With 12 million sales around the world since its introduction in 1975, the BMW 3 Series is the Bavarian marque’s best selling car. It has recently been launched in its sixth generation and looks set to continue its popularity, especially with its generous suite of standard features.
As well as a standard features list that’s longer than many times in the past, BMW also offers a range of trim and equipment options – Sport Line, Modern Line, Luxury Line, for example – to add more class to the car, while the M is on the list for the serious driver. These option packages combine the variety of accessories and extras the company had previously found to have the most boxes ticked when buyers made their individual choices. Thus making choices less complex than in the past.
A full colour monitor that’s integrated into the top of the dashboard for all iDrive operations has information, entertainment, communication and navigation functions on offer. Below, on the centre stack are buttons for the dual zone climate control with the iDrive controls at hand on the centre console. Bluetooth is standard and the BMW Professional six-speaker and this audio unit also incorporates an MP3 compatible CD drive.
The new BMW 3 Series comes with a choice of three petrol (two fours and a six-cylinder) and two four-cylinder diesel engines ranging in capacity from 1.8 to 3.0 litres.
Despite its excellent fuel efficiency, the BMW 320i we tested has plenty of performance. Its 2.0-litre four-cylinder TwinPower Turbo engine pumps out 135 kW of power and 270 Nm of torque, 20 kW and 70 Nm more than the motor it replaces. At the same time it clips 2.2 seconds off the sprint time to 100 kilometres per hour - covering it in an almost sporting 7.6 seconds.
BMW has long been one of the leaders in minimising carbon dioxide output from its cars. All models in the new 3 Series have a start/stop function that automatically cuts the engine at traffic lights or in stationary traffic. BMW says this is a first for the class.
Further fuel saving measures include brake energy regeneration that ensures power for the vehicle electrical system is generated predominantly during braking and overrun. Electrically assisted power steering that calls on power only when needed in cornering also helps reduce fuel usage.
An Eco Pro mode that alters throttle response and transmission shift points can be dialled up by a driver really keen on cutting their impact on the environment. As well as keeping the draw by heating and air-conditioning to a minimum it also controls the use of the (optional) heated seats and the door mirrors working at optimum levels. BMW has measured a cutting of fuel consumption by as much as 20 per cent when Eco Pro is used.
Axle weight distribution is the optimum 50:50, giving the 320i the balance and handling ability to give the owner a high-level driving experience. Talking of driving experience, the new 320i features BMW’s own Driving Experience Control which, via a switch on the centre console, can shift between four driving modes – Comfort, Sport, Sport+, which pretty much are self explanatory, and Eco Pro as just described.
An Adaptive M Suspension, available as an option, lowers the car by 10mm and brings in electronically controlled damping that adjusts for road surfaces and driving conditions. In a first for the segment, an eight-speed automatic transmission incorporating Sports Automatic function with steering wheel-mounted paddles, is standard. The close cog ratios mean that in fully auto mode it’s almost as if the car has a constantly variable transmission.
If it’s playtime the driver seeks, use of the shift paddles go some way to upping the driving input but the tranny gives the impression it is still in control.
Safety is never far from BMW’s mind and a new Active Protection package is fitted as standard across the 3 Series. The system is automatically activated above18 km/h when it gently tensions the driver and front passenger seatbelts. If a crash is likely the seatbelts are further tightened and windows and sunroof (where fitted) are automatically closed. In the event of a crash the system will also automatically brake the car beyond the initial impact for 1.5 seconds to reduce the likelihood of a second collision.
BMW ConnectedDrive also offers optional technology to help drivers and avoid any potential collisions. This includes a full-colour head-up display in which key driving information is projected onto the windscreen in the driver’s field of vision. Further safety options include a Lane Change Warning System and Lane Departure Warning System, including Collision Warning that warns the driver of a possible collision during a lane change manoeuvre or if the car strays out of its lane.
The all-new BMW 3 Series is slightly larger than before. Greater cabin dimensions particularly favour rear passengers where extra space has resulted in 15 mm more leg room and 8 mm more headroom and larger door openings for easier entry and exit. We tried the seat for size and while it’s certainly better than before this is still not exactly a spacious car for five adults. Three kids and two grown ups works nicely.
The driver is made to feel very much in control of any BMW model, with the cockpit layout being angled towards them to ensure controls are ergonomically positioned and fuel gauge, speedometer, rev counter and oil temperature gauge are easily visible. The choice of standard upholstery is between beige and black Sensatec man-made leather trim. Dakota hides are an option.
An excellent prestige car at a modest price for its class, the BMW 320i provides a lot of driving pleasure, yet achieves this with a minimum of damage to the air we all breathe.
Price: from $57,600 (not including government or dealer delivery charges)
Safety rating: n/a
Engine: 2-litre 4-cyl turbo-petrol 135kW/270Nm
Transmission: 8-spd auto, RWD
Body: 4.6m (L); 1.8m (w); 1.4m (h)
Thirst: 6.0 L/100km; 95RON; 141g/km Co2