The BMW 3-series' outstanding performance and handling complete a consummate all-rounder
First DriveNew plug-in hybrid 3-series is claimed to return up to 131mpg with CO2 emissions of 50g/km
First DrivePractical 3-series estate loses some of the saloon’s edge, but engine and transmission impress with controlled pace and economy
What is it?
The all-new BMW 3-series, tested here powered by a four cylinder, 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine.
What’s it like?
It’s good-looking car, for starters. Outside and in, with a return to the 'driver-centred' cabin, clean aesthetics and wonderful fit and finish. And this 328i combines its impressive 242bhp with a CO2 score of just 147g/km.
It doesn't sound quite as a car badged 328i should. Udo Haenle, 3-series project chief, says his engineers considered electronic sound synthesis through the stereo system, BMW M5-fashion, to create a straight-six soundtrack, but he felt there was no point in hiding the fact that today's 328i has a 2.0-litre four with a turbocharger.
You're not particularly aware of engine noises anyway, because this is a quiet car whose ample maximum torque – 258lb ft – plateaus all the way from 1250rpm to 4800.
It hardly needs the optional (£1500) automatic's eight ratios, given that the manual still manages 149g/km with its six gears, and the resulting frequent gearshifts aren't always smooth unless you intervene with the paddleshifters.
But this 328i is a properly fast car, with 62mph claimed from a standstill in just 6.1 effortless seconds.
There seemed little wrong with the previous E90 3-series' chassis dynamics, but the new F30, slightly larger but slightly lighter, shows there was room for improvement. Unlike some other recent BMWs this one has the precision, balance and fluidity a BMW should have, with a seemingly understeer-proof front end, crisp and credibly weighted steering and a taut but yielding ride.
The variable-ratio steering (£350), speeding its response as you turn, aids the agility, while the 'adaptive M' dampers (£750) are neither too floaty in Comfort nor too fidgety in the Sport Plus mode that also livens up the gearbox and accelerator and firms the steering.
Our test car was in Sport spec, one of three 'lines' which include 'Modern' and 'Luxury'. For the UK, however, the 328i will come as an M Sport rather than a mere Sport, with a slightly different look and the 'adaptive M' suspension as standard.
One final thought. Too many new cars have electric parking brakes, particularly annoying in a manual car, but the 3-series retains a proper handbrake. “It's better for sliding,” says Haenle.
Should I buy one?
If you’re in the market for a compact executive car with this sort of performance, then this is the pick of the bunch.
BMW 328i ES auto
Price: £30,560; Top speed: 155mph; 0-62mph: 6.1sec; Economy: 44.8mpg (combined); CO2: 147g/km; Kerb weight: 1430kg; Engine: 4 cyls, 1997cc, turbo, petrol; Power: 242bhp at 5000-6500rpm; Torque: 258lb ft at 1250-4800rpm; Gearbox: 8-spd auto.