BMW 3 Series vs 5 Series

The BMW 3 Series and 5 Series are the two best selling BMW cars in the US. Figures are extremely close, with the 5 Series occasionally outselling the 3 Series, but for the most part the cheaper 3 Series sells more. 

They’re both luxurious, 4-door family sedans from German automobile manufacturer BMW that can seat up to five passengers.

So what’s the difference between the BMW 3 and 5 series?

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.

Let’s take a more detailed look at the differences between the two BMW models.

BMW 3 Series vs 5 Series: Price

Just as you’d expect from the smaller BMW sedan, the 3 Series starts cheaper, costing $40,750 for the 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 $53,900 for the base model 530i. There are also all-wheel drive 5 series, with the xDrive 530i starting at $56,200. 

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.

Rear design of the newest generation 3 Series (left) and 5 Series (right)

BMW 3 Series vs 5 Series: 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. 

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.

BMW 3 Series vs BMW 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. 

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 Apple CarPlay™ compatibility as standard.

BMW 3 Series vs BMW 5 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.

BMW 3 Series vs BMW 5 Series: 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.

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.

BMW 3 Series vs BMW 5 Series: 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

3 Series 330i Sedan ($40,750)
5 Series 530i Sedan ($53,900)
Engine and Transmission
Engine
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
Horsepower
255 hp @ 5000 rpm
248 hp @ 5200 rpm
Torque
295 lb-ft @ 1550 rpm
258 lb-ft @ 1450 rpm
Transmission
8-Speed Automatic
8-Speed Automatic
Drivetrain
Rear-Wheel Drive
Rear-Wheel Drive
Steering
Steering Type
Rack-Pinion
Rack-Pinion
Turning Diameter
37.4 ft
39.5 ft
Wheels
Wheels Type
Aluminum Wheels
Aluminum Wheels
Front Wheel Size
18" x 7.5"
18" x 8"
Rear Wheel Size
18" x 7.5"
18" x 8"
Suspension
Front Suspension
Strut
Double Wishbone
Rear Suspension
Multi-Link
Multi-Link
Tires
Front Tire
P225/45HR18
P245/45HR18
Rear Tire
P225/45HR18
P245/45HR18
Fuel Economy
Combined
30 MPG
28 MPG
City
26 MPG
25 MPG
Highway
36 MPG
33 MPG
Emissions
CO2 Emissions @ 15K mi/year
5.8 Tons/yr
6.3 Tons/yr
Fuel Tank
Fuel Tank Capacity
15.6 gallons
18 gallons
Cruising Range City
405.6 miles
450 miles
Cruising Range Highway
561.6 miles
594 miles
Exterior Dimensions
Length
185.7 in
194.6 in
Height
56.8 in
58.2 in
Max Width
71.9 in
73.5 in
Front Width
62.3 in
63 in
Rear Width
62.9 in
63.9 in
Wheelbase
112.2 in
117.1 in
Interior Space
Seating Capacity
5 seater
5 seater
Front Seat Leg Room
42 in
41.4 in
Front Seat Headroom
38.7 in
38.8 in
Front Seat Shoulder Room
56 in
58.7 in
Rear Seat Leg Room
35.2 in
36.5 in
Rear Seat Headroom
37.6 in
37.5 in
Rear Seat Shoulder Room
54.6 in
55.9 in
Weight and Towing
Curb Weight
3,582 lbs
3,746 lbs
Cargo Space
Trunk Volume
17 ft³
18.7 ft³
Infotainment
HD Radio
Standard
Standard
Bluetooth Connection
Standard
Standard
Hard Disk Drive Media Storage
Optional
Standard
Premium Sound System
Optional
Optional
Satellite Radio
Optional
Optional
Smart Device Integration
Standard
Standard
WiFi Hotspot
Optional
Standard
Auxiliary Audio Input
Standard
Standard
Entertainment System
Not Available
Optional
MP3 Player
Standard
Standard
Interior Trim
Bucket Seats
Standard
Standard
Cloth Seats
Standard
Standard
Leather Seats
Standard
Standard
Leather Steering Wheel
Standard
Standard
Premium Synthetic Seats
Standard
Standard
Vinyl Seats
Standard
Standard
Woodgrain Interior Trim
Not Available
Not Available
Sun/Moonroof
Standard
Standard
Comfort
Head-Up Display
Optional
Optional
Navigation System
Standard
Standard
Steering Wheel Audio Controls
Standard
Standard
Power Liftgate
Not Available
Not Available
Power Mirror(s)
Standard
Standard
A/C
Standard
Standard
Adaptive Cruise Control
Optional
Optional
Automatic Parking
Optional
Optional
Climate Control
Standard
Standard
Cooled Front Seat(s)
Not Available
Optional
Cooled Rear Seat(s)
Not Available
Not Available
Cruise Control
Standard
Standard
Hands-Free Liftgate
Optional
Not Available
Heated Front Seat(s)
Optional
Optional
Heated Rear Seat(s)
Optional
Optional
Heated Steering Wheel
Optional
Optional
Keyless Entry
Standard
Standard
Multi-Zone A/C
Standard
Standard
Power Driver Seat
Standard
Standard
Power Passenger Seat
Standard
Standard
Remote Engine Start
Optional
Not Available
Remote Trunk Release
Optional
Not Available
Seat Memory
Standard
Standard
Universal Garage Door Opener
Standard
Standard
Seat-Massage
Not Available
Optional
Rear A/C
Standard
Not Available
Keyless Start
Standard
Standard
Navigation from Telematics
Not Available
Not Available
Telematics
Standard
Standard
Safety Features
Back-Up Camera
Standard
Standard
Cross-Traffic Alert
Not Available
Not Available
Rear Parking Aid
Optional
Standard
Blind Spot Monitor
Optional
Standard
Lane Departure Warning
Standard
Standard
Lane Keeping Assist
Optional
Optional
ABS
Standard
Standard
Night Vision
Not Available
Optional
Tire Pressure Monitor
Standard
Standard
Brake Assist
Standard
Standard
Stability Control
Standard
Standard
Traction Control
Standard
Standard
Airbags
Driver Air Bag
Standard
Standard
Front Head Air Bag
Standard
Standard
Front Side Air Bag
Standard
Standard
Knee Air Bag
Not Available
Not Available
Passenger Air Bag
Standard
Standard
Rear Head Air Bag
Standard
Standard
Rear Side Air Bag
Not Available
Not Available
Seatbelt Air Bag
Not Available
Not Available
Warranty Summary
Basic
4 Years / 50,000 Miles
4 Years / 50,000 Miles
Corrosion
12 Years / Unlimited Miles
12 Years / Unlimited Miles
Drivetrain
4 Years / 50,000 Miles
4 Years / 50,000 Miles
Maintenance
3 Years / 36,000 Miles
3 Years / 36,000 Miles
Roadside Assistance
4 Years / Unlimited Miles
4 Years / Unlimited Miles