BMW’s best-selling 3 Series has had its own way in the small executive sector since the 1980s. The class-leading premium model makes up one in four of all BMWs sold – but in a fast-moving class with younger rivals such as the Jaguar XE snapping at it heels, it can’t afford to be complacent.
Hence this recent mid-generation facelift, which incorporates models across the board – although we’re concentrating on the 320d M Sport saloon here.
Every revamp starts with the engine, and in this case that means boosted power and torque for the EfficientDynamics 2.0-litre turbodiesel, by 6bhp and 15lb ft respectively. Efficiency has also been improved, with CO2 emissions dropping to 111g/km and better economy of 67.3mpg.
Teamed with the slick-shifting eight-speed auto, it’s a surprisingly impressive performer, particularly when cooking at over 1500rpm. Refinement still needs work – the background diesel chatter is more pronounced than expected – but it’s no worse than that of the XE oil-burner.
Styling-wise, changes are limited to subtleties such as reworked front intakes and headlights – the latter are also available with LEDs – and new LED tail-lights.
Suspension on all models has been stiffened, and the M Sport’s is stiffer still, and 10mm lower, which feels bracingly firm in all settings when teamed with optional adaptive dampers and surprisingly noisy 19-inch alloys. The resulting ride is firm and body roll is well controlled. Want something a little more comfortable? SE spec is what you should be looking at.
We prefer the standard, more linear steering set-up to the variable Servotronic option, whose weighting seems to switch from too light to too heavy depending on wheel position. Meanwhile, the additional M Sport brakes could be more progressive. Perhaps these are both options too far; in all, the standard version of this model seems to have achieved a better balance.
From the driver’s seat, the already premium cabin has been further lifted with the addition of new gloss-black surfaces and chrome highlights. As ever, the iDrive system is a delight, and the only slight niggle is the wind noise from the door mirrors. Passenger and boot space are as good as ever.
Ultimately, the facelifted 3 Series M Sport successfully launches a fresh attack on its younger competitors without diluting an already-successful formula. But it needs to keep working hard, as its position as the small premium exec benchmark will become increasingly hard to retain.
BMW 320d M Sport saloon
On sale: Now
Engine: 4cyl, 1995cc, diesel
Power: 187bhp at 4000rpm
Torque: 295lb ft at 4000rpm
Gearbox: 8spd automatic
Top speed: 143mph
Economy: 67.3mpg (combined)
CO2/tax band: 111g/km, 20%Reuse content