Excellence is expected of a 3-series in this department, but BMW has achieved little short of greatness with its new compact executive saloon’s dynamic showing. With a fluent, taut sporting poise to its handling, with consistency, accuracy and faithful response from its steering, and a smooth dexterousness to its secondary ride, it can be a source of enormous pride to Munich’s chassis development team – not to mention one of real satisfaction for its owners.
A Mercedes C220 CDI Sport, lined up as a benchmark, would probably have challenged the outgoing 3-series with its blend of grip, body control, chassis balance and rolling comfort. After the new 320d, though, it may as well have been up on stilts, such was the limiting body roll and relatively stark understeer it exhibited at circuit speeds. That’s no specific criticism of the C-class; this 3-series simply handles with such precision, poise and adjustability that it smashes your notions of what a four-cylinder diesel family saloon is capable of.
Selecting Comfort mode from the car’s Drive Performance Control dials in just enough compliance to its damping to deal quietly and comfortably with choppy B-roads, and enough lightness into the car’s steering to make it easy to thread down the road using just your wrists. Select Sport mode and you get firmer but far from aggressive vertical body control and the kind of steering weight you’ll need a bit more forearm leverage to get on terms with. But the feedback flowing from tyre sidewall to steering rim is excellent.
Even on runflat tyres and 18in wheels, there’s also little wrong with the 320d’s rolling refinement. Our test car rode smaller, sharp intrusions with quiet and supple assurance. It produced plenty of road noise over coarse surfaces, but otherwise seemed a very comfortable car at all times.
The only caveat we must apply here is a customary one: our test car had BMW’s optional adaptive dampers fitted. Because a passively damped car couldn’t be supplied for test, we can only hope the standard car has such a convincing blend of control, compliance and entertainment value.