BMW 3 Series 320i 2012 review
With 12 million sales around the world since its introduction in 1975, the BMW 3 Series is the...
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The A4 range is Audi’s bread and butter, making for around 20 per cent of the brand’s sales here. But with stronger competition in the market from a new BMW 3-Series and revised Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the A4 has also been given a mid-life makeover – spreading a bit more honey on that white sliced staple.
The range has been updated from end to end with cosmetic changes to body and trim, upgraded tech, and engine revisions for more power and torque with better fuel economy.
The model that benefits most under the bonnet is the entry level tested here, which also gets more equipment but keeps the price in check at just a few hundred higher than the previous model.
Changes are subtle, with redesigned grille, intakes, bumpers and light clusters the main exterior clues. The cabin – which was already great – gets some ergonomic tweaks, restyled steering wheel, smattering more metal accent and some extra choices in the colour and trim catalogue.
It’s Audi quality all the way, with a perfect balance between statement and restraint and nary a garish or sour note. The front seats get plenty of room, but the rear is snug – uncomfortably so if front passengers are leggy – and better suited to two than three sets of shoulders.
Centre console nooks and door bins offer good gadget habitats, and the boot space is much larger than it first looks, holding 480 litres and growing to 962 with the rear seat folded.
Improved fuel injection has given the 1.8-litre TFSi four-cylinder a claimed 18 per cent improvement in economy, with the official fuel figure posted as 5.8L/100km. The little engine also gets a boost in power and muscle, with the latter tipping in early and staying long across the rev range. Coupled with the frugal thirst, it’s a lot of what you want from a diesel – but in a petrol engine.
A continuously-variable transmission handles the job of getting the engine outputs to the front wheels – there’s also a manual version with even slightly better fuel economy, but the auto will be the bigger seller here.
The economy improvements across the range have been helped by a new electromechanical steering system, and an ‘eco’ setting among the switchable drive modes alters the accelerator, transmission, steering and airconditioning responses to focus on frugality.
Road manners are honed with retuned rear suspension and shock absorbers, while the electronic stability control is set up to hold back on front-braking interference for better cornering.
And if you start to nod off, a system of sensors that monitor steering and other inputs for signs of tiredness will nag you to take a break.
It gets a five-star rating, and you’d expect no less – eight airbags and an arsenal of braking, active and passive safety technology see to that.
The price on the auto is $55,500 (manual is $52,700), which is just $600 above the outgoing version. It’s well kitted and fitted, with decent finishes and enough features to make venturing beyond entry level largely unnecessary -- were it not for the lack of a satnav and perhaps a rearview camera. Add a hefty $3450 and $1650 respectively if you want those.
Arch enemies are the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, with each facing off with a rear-wheel drive four-cylinder. The Beemer is a grand over the Audi and the Merc another on top of that, and arguably both have their merits. BMW’s 3 claims the driving dynamics crown, while the C-Class has more of a luxury feel. But when it comes to style, it’s the Audi hands down.
However there’s another to consider from Sweden, with the front-wheel drive Volvo S60 T4 offering a great engine and drive – and leaving about $6500 in your pocket.
The engine revisions have given the 1.8-litre new life. It’s got more beef at take-off and slower speeds, stays keen through the mid-range and has a little more on tap for highway overtaking – with smooth performance all the way.
Steering is a little livelier, response is sharp enough and it does pretty much what it’s told. Road manners are refined, with the firm suspension showing confident handling through corners and surefooted composure over most surfaces – although you’ll definitely know about bumpy patches.
It doesn’t aim to be a balls-out sport rocket, but there’s always enough there for normal driving -- except in the efficiency mode, which hoses the enthusiasm down considerably.
The only real downside is the CVT transmission, which doesn’t clock onto the job early enough at the start, and in full auto setting is teeth-grindingly relaxed. That’s fine in CBD traffic, but for anything else you’ll want to use the ‘manumatic’ mode to shift gears, or at least flick it into Sport mode to snap it into a little more action.
The CVT and firm suspension may be the only drawbacks for some people, but they’re small niggles when weighed up against the rest of a stylish premium package with an excellent engine.
Audi A4 1.8 TFSI
Price: from $55,500
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Service interval: 12 months/15,000km
Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cyl turbo, 125kW/320Nm
Transmission: continuously-variable, FWD
Thirst: 5.8L/100km, 134g/km CO2
Spare: Space saver
Dimensions: 4.70m (L), 1.82m (W), 1.42m (H)
|1.8 Tfsi||1.8L, PULP, CVT AUTO||$10,600 – 15,510||2012 Audi A4 2012 1.8 Tfsi Pricing and Specs|
|2.0 TDI||2.0L, Diesel, CVT AUTO||$10,600 – 15,620||2012 Audi A4 2012 2.0 TDI Pricing and Specs|
|2.0 TDI E||2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP MAN||$10,900 – 15,950||2012 Audi A4 2012 2.0 TDI E Pricing and Specs|
|2.0 Tfsi||2.0L, PULP, CVT AUTO||$11,400 – 16,720||2012 Audi A4 2012 2.0 Tfsi Pricing and Specs|