Hilton Holloway
21 January 2013

What is it?

It's a 3-series with all-wheel drive. It’s 18 years since BMW last offered an all-wheel-drive saloon (the E34-series 525iX) in the UK. Now xDrive is finally available on the 3-series saloon, hooked up to BMW’s 181bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine. The main engineering modifications are a transmission shaft running forwards, sending drive to the front wheels, and heavily modified double wishbone front suspension.

In normal conditions, 60 per cent of drive goes to the rear wheels. But information from the ABS and the stability control system can be used to shift 100 per cent of the torque to either end in just one tenth of a second. Individual wheels can also be braked to prevent the car from losing control.

What is it like?

Fundamentally, the 3-series remains a superb car for Britain’s roads. Still compact enough and blessed with a cocooning cockpit, the 3-series’ innate balance and measured responses have been taken to another level with the addition of permanent four-wheel drive.

The conditions encountered during our test could not have been better to put the 320i xDrive through its paces: darkness, lashing rain, standing water and narrow, undulating roads. While it could not be described as super-agile, the xDrive can driven hard on demanding roads with surprising ease. The engine is smooth and refined and has an impressively linear mid-range urge. In the cut and thrust of British driving, it is a better unit than the classic naturally aspirated straight six.

With the suspension set to Sport, body control on the worst B-roads is first rate, while the ride remains surprisingly compliant. It is also very easy to place the car, even at speed, in rapidly changing conditions. The excellence of the steering is especially impressive considering the front wheels are now driven.

This combination of real-world speed and exemplary body control is taken to another level with the extraordinary grip and stability delivered by the all-wheel drive system. There is never any sense of when, or how, it is working, just an enormous confidence in the ability of the car to pull out of bends on hard acceleration, as well as remaining unruffled by standing water and poor surfaces. Even when driven in anger, this is a very calm car to pilot.

The only slight complaints are the control weights – the steering is enjoyably meaty but the clutch heavy – and the gearshift action, which, despite being very clean, is long and slowish. Ironically, the optional eight-speed automatic gearbox, with closer-spaced ratios, would better suit the xDrive’s ability to maintain cross-country speed, shifting far more quickly than a mortal driver.

Should I buy one?

Personally, I’d buy the entry-level SE model and add an automatic ’box, adaptive suspension and sports seats for a £30,000 car that will endlessly reward the thoughtful driver.

BMW 320i xDrive M Sport

Price £30,400; 0-62mph 7.4sec; Top speed 144mph; Economy 41.5mpg (combined); Co2 159g/km; Kerb weight 1554kg; Engine 4 cyls in line, 1997cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 181bhp at 5000rpm; Torque 199lb ft at 2500-4500rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual

Join the debate

Comments
27

Neighbour

1 year 30 weeks ago

Hopefully my neighbour will get one as I've just had to push his RWD 3 series off his snowed covered drive, again.

 

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

SE or Sport?

1 year 30 weeks ago

Agree with Hilton on going for the SE version over the Sport, when it comes to BMWs. The SE handles and grips nearly as well, but rides better and is cheaper too. Though to be fair, based on this review anyway, BMW seems to have sorted out the ride comfort of the Sport model.

Anyway, I wonder if BMW will extend its 4x4 range in the UK. If they do, they might find a lot more buyers.

I had a test drive in one of

1 year 30 weeks ago

I had a test drive in one of these before Christmas, It was a Sport model with optional 19 inch whees but no adaptive dampers.

The engine felt turbocharged with a big slug of torque almost from tickover, a dull noise, but hardly any lag at all, by far the best turbocharged  engine i have driven (although thats not a huge number). It does 60 in 7.5 apparently. It certainly didnt feel that fast.

There was no issue with grip at all, but as the weather was much better than now it wasnt a real test of the 4 wheel drive. I havent driven a 2 wheel drive 3 series so i cant compare them. It took the dealer over a year to find a petrol manual in the first place, the fact it was 4 wheel drive was a coincidence. 

The ride has harsh, but much better than i expected on a Sport BMW on 19 inch run flats. I am sure more sensible wheels would improve this to acceptable. The dealer reckoned the adaptive dampers werent worth the money, which is not what the motoring press say. I tended to believe him, as i assume he makes more money if i spend more!

I was, and remain tempted. The main stumbling block being that the BMW salesman thought it was worth much more than i did!

 

 

Surely a diesel version would

1 year 30 weeks ago

Surely a diesel version would be more popular?

Finally a BMW I might buy

1 year 30 weeks ago

Don't get me wrong, I like RWD cars but I also want to get to work everyday of the year and as I live at the top of a hill, the last couple of days has seen multiple BMW's scattered and abandoned. 

I have a Mini Countryman Cooper S all4 at the moment and i love how the 4wd system is set up. Just on that alone I might be tempted to chop the Mini in for a 4wd 3 series. It's a shame they have taken so long to get to market. Audi have been reaping the benefits of this part of the market for far to long.

Everything covered

1 year 30 weeks ago

It would seem to have everything covered if you need 5 seats and can justify spending that kind of money.  I'm sure the current weather will create a sales spike.  I would like it on my drive but I don't really need a car this good!

Diesel

1 year 30 weeks ago

vinylnutter wrote:

Surely a diesel version would be more popular?

They've thought of that - have a look on the BMW UK website and it now lists a 320d and 330d xDrive in both saloon and touring bodystyles.  They've also added a 120d xDrive so it looks as though this is the future.

Walking wrote: It would seem

1 year 30 weeks ago

Walking wrote:

It would seem to have everything covered if you need 5 seats and can justify spending that kind of money.  I'm sure the current weather will create a sales spike.  I would like it on my drive but I don't really need a car this good!

You make a very good point Walking.  This 3 series by all accounts, is a very very good car indeed.  I like it, I think it looks good inside and out and the engineering is second to none.  But therein lies the rub, it would be too good for my needs.  All of its talents would be wasted on me due to the amount of time I would actually drive the car.

Range expansion

1 year 30 weeks ago

I hope these are a sales success as I'm desperate for a 330d xdrive (or perhaps even a 335d xdrive). The Germans can order pretty much any model with awd so it's up to us to justify BMW's business case.

Tuffty wrote: I'm desperate

1 year 30 weeks ago

Tuffty wrote:

I'm desperate for a 330d xdrive (or perhaps even a 335d xdrive). 

That's a very strong need why wouldn't the smaller engine do or a completely different make or model of car?

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