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
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss