LET ME CUT straight to the chase here: if I was in the market for a new BMW right now, this is the one I would buy - the 320d.
At $57,500 (but check with your dealer on drive-away pricing), it is sensibly priced for a premium Euro package; has four doors (sensible if you need to use the back seats); looks a gazillion times better than the 1 Series five-door (and is not nearly so squeezy); it steers like a BMW should, sticks to the tarmac like a mother-in-law to a plate of custard tarts and has a massive boot (also just like your mother-in-law).
And it has an absolute cracker of a diesel engine.
So, if this was an exercise in ticking boxes, there can’t be many more to tick at this point.
And if that is all you need to know about the 320d, stop reading now and save us both a lot of time and effort.
Ok then, let’s pick through it: where is it best and, more to the point, why should you have it on your list?
When launched in Australia in December last year, the 2009 3 Series arrived with a few subtle styling tweaks over the previous model, and all of them good.
The hockey-stick LED rear lights, in particular, are a vast improvement over the plain segmented ‘rose-petal’ style of the outgoing car. The new look to the rump is both more integrated and classier: the strong scalloped line to the boot strengthened by the stronger elongated tail-lights.
It also works better from the three-quarter view. It looks sharper and wider and carries a little more élan than the dumpier lines of the older model. Its footprint is actually wider: the rear track has been increased by up to 24mm, depending on model and tyre choice, while the front track gained 6mm.
Up front, the headlights and air-dam are slightly revised, with a deeper jowl giving a more purposeful tarmac-hugging look. There are also stronger bonnet creases and an evident power bulge to signal its on-road intent.
It is interesting that so few styling changes, and subtle ones at that, can so alter the personality of the car. The changes to the 2009 3 Series have given it a little more muscle than the outgoing model, and, with well-proportioned lines and on-road poise, looks the better for it.
That’s a purely subjective judgment of course, but while the Mercedes C-class knocked it off top-spot on the podium in Australia last year, the strong sales for the 3 Series here and world-wide would suggest that more than a few agree.
Let’s face it, no-one buys a Beemer to feel uglified. Purchasing decisions of this type are about feeling good.
And feeling like you’ve made it.
Slide in behind the wheel of the 2009 3 Series, and you can’t help but feel a little special. This is a car you most definitely want to drive past your neighbours, or six thousand of your closest friends. (“My God… is that yours???”) Yes, BMW has a better understanding than most of the aspirational classes.
So, on looks and style, all good.
Inside, the news is just as good. Lean in a moment: take in the sumptuous leather, the crisp lines to the dash and the beautifully trimmed doors – this is one seriously stylish and well-executed interior.
Where the 1 Series perhaps carries a few compromises in its trim and interior execution, no such shortcomings are evident in the 3 Series.
The strong lines and defined creases that dominate the exterior metal carry over to the interior. The instrument binnacle, with large clear dials – sharp and stylish looking – sits under a hooded recess, with a crisp ‘edge’ that carries from the doors and across the top of the dash.
Modern, yet tastefully restrained, you can’t imagine this interior will ever date. Of course, it will tire to the eyes one day (one of life’s little tragedies) and in a few years you’ll look at it and wonder what the fuss was about. But, right now, the interior of the 3 Series reeks of style and deftness of touch.
The centre of the bucket – for my shape - feels a little hollow; I would prefer more support directly under the bum. But it might be my bum and my shape at fault here.
No such complaints with the leather-bound, multi-function steering wheel nor the ‘feel’ it imparts of the road. It calls for a decisive hand – it’s not as ‘light’ as some and offers slight resistance away from the dead ahead (as though you are pushing against a detent) - but is brilliantly connected with what’s happening below.
Other nice touches include the under-dash ambient lighting and the door handles that light-up when the ‘unlock’ button is pressed. Skiers will also appreciate the ‘through-loading-system’ in the rear seats for carrying the obligatory skis.
A leather-bound gear knob along with mahogany dash fascia and centre console with iDrive controller, set off a very classy cabin.
For fit and finish, for its flawless leather and premium style, the interior of the 320d is very hard to fault.
Thanks to the accommodation it offers and the brilliant dynamics at the wheel, it is an effortless companion on a long drive.
Equipment and Features
It’s a thing with BMW that everyone knows: if you want your car kitted to the max, you’re gonna pay for it
The 320d, straight out of the packet, with nothing added but number plates and with you behind the wheel, is nicely configured.
Besides the expected features like cruise control, front and side airbags (front seat occupants), head airbags front and rear, seat-belt pre-tensioner, rear park distance control, rain sensor and automatic headlight control, it also comes with a premium six-speaker sound system, Dakota leather, woodgrain trim, USB audio interface, dual-zone climate control, on-board computer (with outside temperature display), Bluetooth compatibility, retractable front arm-rests and run-flat tyre indicator.
No problems with that list... but wait there’s more. Depending on the health of your wallet, you can add electric seats, navigation, Bi Xenon headlights, headlight washer system and a host of other features all the way up to the M-Sport package, which then starts relieving you of serious shekels.
And, in case you’re wondering, the new iDrive is a doddle to use even for a techno-dunce like me (believe me, you won’t have any trouble).
You get a lot of car packaged up behind that badge. The simple fact is that few drivers taking delivery of a new 3 Series will anguish over the standard kit.
If you’ve got a BMW in the garage and you don’t give it a bit of a boot every now and then, you’re missing the point. And you’ll have BMW chassis engineers weeping into their schnäpse if they hear about it.
You have to go all the way back to 1957 and the Isetta to find a BMW that is not a driver’s car. A BMW is to be driven; to be pointed at a mountain road and hustled enthusiastically through the curves. To drive it is to appreciate one of the finer road machines.
This is the 320d.
Forget any prejudices or pre-conceived notions you may have about diesel-engined cars, because, as we mentioned earlier, the diesel in this one is a cracker.
And while it makes the typical diesel clatter outside (“it sounds like a tractor”, a neighbour called out), from behind the wheel you can barely discern it.
Importantly, putting 130 kW @ 4000rpm and 350 Nm of torque @ 1750rpm under the toe, it pulls like a train.
That torque figure gives it, as BMW asserts, “the most torque of any four-cylinder 3 Series model, and second only to the twin-turbo petrol 335i model in the entire 3 Series family”.
It is also happy to rev, and, combined with the standard fit tip-tronic style six-speed automatic transmission (no steering wheel paddles though), can knock out surprisingly quick point-to-point times.
We didn’t put it under the stop watch, but BMW claims a 0-100kmh dash in 8.2 seconds. That would accord with our gut feel; the 320d is no slouch. More importantly, when on the move, it goes like a shower in that critical overtaking band from 80-140kmh.
Point it at a winding road, and you will have great fun exploring the performance of that willing diesel and the innate chassis balance below.
Few cars provide the balance, the accuracy at the wheel or the razor-edge turn-in of the sporting BMWs. The 320d is simply a thoroughly sorted drive with confidence-inspiring grip and predictability.
There is little that the road surface can throw up that can unsettle this chassis, even when extending things at the upper-end of the car’s performance.
Some perhaps will find things below too well-connected. You feel rougher secondary roads and bridge joins through the wheel and backside. But, don’t be deterred, it’s not harsh nor jarring, it’s just a price you pay for being in touch with the road and what’s happening at the wheels.
The rule here is this: don’t buy a sporting BMW if your preference leans to the isolated ‘magic carpet ride’ of a US-style limo.
The run-flat tyres have copped some criticism in the past, but those fitted to the 320d are simply transparent. Few would pick them, it’s as simple as that.
Lastly, being a diesel, BMW’s 320d returns a combined cycle fuel consumption figure of just 6.0 l/100km. Even when under the whip, fuel consumption barely varies, such are the characteristics and efficiencies of a modern diesel.
So that’s our take on things. There is little not to like about the 320d, especially for drivers who enjoy the experience at the wheel. If that’s you, put the 320d on your list.
Now we know there are some things about buying a BMW that will irritate. Your chances of getting the model you want straight off the showroom floor can be slim. You’ll more likely have a wait of a month or two, or more.
Caring for it correctly is not inexpensive, neither are parts. We’re talking a premium car here, and ownership comes at a premium.
But, at the risk of sounding a little wet, the 320d is simply a super car and a joy to drive. Importantly, thanks to that smooth free-revving diesel (never thought I’d say those words), it balances performance with frugality at the pump – something to please both the keen driver and the conscience.
Lastly, if you’re spending a lot of money on a car, it’s important it looks like you’re spending a lot of money. The 320d cuts the mustard here; it reeks of style both inside and out.
This Beemer has lost nothing for being a diesel. If anything, a brilliant car has been made the better for it.
- Smooth, torquey diesel engine
- Marvelous chassis and on-road balance
- Surprisingly swift (a joy to drive)
- Style and interior refinement
- Genuine good-value premium package
- Wood trim is ok, metal is better
- Diesel clatter from outside the car
- Would love a manual option
- Seat squab needs firmer padding (for my liking)