Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
Where to start? The 3 Series is probably the world’s best-selling saloon car, with more than 15 million sold worldwide. It’s the premium performance car everyone aspires to, and the most searched-for model ever on Auto Trader, which gets four times more car searches on it every day than Google.
The first 3 Series was launched more than 40 years ago, in 1975. BMW claims the 3 Series as its company’s heartbeat. These days, you can buy a 3 Series in saloon convertible form, with rear-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive, manual or automatic gearboxes, and with petrol, diesel or plug-in hybrid powertrains, as well as a flagship M3. The choice is yours, but it has always been an extensive one, as the 3 Series does daily battle with the Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class and, these days, the likes of the Volvo S60 and Jaguar XE. There’s a performance saloon out there for everyone, but, seven generations on, the BMW 3 Series remains the benchmark.
We tested the 320d xDrive M Sport saloon which remains, due to the 2.0-litre diesel’s continued popularity with business drivers, the strong seller in the UK. BMW has packed almost £10,000 worth of features into this car for journalists to try out. We had BMW’s £1,800 Technology Pack which includes the crystal-clear heads-up display, Bluetooth with wireless charging, gesture control and WiFi. It’s £1,500 well spent in our book, for the heads-up display alone which has a great satnav function incorporated.
We also had the £1,700 Premium Package including an electric sunroof, electric front seats with driver memory settings and lumbar support adjustment. A subjective one that… Then there’s the Comfort Package (£990) which offers steering wheel heating, a powered bootlid, and extended storage, which we couldn’t quite identify, but a big yes for the heated steering wheel alone.
Then there was the M Sport styling package which will be a matter of personal taste, but for £2,200 you get jet black double-spoke alloys, M Sport braking system, M Sport adaptive suspension, M Sport branded seatbelts and rear spoiler, and a shadow line along the body.
The 2.0-litre diesel engine is relatively quiet, and smooth, although note that the likes of Volvo have really caught up with BMW on sound, vibration and harshness deadening so, while the cabin remains impressively unperturbed, it’s no longer in a class of its own.
The BMW dynamics, however, still are. If a pin-sharp, sporty drive is important to you, it’s probably still the 3 Series you’ll be wanting; the relationship between driver and car isn’t even that compromised by the xDrive for-wheel-drive system; unless you’re a keen driver or undiluted petrolhead, you’d be hard pressed to determine if the 3 Series you were in was rear-wheel-drive or not. Unless you hit a wet surface…
The 320d develops just 190 horsepower and 400Nm of torque but it feels like more, partly due to the multistage turbocharging system on board. What you do get is decent fuel economy – close to 50mpg if you’re sensible, and 115g/km – which will make you think twice before opting for the 330i version.
With its new, sharp styling, the 3 Series remains the gateway to premium, performance-biased motoring for the masses, with its infinitely marketable combination of neat design, comprehensive technology on board, space for four adults, decent boot, satisfying handling and now, with xDrive, even more all-weather practicality.
There are plenty of other choices out there, but, as JLR recently proved in its recently announced partnership with BMW, the Germans have a great hybrid system on board which doesn’t dampen the sporting dynamics, as well as a class-leading new version of the iDrive connectivity set-up. More than 40 years on, the 3 Series remains one of the best car purchases you can make.