower
248
Weight
3,765 lbs
Seating
5
MPG (City/Hwy)
25 / 33

Note: Images shown may not represent trims

The BMW 3 Series and 5 Series are the two best selling BMW cars in the US. Sales figures are extremely close, with the 5 Series occasionally outselling the 3 Series, but for the most part the cheaper 3 Series is the more popular sedan.

They’re both luxurious, 4-door family sedans from German automobile manufacturer BMW that can seat up to five passengers. Let’s take a more detailed look at the differences between the two BMW models.

Price

Just as you’d expect from the smaller BMW sedan, the 3 Series starts cheaper, costing $41,250 for the 2021 330i base model. For another $2000 you can get the xDrive 330i which features BMW’s patented all-wheel drive technology.

The larger BMW 5 Series starts at $54,200 for the 2021 base model 530i. There are also all-wheel drive 5 series, with the xDrive 530i starting at $56,500.

Both cars have a generous list of standard features including active cruise control, satellite navigation and Bluetooth. However, the optional extras are relatively more expensive on the 5 Series which can further widen the price gap between the two models.

BMW 3 series rear view
3 Series
Photo: BMW
BMW 5 series rear view
5 Series
Photo: BMW

Design

Both cars are distinctly BMW, with trademark dual kidney front grilles and two tailpipes at the back. BMW recently updated both models, with the 3 Series entering its seventh generation (G20) in 2018 and the 5 Series entering its seventh generation (G30) a year earlier in 2017. In 2021, the 5 series gets a light facelift which gives it a sharper look.

The smaller 3 Series looks relatively nimble and sporty, whereas the 5 Series has a slightly smarter, high-class appearance. The most noticeable difference is perhaps the taillight design, where the 3 Series goes with a slimmer, more squared off look compared to the more classic BMW taillight design seen in the 5 Series.

Interior

Since both cars were recently refreshed, the interiors are modern and uncluttered, with exquisite detailing and high-quality materials that you’d expect from a luxury car.

BMW 3 series interior
3 Series
Photo: BMW
BMW 5 series interior
5 Series
Photo: BMW

The additional leather and bigger panelling inside the cabin of the 5 Series gives it a slightly classier feel, but the difference in overall quality isn’t big.

However, the technology on the 5 Series is more impressive, featuring the likes of a bigger 10.25-inch central display (vs the 8.8-inch display of the 3 Series), 2 additional speakers, and Android Auto compatibility (which you don’t find on the 3 series).

Passenger and Cargo Space

Although both sedans can seat 5 passengers, those in the back of the 5 Series will appreciate the extra 1.3 inches of legroom.

Shoulder room is also significantly more generous in the 5 Series, with the driver and front row passenger getting an extra 2.7 inches while rear row passengers get an extra 1.3 inches.

Both cars have a 40/20/40 configuration rear row, but the 5 Series really shines when carrying 5 passengers thanks to its wider middle seat.

As for cargo, the 5 Series has one of the largest trunks in its class, measuring 18.7 cubic feet. However, the latest 3 Series has increased its trunk size by almost 4 cubic feet, going from 13 cubic feet to 16.9 cubic feet. That makes its trunk much bigger than comparable compact sedans like the Audi A4, and much more akin to a midsize sedan.

Both the 3 Series and 5 Series feature split-folding seats which gives you further space and flexibility for hauling larger objects.

Under The Hood

Engine options for the BMW 3 Series is limited to a 2.0-liter Turbocharged inline 4-cylinder engine that delivers 255 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. That is unless you go with the ‘M Performance’ version of the 3 Series, the M340i, which houses a 3.0-liter turbo inline 6-cylinder engine.

By contrast, the 5 Series has a much wider range of engine options. The 530i features the same B48B20 engine found in the 330i, but the 530e hybrid pairs this engine with an electric motor and the 540i offers a 3.0-liter turbo I-6. The M Performance version of the 5 Series, the M550i, houses a beastly 4.4-liter V-8.

For 2021, BMW have also added a 48v hybrid system to the 540i which provides a small boost to its performance.

Top speed and acceleration depend on the engine, but given the same engine (as is the case with the 330i and 530i) the lighter 330i is slightly faster, going from 0-60mph in 5.6 seconds, 0.3 seconds quicker than the 530i.

Both vehicles pair their engines with a 8-speed Automatic transmission with automatic Sport and Manual shift modes.

Drive Experience

BMW has built their reputation of their excellent driving dynamics, and it is difficult to think of any sedan that is more fun to drive than either of these BMWs. Transmission feels very responsive, suspension is comfortable (and sufficiently stiff when thrown into sport mode) while the turning radius is nice and tight.

Thanks to its smaller body, the 3 Series is slightly more agile and better at handling corners, but the 5 Series also delivers a thrilling experience on the road.

Verdict

Both the BMW 3 Series and 5 Series are excellent sedans in their own right.

The 3 Series is more affordable, and its smaller chassis makes it more agile and convenient to drive on narrow city streets.

On the other hand, paying more for the 5 Series gives you extra room inside and more presence on the road. It also has more luxuries as standard which is another point to factor into your purchase decision.

