Steve Sutcliffe
15 November 2011

What is it?

What’s most encouraging of all about this new, sixth-generation BMW 3-series is that, despite its very obvious eco credentials and its numerous technical innovations – which range from a dizzying new eight-speed, paddle-shift gearbox to an intriguing new ‘Eco Pro’ driver control system – it’s still just a good-looking saloon that drives rather beautifully at heart.To the naked eye the new saloon may seem like business as usual, featuring a slick and elegant new style that looks both familiar yet more thrusting, all at the same, but beneath its new suit the F30 3-series is dazzlingly different from and, says BMW, infinitely superior to the car it replaces in every single area you can imagine. It’s more comfortable and more capable dynamically than before; better at pretty much everything it does, in other words.In its entirety, the new range will span from the entry-level 316d at £24,880 to the 335i Luxury at £37,025. Later next year will come an even more of-the-moment Hybrid Active 3 model touting 335bhp/46mpg, and beyond that will follow a four wheel-drive model plus the usual estate, convertible and various M versions.

What is it like?

I drove both the 320d and 328i at the launch, both of which were only available in Sport trim with the new paddle-shift gearbox and top-spec chassis and steering systems fitted (optional adaptive dampers and sport specification servotronic steering, in other words, all of which combined with the gearbox would add just under £6k to the price).The first thing you become aware of when driving either car is that there’s an incredible lack of inertia when on the move. The new 3-series feels quite amazingly light on its feet, the 328i especially, and to begin with this can make it seem ever so slightly insubstantial as a result.The steering of the 328i is so light and fingertip easy, the accelerator so delicate underfoot, the gearbox so smooth in its machinations, you almost feel like a passenger in the car as it wafts gracefully from one destination to the next. The four cylinder engine purrs gently in its low to mid ranges, providing more thrust that you thought possible from such a small petrol engine when installed in a car as big, relatively speaking, as this.Select Sport and it instantly feels even more alive, not just beneath your backside and feet but at the tips of your fingers as well. And if you’re feeling truly in the mood there’s a Sport+ setting available in this model as well, which brings yet crisper responses from the steering, gearbox and throttle, and turns the traction control to a fruitier setting for good measure.It sounds an awful lot more complex and, no doubt, rather less intuitive than might be deemed desirable in a car that was once praised for its purity of purpose – but in practice it’s nothing of the sort. After half an hour, most drivers will be well used to what does what; and after half a day they’ll be amazed by the ability to fine tune the car into whatever mood, or whatever road, they mind find themselves on.The next day I drove the pick-of-the-range 320d and found it to be more of the same but better than the 328i, if anything, where it counts. It’ll also be BMW’s better-selling model, especially in the UK.It may not be as fast on paper – with a 0-62mph time of 7.6sec versus 5.9sec – but unless you’re really going for it in the 328i, the 320d feels the brawnier of the two on the road.It has even more low to mid-range punch, emits a similarly unentertaining noise and to all other intents and purposes feels like the same car. Same fantastic range of chassis set-ups, same light but lovely steering, same superb optional eight-speed gearbox; same ability to switch from smooth motorway cruiser to crisp B-road bruiser, and pretty much anything in between, all at the flick of a button. Oh yes, except the 320d will do 64mpg on the combined cycle and has a range of over 800 miles.

Should I buy one?

If Superman drove a car, in fact, he’d probably drive a new BMW 320d. And the rest of us would be more than happy with any other member of the range. Because be in no doubt, a new world leader has arrived – and it may take a while for the others to catch up.

BMW 320d Sport

Price
 £29,080; 0-62mph
 7.6sec; Top speed 143mph; Economy 64.2mpg (combined); CO2 119g/km; Kerb weight 1495kg; Engine layout 4 cyls in line, 1995cc, turbodiesel; Installation front, longitudinal, RWD; Power 181bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 280lb ft at 1750-2750rpm; Power to weight 121bhp per tonne; Gearbox 6-spd manual (eight-speed auto on test car)

Join the debate

Comments
48

Re: BMW 3 Series 320d

2 years 41 weeks ago

Can Someone confirm for me - is this car all new or is it just a facelift? I can see the changes front and rear, but the side profile looks virtually identical. Was this carried over, or have they just made it look the same?

