BMW 3 SERIES REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Medium premium sedan
Price: 320i - $57,600 | 318d - $56,400
Fuel Economy 320i: (claimed) 6.0 l/100km | (vigorous test) 9.7 l/100km
Fuel Economy 318d: (claimed) 4.5 l/100km | (on test) 5.4 l/100km
It's all about the capability of the car.
That's the single, compelling, overarching thought that dominates a BMW launch.
In a kind of short-hand, it goes something like this: "These are the colours, they are very nice; this is the interior and the toys, they are very nice; and now let's talk about something interesting, let's talk about the engineering."
And that's why BMW builds such dynamic drivers' cars.
And that's why, when you get behind the wheel of a BMW, anything else you may have been driving suddenly feels damp and spiritless - and much less of a car.
We've just returned from the launch of two new engine variants for BMW's new 3 Series: the 318d 2.0 litre turbodiesel, and 320i 2.0 litre TwinPower turbo petrol.
At $56,400 and $57,600 respectively (inc. GST and LCT), these are the new entry level cars to the 3 Series range.
Entry level? You'd hardly know it. Each is beautifully finished, astonishingly frugal and simply superb at the wheel.
What is there to say? We've reviewed the new 3 Series before and nothing has changed with these two new models. The fit and finish to the interior is simply exquisite.
Both the 318d and 320i come in three presentations: Sport Line, Modern Line and Luxury Line.
We drove the Sport Line models only, with natty coral-red metal garnishes, high-gloss piano black, sports steering wheel, sports seats and a host of other variations on the same theme.
But whatever 'Line' you choose, the cut and quality of the trimming gives a distinct premium feel to the interior. Even the standard Sensatec artificial leather feels and looks superb.
And quality soft-touch surfaces abound. For style, the new 3 Series is perhaps a little busier than we're used to from BMW, but crikey, it's hard to fault it.
The features list of standard equipment is also pretty good, and, it seems, getting longer with successive models.
Standard is auto stop-start, brake energy regeneration, electronic diff-lock, keyless start, and EcoPro, Comfort and Sport mode drivetrain settings.
Each also comes with cruise control (with brake function), park-distance control (rearward only on the 318d), bi-xenon headlights, fog-lights, rain-sensing wipers and auto-headlights, electric seat adjustment on the 320i (manual for the 318d).
There is also a trip computer, aux-in connection, 6.5-inch colour screen display, i-Drive controller, CD drive (MP3 compatible) Bluetooth, six-speaker sound system, polished metal door-sill finishes, and 40:20:40 split-fold rear seat.
You could very happily live with that standard list. Naturally (it's a Beemer remember), there's also an options list that's longer than the Magna Carta and can really attack the pocket.
For safety, every model in the BMW range has electronic everything, both dynamic and passive. With ABS, stability control, dynamic braking lights, seat belt tensioning, each is 5-Star Euro NCAP and ANCAP.
The Drive: 318d
We started with the 318d. While its numbers are healthy enough - 105kW and 320Nm - our expectations about power and agility were not particularly high.
After all, the 3 Series has grown to become a reasonably large 'medium-segment' car.
But, as if to prove yet again that not all kiloWatts and Newton metres are created equal, the 318d has no trouble running with the hounds.
With an eight-speed automatic and an astonishing capacity for revs (for a diesel), there is a distinct sporting feel to its on-road performance.
It may be the least potent in the 3 Series range, and is not as elastic nor as eager as the 320d (which carries a $4500 premium), but is nonetheless a rapid point-to-point tourer.
Under the bonnet is the same engine found in the 320d, but in a lower state of tune.
Starting cold, there's a bit of diesel clatter - quite loud if you're sitting with the doors or windows open - but once on the road, you'd barely know there was a diesel up front.
It makes a nice muted growl at work, and a rounded 'hum' on the highway.
Each diesel variant lists the same astonishing 4.5 l/100km average fuel use, but the 320d will scoot to 100km/h in just 7.6 seconds compared to the 318d's 9.2 seconds.
All in the 3 Series range come standard with eight-speed automatic transmission, but the 318d misses out on shift-paddles on the steering wheel. (For each, a six-speed manual is a non-cost option.)
We gave the 318d a serious work-out (running with a 320i) on the winding mountain roads behind Marysville in Victoria, and up into the snow-line at Mt Donna Buang.
Up hill and down dale - in perfect testament to the engineering - we couldn't budge its fuel use from a recorded 5.4 l/100km. In normal driving, the claimed 4.5 l/100km looks absolutely achievable.
The Drive: 320i
We then drove the 320i. Of the two, this is our pick. Just slightly more expensive ($1200 more than the 318d), this is a really athletic car with a wonderful engine and simply superb balance.
This model will be the "volume driver" for the new 3 Series. In the previous model range, it accounted for 40 percent of sales.
BMW's N20 twin-scroll turbo petrol engine, with direct injection, a composite-aluminium block and off-set crank-shaft, is a delight.
With variable valve and camshaft-timing, it spins absolutely freely and throttle response is instantaneous.
Mated to the eight-speed automatic, and with paddle shifters to keep power 'in the meat' of the twin-scroll turbo-driven torque, it can really be hustled along.
It's not especially quick over the first 10m from standstill, but rolling acceleration - when pulling out of a corner or firing it up to overtake - is very swift.
With a 0-100km/h time of 7.6 seconds, it's brisk in any language.
But it's the 'connectedness' and communication with the road of both these cars that makes them so satisfying at the wheel. It's to do with a brilliant rigid chassis, with 50:50 fore/aft balance, the all-alloy strut front end, and five-link rear.
Click the 320i into 'Sport' and the steering, throttle response and shifts are sharpened. In this mode, you could splice a hair with the precision of the steering. Turn-in, and balance through the apex, even if washing off a lot of speed, is as sharp as you'll find.
There's an optional 'Sport+' mode that makes it sharper again and frees up the stability control thresholds. Although fitted to our test car, on a slippery mountain road (with snow on the verges) we used this setting sparingly.
First Drive Verdict
Ditto with the 318d. It doesn't have the power of the 320d, but has nearly all of its engagement at the wheel and, on road, of the overwhelming sense of a very fine machine.
It's what BMW is all about. It's that "engineering" thing of building cars that are first and foremost simply great cars to drive.
Yep. We'd recommend a look. At around $56k and $58k respectively, you get a lot of BMW for your money with the 318d and 320i.
- BMW 318d - $56,400
- BMW 320i - $57,600
- BMW 320d - $60,900
- BMW 328i - $64,600
- BMW 335i - $91,900
Note: Manufacturer’s Recommended List Price is shown and includes GST and Luxury Car Tax (LCT) but excludes dealer charges, stamp duty, statutory charges and on-road charges.
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