From £23,085
Refined, efficient driver’s car, marred only by run-flat tyres and a high price

Our Verdict

BMW 3 Series
The 3 Series remains strong in the areas it has always excelled but now it's more rounded than ever

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

22 December 2008

What is it?

This is the BMW 318d SE auto. The launch of the facelifted BMW 3-series marks the first time that the 141bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine is available with an automatic gearbox.

This SE edition does not have iDrive, so the facelift changes are restricted to the outside of the car, with minor modifications to the rear lights, bonnet and bootlid.

What’s it like?

This superb diesel engine works particularly well in the lower-tuned set-up found in the BMW 318d SE auto. It’s near silent at idle and has one of the smoothest torque curves of any car on the market.

Even with such a good motor, there’s a lot that can go wrong when you bolt on an automatic gearbox. All too often with diesel autos, the ’box will change down as you squeeze the right pedal and leave you at exactly the same speed, between gears, with the engine near the red line.

In the case of the 318d SE auto, however, there’s no need to worry. This pairing of six-speed torque converter gearbox and diesel engine is as good as it gets. In more than 150 miles of mixed urban and motorway driving, not once did the 318d feel as though the car was in the wrong gear – not on a high-speed bend, not when changing lanes or descending a steep hill.

Similarly, despite being at the bottom end of the 3-series engine range, at no time did the car feel underpowered. It’s not quick, obviously, but the natural 3-series chassis balance makes up for any power shortfall.

Should I buy one?

The BMW 318d is certainly a tempting choice, but the 318d SE auto isn’t quite a perfect motoring experience.

The base-spec sound system functions well, but has no bluetooth connectivity – it should be standard nowadays. The run-flats destroy the ride quality in town and the handling on poorly surfaced high-speed bends.

These issues aside, however, the 318d auto remains a fine, efficient sports saloon, uncompromised by the addition of the auto 'box.

Join the debate

Comments
19

22 December 2008

so, spend £26455 in today's economic climate on a car that'll save you maybe a grand a year in fuel costs. after 3 years you'll be rich! where's the logic for private motorists? this pro-bmw bias is rather wearing.

22 December 2008

60mpg from a 3 series torque convertor automatic, I don't think so! The ability for start stop technology to completely skew economy and emmissions figures shows what rubbish they are. In real life I'd wager no one could top 45mpg unless you live on the motorway all day! I'm sure its a very good car but its about time the law was changed to make economy figures realistic to enable the buyer to make an accurate informed choice between manufacturers and models. But then again maybe there are people out there who only drive their motors with tyres pumped rock hard in their climate controlled wind and hill free garage on a rolling road?..........

22 December 2008

I've always said it and now you've proved me right - an auto in a modern BMW saloon is the way to go!

Fab car - to the other detractors here you can't deny it's a fine investment when you consider the resale value compared to others.

22 December 2008

[quote BigApple]60mpg from a 3 series torque convertor automatic, I don't think so! [/quote]

Im equally cynical about these figures, they're exactly the same as the manual version. That cant be right...

22 December 2008

[quote BigApple] I'm sure its a very good car but its about time the law was changed to make economy figures realistic to enable the buyer to make an accurate informed choice between manufacturers and models.[/quote]

The problem would be defining a new test. Any kind of real-world driving is inherently variable (traffic/weather conditions etc) so you'd struggle to get a fair comparison between cars even if you defined a standard test route. I guess you could average the figures over some distance (string, how long, etc) but I don't know how practical that would prove to be.

You mention climate-controlled rolling roads - what is the test method at the moment? Simulated? Test track?

I guess until/unless CO2 output is taxed based on actual emissions (hmm, sounds a bit like fuel duty to me...) the incentive is there for manufacturers to produce cars which perform well in the standard tests and get into the desired tax bracket rather than deliver in real conditions.

22 December 2008

[quote BigApple]The ability for start stop technology to completely skew economy and emmissions figures shows what rubbish they are[/quote]

You don't actually get stop statr technology on the automatic versions - there's no user input to say 'stop the engine'.

However, whilst like with any car the 'official' figures for the car are higher than you would realistcally achieve, they are still very good in real life driving. My wife has the 320d - and around town / country roads we never get below 43mpg, with it driven quite hard. On the motorway, I have seen upto 750 miles from a tank driven at normal motorway speeds - I think this comes out to over 55mpg.

The reason I like this however is NOT the cost saving, rather the convenience. On a long run, not having to stop for fuel if I forget to fill it is great and when I drive to the Alps in the Winter, being able to get across most of France is a great advantage.

Now my other car with a 3 litre petrol (a Z4) does not share these characteristics - however, it is remarkably more fuel efficient than my old Mini Cooper S!!!!!

23 December 2008

Actually, these figures should be pretty close to reality. You are quite right, the normal combo of a torque convertor and diesel engine is hopeless for fuel economy. However, the BMW 'boxes (launched a couple of years ago) have a feature that sees them shift very quickly into lock-up mode. This used to be feature on some auto boxes, with the highest ratio offering no-loss drive. My understanding is that the BMW boxes lock-up once the driver has stopped accelerating and so the transmission losses are minimal. I don't know why BMW hasn't made a bigger feature of these units.

23 December 2008

The 318 - and 118 - are now a great proposition since they upgraded the engines. Choosing an '18 model was always a bit iffy due to sluggish performance but this higher bhp engine easily makes up for the older unit's power deficiency. BMW often seem to do this - on the old 3 series, the 320 was upgraded signicantly so that it ended its life as a 2.2 litre 170bhp block.

23 December 2008

The one flaw you identify is handling on unevenly surfaced bends This seems a significant flaw to me, especially at this price in "the Ultimate Driving Machine".

Maybe I have a fetish about tyres, having begun changing them since I fettled my own cars when I started motoring? Whilst I may no longer change the suspension and the brakes I would still change the tyres (in fact your tyre test earlier this year appeared to confirm the wisdom of this).

If I understand well this is not an easy option for a BMW owner. Hence I can only assume that most buyers are actually buying them for other reasons.

23 December 2008

Its not THAT bad! It can get a little skittish over hard bumpy surfaces; but not to the extent that it ever concerns me.

I've grown to adore BMW's lately, I used not to. Lots of reasons, including their feeling of quality (a perception I know), the design inside and outside, the engines and most of all the way they drive.

I'm not sure a smallish handling imperfection would cause me to choose another car, when there isn't really another car that is better anyway!

Pages

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • 2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron UK review
    First Drive
    29 September 2016
    First UK drive finds the facelifted A3 Sportback e-tron remains a first-rate plug-in hybrid that is packed with tech if a little short on driver appeal
  • Citroen C11.2 Puretech 82 Furio
    First Drive
    29 September 2016
    Citroën's city car gets a new sporty-looking trim level, adding visual adornments, but no premium for the 1.2-litre Puretech triple we're driving
  • Mercedes C350e Sport
    First Drive
    28 September 2016
    Petrol-electric C-Class is a surprisingly well-priced alternative to a diesel but not the greatest example of the new ‘PHEV’ breed
  • Car review
    23 September 2016
    Aston kicks off its ‘second century plan’ with an all-new turbo V12 grand tourer
  • Ford Ka+ 1.2 Ti-VCT 85
    First Drive
    22 September 2016
    A rounded, refined and well-sorted bargain supermini – once you’re used to the confusing role redefinition imposed on the once-cheeky Ka