Re: BMW 3 Series 320d

2 years 41 weeks ago

Its all new, they've just made it look the same. According to Steve Sutcliffe its an "absolute belter" in the looks department, which are quite strong words for something that looks so familiar, so maybe its more impressive in the metal.

Re: BMW 3 Series 320d

2 years 41 weeks ago

Pleased to know that the new 3-Series is an "absolute belter". This begs the question as to why BMW couldn't have done a whole lot better with its new 1-Series - which is a very ugly and cramped car. E

Re: BMW 3 Series 320d

2 years 41 weeks ago

I know they will be ten-a-penny on the roads in a couple of years' time but you can't believe how much I would like to own one of these. When stuck in the nether-world of MPV/SUV-dom dictated by living in London (i.e. no point having more than one car) & having six in the family to cart around, hopefully you understand the appeal of a simple 320d with a manual gearbox (and probably the adaptive suspension...).

Fast, economical, enough room for a few mates, great handling. Have never owned a BMW but I would happily live with the 'image' issues.

Maybe once a child or two have left home... (once they've all gone I can indulge the Caterham fantasies.)

Re: BMW 3 Series 320d

2 years 41 weeks ago

"but beneath its new suit the F90 3-series is dazzlingly different"

Er, Steve, this is the F30 3-series. The F10 is the current 5 series, the F20 is the new 1 series, and the E90 was the old 3-series. . We won't be up to the BMW F90 for many years yet.

Lovely description of how it feels though - thanks. I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on one. This sounds just like what I hoped it would be.

Re: BMW 3 Series 320d

2 years 41 weeks ago

Good to read that this car rides as well as it looks. I would have never considered buying its predecessor, but this one I would. I think it looks very well sorted, the interior is quite attractive, and now we know it drives good as well. All good, except one thing: too little space in the back for such a long car. Wish BMW would bring the "long" version it is apparently preparing for China also to Europe. But, definitely, BMW seems to be on a roll... Also in sales figures in Europe at least - where Mercedes market share declined in the first ten months of the year, BMW's sales rose and that was before the new 3-series. Impressive indeed.

Faustcar

Re: BMW 3 Series 320d

2 years 41 weeks ago

Faust: I agree that the way most UK examples of the predecessor model are equipped, they feel harsh, thumpy and noisy, but the E90 rides beautifully, and very quietly, if you put it on 16" wheels and good quality non runflat tyres.

The fact that the test car was in Sport spec, and presumably on big runflats (though I'm not sure - BMW has been quietly de-emphasising runflats on some models recently) does suggest that they have listened, though. It would be good to know what size and type of of wheels / tyres were on the test cars.

Re: BMW 3 Series 320d

2 years 41 weeks ago

fhp11 wrote:
Can Someone confirm for me - is this car all new or is it just a facelift? I can see the changes front and rear, but the side profile looks virtually identical. Was this carried over, or have they just made it look the same?

The shell is totally new.

Re: BMW 3 Series 320d

2 years 41 weeks ago

Another great car by BMW. They always seem to be able to up their game considerably with each model and their diesel engines are always a step ahead. This would be my everyday car.

Re: BMW 3 Series 320d

2 years 41 weeks ago

Looks wise I'm honestly not really interested in this new car, don't really like the direction BMW have went but it sounds like this could have moved then back to the way the e30/36/46 stood out above everything else around to drive. May well find myself trying to find a 3 year old one without moon miles in a few years!

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Our Verdict

BMW 3-series

The BMW 3-series' outstanding performance and handling complete a consummate all-rounder

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