2012 BMW 3 SERIES REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Medium family sedan
Price: $56,400 (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy claimed: 4.5l/100km | tested: 5.4l/100km
Traditionally, base-model cars from the European luxury marques have been a little ‘light-on’ for features.
At best you’d get basic trim, the smallest ‘wheel package’, and an equipment list that would look more at home in a taxi. The only way out was to begin ticking options boxes from lists as long as the Nullarbor.
But BMW’s new entry-level diesel 3 Series turns that on its head.
Admittedly, you miss out on some big-ticket items but the 318d feels like a premium car, with up-market style and trim, beautiful attention to detail and a well-stocked inventory of features and equipment.
And beneath the skin there’s a thoroughly well-developed drivetrain and BMW’s legendary handling.
Quality: The attention to detail at work in the 3 Series interior is impressive, right down to little details like the grain matching between the plastics and broad-grain leather portions of the steering wheel.
The matte-silver trim highlights aren’t quite as convincing, looking a little unfinished.
There’s no arguing with the quality of the build though. Interior components feel solid and precise, and wear-prone areas - like the bottoms of the door trims - showed good scuff-resistance.
We did have one faint rattle in the base of the passenger’s B-pillar over the country road portion of our testing, but, this aside, the BMW interior feels well built.
Comfort: Without any wing-backed sports buckets to spoil things, the seats in the 318d provide a comfy environment.
There’s enough shape to the manually-adjusted front seats for long-range travel without numbing, although the ‘long-of-leg’ might find the seat base a little short.
In the rear there’s also surprisingly good legroom, and no swooping roofline to eat into head clearance. The centre seat might be best kept for occasional use though; it’s compromised by a high and wide transmission tunnel.
Equipment: Standard fare includes auto-dimming interior mirror, auto-on lights and wipers, leather-wrapped steering wheel including audio and cruise control buttons, Sensatec man-made leather, Bluetooth phone connectivity, reverse-park sensors, dual-zone climate control, 16-inch alloy wheels and BMW Professional audio with a 6.5 inch colour monitor, six-speaker sound and CD, MP3 and aux-in playback.
Bundled equipment upgrades are also available with BMW’s Sport, Modern and Luxury lines.
Storage: Rear cargo space measures a healthy 480 litres and can be expanded via the 40:20:40 folding rear seat.
Around the cabin there’s plenty of places for nick-nacks with lidded console storage, a big glovebox, generous door pockets and a comparatively snug centre console.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Don’t believe everything you read: the boot-lid may say ‘three-one-eight’ but there’s a 2.0 litre engine beating away under the bonnet.
The architecture is the same as that fitted to the 320d but differences in engine tuning mean lower maximum outputs of 105kW and 320Nm.
Viewed on paper those figures don’t look blistering, but thanks to peak torque available from 1750 to 2500rpm the 318d feels fairly brisk.
With a diesel engine that is surprisingly happy to rev, and an eight-speed automatic transmission that never puts a foot wrong, the 318d turns out to be quite an eager performer.
Admittedly, if you’re seeking lusty performance, a 320d or one of the petrol range might be more your cup of tea. But whether launching from traffic lights or swift overtaking on undulating roads, the 318d never leaves you feeling short-changed.
Without giving a thought to fuel consumption, we returned 5.4 l/100km; not quite BMW’s claimed 4.5l/100km, but impressive nonetheless for a car of its size and heft.
That fuel figure is specially impressive considering how frequently we ‘opened the taps’ while under test.
Refinement: Inside the cabin the 318d is smooth and calm, with little vibration to upset the ambience. At idle, and under partial load, the engine sounds a little less refined than we expected with a present - but not intrusive - diesel ‘rattle’.
Beyond that, at higher speeds there was little to annoy at all. Vibrations are minimal, the engine hushed and the excellent eight-speed auto moving from seamless part-throttle shifts to brisk kick-downs on the fly without sending a quake through the cabin.
Suspension: The 3 Series range employs a MacPherson strut front end and five-link independent rear axle. In the past, the range has been celebrated for its agility, and this model is no different - few cars can tackle a corner as ably as a BMW.
The biggest change to other variants we’ve driven is the 318d’s 16-inch wheels and 225/55 R16 rubber, giving more sidewall and thus more compliance.
Soggy handling then? No chance; there’s a slightly less hard-edged feel, particularly compared to cars equipped with the 18-inch rims, but the 318d has all the razor precision at the wheel of its athletic bigger brothers.
In the 318d, it comes with an additional dose of long-range comfort.
Braking: Without the initial grabbiness that characterises some Euro sedans, the 318d can be stopped smoothly and cleanly. A few repeated run-downs from 100km/h to standstill left us in no doubt of the impressive braking performance.
ANCAP rating: 5 Stars
Safety features: Safety equipment includes six airbags, stability and traction control, ABS brakes with emergency brake assist and cornering brake control. Headrests and three point seatbelts feature in all positions.
BMW also provides its Active Protection System which closes the sunroof (where fitted) and all windows, as well as tensioning the front seatbelts should it detect an emergency stop at speeds above 18km/h.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years, unlimited kilometres.
Service costs: BMW does not set servicing intervals for the 3 Series; servicing costs vary according to vehicle usage.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Audi A4 2.0TDI ($57,900) - Audi is ready to tackle the 318d, revisions to the A4 range earlier this year saw specifications and equipment adjusted to create serious competition for BMW.
In its armoury is a more powerful diesel A4 2.0TDI that performs like a 320d but is priced closer to the 318d makes. Interior fittings are excellent, but front-wheel-drive dynamics pose no threat to the 3 Series. (see A4 reviews)
Volvo S60 D3 ($55,490) - On price and performance, Volvo’s V60 is pretty squarely lined up against the 318d. Power and torque are up on the BMW, and handling is good but not at the elite level of the BMW.
A flatter rear floor means accommodation is better with three across the rear, but legroom isn’t as generous. An impressive safety suite is the S60’s real drawcard. (see S60 reviews)
Mercedes-Benz C 200 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY ($60,900) - 3 Series versus C-Class; its about as traditional as rivalries get. In this particular fight BMW brings the bigger dog.
While not as fast, frugal or cheap as the 318d, the C 200 CDI does pack a few extra pieces of equipment. There’s ride comfort in spades as well, but a touch less engine refinement. (see C-Class reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Between a chassis that has been engineered to enjoy, an engine that rewards despite its thrift and seat space and ride-comfort that provide genuine usability, the 318d ticks plenty of boxes.
For those who need added pace there’s the more costly 320d, but, cover the badge, and in most on-road situations you’d struggle to pick them apart.
While you can play with the options list, we find little missing from the 318d’s spec sheet. At a mid-fifties price point, the 318d offers stirling value for a premium-sector car.
If in the market for a compact executive saloon, we’d strongly recommend putting BMW’s enticing 318d on the shopping list.
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- 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.