We highly recommend visiting your BMW dealership and booking a test drive. Seeing and driving these cars in person can really help you make a decision if you are still on the fence.

Full Comparison Table

2021 BMW 3 Series Sedan 330i Sedan2021 BMW 5 Series Sedan 530i Sedan
Performance
Engine2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
Horsepower255 hp @ 5000 rpm248 hp @ 5200 rpm
Torque295 lb-ft @ 1550 rpm258 lb-ft @ 1450 rpm
Transmission8-Speed Automatic8-Speed Automatic
DrivetrainRear-Wheel DriveRear-Wheel Drive
Handling
Steering TypeRack-PinionRack-Pinion
Turning Diameter (ft.)37.439.4
Front SuspensionStrutDouble Wishbone
Rear SuspensionMulti-LinkMulti-Link
Front Wheel Size18" x 7.5"18" x 8"
Rear Wheel Size18" x 7.5"18" x 8"
Front TireP225/45HR18P245/45HR18
Rear TireP225/45HR18P245/45HR18
Fuel Economy
MPG - Combined3028
MPG - City2625
MPG - Hwy3633
Gas Tank Size (gallons)15.618
Cruising Range - City (miles)405.6450
Cruising Range - Hwy (miles)561.6594
CO2 Emissions, 15K mi/year (tons)5.96.4
Exterior Dimensions
Length (in.)185.7195.8
Height (in.)56.858.2
Max Width (in.)71.973.5
Front Width (in.)62.363.2
Rear Width (in.)62.964.2
Wheelbase (in.)112.2117.1
Weight (lbs.)35823765
Interior Dimensions
Passenger Capacity55
Cargo Volume1714
Legroom - front (in.)4241.4
Headroom - front (in.)38.738.8
Shoulder Room - front (in.)5658.7
Legroom - rear (in.)35.236.5
Headroom - rear (in.)37.637.5
Shoulder Room - rear (in.)54.655.9
Infotainment
BluetoothStandardStandard
Hard Disk DriveOptionalStandard
HD RadioStandardStandard
Satellite RadioStandardStandard
MP 3 PlayerStandardStandard
Premium Sound SystemOptionalOptional
Wifi HotspotOptionalStandard
Aux Audio InStandardStandard
Entertainment SystemNot AvailableNot Available
Comfort
Head Up DisplayOptionalOptional
Navigation SystemStandardStandard
Steering Wheel Audio ControlsStandardStandard
Power LiftgateNot AvailableNot Available
Power Mirror SStandardStandard
A CStandardStandard
Adaptive Cruise ControlOptionalOptional
Automatic ParkingOptionalOptional
Climate ControlStandardStandard
Cooled Front Seat SNot AvailableOptional
Cooled Rear Seat SNot AvailableNot Available
Cruise ControlStandardStandard
Hands Free LiftgateOptionalNot Available
Heated Front Seat SOptionalOptional
Heated Rear Seat SOptionalOptional
Heated Steering WheelOptionalOptional
Keyless EntryStandardStandard
Multi Zone A CStandardStandard
Power Driver SeatStandardStandard
Power Passenger SeatStandardStandard
Remote Engine StartOptionalOptional
Remote Trunk ReleaseOptionalNot Available
Seat MemoryStandardStandard
Universal Garage Door OpenerStandardStandard
Seat MassageNot AvailableOptional
Rear A CStandardNot Available
Keyless StartStandardStandard
Navigation From TelematicsNot AvailableNot Available
TelematicsStandardStandard
Interior Trim
Bucket SeatsStandardStandard
Cloth SeatsStandardStandard
Leather SeatsStandardStandard
Leather Steering WheelStandardStandard
Premium Synthetic SeatsStandardStandard
Vinyl SeatsStandardStandard
Woodgrain Interior TrimNot AvailableNot Available
Sun MoonroofStandardStandard
Safety
Back Up CameraStandardStandard
Cross Traffic AlertNot AvailableNot Available
Rear Parking AidOptionalStandard
Blind Spot MonitorOptionalStandard
Lane Departure WarningStandardStandard
Lane Keeping AssistOptionalStandard
ABSStandardStandard
Night VisionNot AvailableNot Available
Tire Pressure MonitorStandardStandard
Brake AssistStandardStandard
Stability ControlStandardStandard
Traction ControlStandardStandard
Airbags
Driver Air BagStandardStandard
Front Head Air BagStandardStandard
Front Side Air BagStandardStandard
Knee Air BagNot AvailableNot Available
Passenger Air BagStandardStandard
Rear Head Air BagStandardStandard
Rear Side Air BagNot AvailableNot Available
Seatbelt Air BagNot AvailableNot Available
Warranty
Basic4 Years / 50,000 Miles4 Years / 50,000 Miles
Corrosion12 Years / Unlimited Miles12 Years / Unlimited Miles
Drivetrain4 Years / 50,000 Miles4 Years / 50,000 Miles
Maintenance3 Years / 36,000 Miles3 Years / 36,000 Miles
Roadside Assistance4 Years / Unlimited Miles4 Years / Unlimited Miles