BMW 3 Series first drive review

The Australian ·

29 February 2012

With this 3 Series we're quietly witnessing the demise of a BMW signature: its naturally aspirated inline six-cylinder petrol engine.

TECHNOLOGY

It's been offered since 1977 but, hemmed in by emissions regulations, you cannot get one any more. The sole six-cylinder now is the turbocharged 3.0-litre unit in the 335i, which carries over from the previous model. 

It's the hero of the line-up and every bit as responsive and powerful as I remember. More economical now too, with BMW's excellent eight-speed transmission. The non-turbo sixes have been replaced by a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder in two levels of output.

The 320i arrives later but the 328i is here now and it was the car I was most eager to sample on the test drive in Victoria's Yarra Ranges this week. This 180kW unit will eventually become the mid-spec engine across all BMWs. So it shoulders quite a responsibility and the potential to disappoint. It doesn't.

DRIVE

With more accessible torque from low revs than the engines it replaces, and a punchy and responsive mid-range, it propels the 328i with conviction. Zero to 100km/h takes 6.1 seconds, quicker than its rivals from Mercedes or Audi and enough to deliver on BMW's promise of driving pleasure. Most of the time it even sounds pleasing, especially when asked to deliver.

Better than that, it feels like the sweet spot in the line-up. Dynamically it was the standout, lighter on its feet and better balanced than the heavier 335i. And while BMW makes good diesels, I'd pick the 328i ahead of the 320d every time.

Despite being bigger all round, the 3 is still a handling champion among mid-size sedans. There's impressive agility while the level of directness between steering or throttle inputs and how it behaves on the road inspires confidence.

But it would be folly to deny the differences. With electric steering instead of hydraulic, the wheel is more remote while the regular suspension seems softer than I remember, with scope for a bit more body roll and rebound over bumps. Perhaps this is to smooth out the ride. But I'd option-up to the sports or adaptive suspension.

On other counts, BMW has made sure there are more reasons to buy. Few will find the cabin too cramped now, and the interior finishes are more varied and interesting. The driving position, as you would expect, is excellent.

VERDICT

The new 3 Series loses a little but gains a lot, enough to move it into pole position in a segment it helped define.

BMW 3 SERIES

Price: from $56,400 (318d) to $91,900 (335i) plus on-road costs
Engines: 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel or petrol; 3.0-litre turbocharged petrol
Outputs: 105kW at 4000rpm and 320Nm at 1750rpm (318d); 135kW at 5000rpm and 270Nm at 1250rpm (320i); 135kW at 4000rpm and 380Nm at 1750rpm (320d); 180kW at 5000rpm and 350Nm at 1250rpm (328i); 225kW at 5800rpm and 400Nm at 1200rpm (335i)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive

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Written by

Philip King

Published 29 February 2012

Published In

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