First Drive BMW 320d

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

An excellent kind of predictability

BMW 320d Sport
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel
Transmission: six-speed manual
Power: 184 PS
Torque: 380 Nm
Fuel consumption (combined cycle): 61.4 mpg
CO2 emissions: 120 g/km
Top speed: 146 mph
Acceleration (0-62 mph): 7.5 seconds
Price: £29,080

The new BMW 3-Series represents a predictable development of its predecessor. Every aspect of the car's performance has been edged forward a bit and there are few surprises. But the low-key, gradual approach was the right one. It is difficult to think of any area in which the previous model, first introduced in 2005, felt dated or needed to fear comparisons with its rivals, a remarkable achievement given the rapid pace of improvement in today's motor industry.

BMW is in this fortunate position because the 2005 car made such a radical break with previous 3s. The company's then chief designer, Chris Bangle, was pushing through a radical update to the BMW look, and the deep sculpted curves and creases he introduced, often described as 'flame surfacing' didn't go down too well with some buyers to start off with. The fuss later died down and the 2005 3-Series sold very well, so the 2012 car's design represents for the most part a gentle evolution of that of its predecessor, at least from the A-pillar back. It's the frontal section that gets the biggest changes, with the bonnet getting a visual stretch as well as new, friendly-looking headlamps with unusual 'tear duct' extensions linking them directly to the traditional BMW kidney-shaped grille.

The new 3's interior will also be pretty familiar to anyone who spent any time in the old model – or in any other recent BMW for that matter. The emphasis is on understated efficiency, leavened in the case of my test car by flashes of red trim associated with the Sport package. The most important and welcome change is that the cabin feels just a bit roomier than before. This is partly the result of a two-inch stretch in the wheelbase, and, subjectively at least, I thought this 3-Series was the first one not to feel slightly pinched for space in comparison with its biggest rival, the Mercedes C-Class.

Most new 3s will have four-cylinder engines rather than the straight-sixes that used to be considered the mark of a 'proper' BMW. That means the modern cars have a bit less character, but nobody who buys one is going to complain about their outright performance. During the last model cycle, BMW devoted most of its attention to its diesel engines, which were developed under the company's EfficientDynamics programme to achieve outstanding CO2 and fuel consumption figures. This time the effort has mainly been on the petrol side, with the 328i getting a two-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine which replaces the 3.0-litre six fitted to the last-generation model that carried the same badge. Performance, fuel economy and emissions are all improved.

I drove the 320d, likely to be one of the most popular choices in the new range, especially for company car users. The two-litre diesel now produces over 180 horsepower, which provides very strong real-world performance indeed. Mid-range acceleration, helped by 320Nm of torque, is especially impressive, and once you get the 320d moving along at a decent speed you rarely need to shift out of the long, relaxed sixth gear. Over the course of almost 2,000 miles, according to the 320d's on-board computer, I achieved an outstanding 57 MPG; I drove normally for about two-thirds of that distance, while for the remaining third I drove gently, following the fuel-saving advice of the car's systems. One slightly surprise; on start-up and under hard acceleration, the 320d can feel and sound a lot more raucous than some cheaper diesels, although at all other times, noise levels and vibration are extremely well suppressed. In dynamic terms, the new 3 is superb, with smooth, fluent, sharp steering and very high levels of grip and body control.

So that's the new BMW 3-Series. Predictable, perhaps, but predictably excellent, too.

Suggested Topics
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Cover Supervisor

    £75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

    Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

    Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

    SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

    £1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam