BMW 320d Sport Line

Red hawt

I have always regarded the BMW 3 series as the ultimate executive saloon. My family has owned 3 of the previous models, so I was eager to see if the new F30 (BMW code name for the new 3-siers) improved on the old model and if it was still top of the pile.

First off, the new 3 series range currently consists of a 2litre diesel (320d on test here) a 4cylinder 2litre dual-turbocharged unit (328i) and a 6cylinder turbocharged (335i). It’s a move away from large capacity engines towards smaller engines with boost, bringing huge benefits in economy.

Guess the 3

On to the vehicle at hand, the 320d delivered with a Sports pack. BMW now offers the 3 in different “trim packages”, a standard car that you can add options to from the buffet: Sports, Modern (as apposed to retro) and Luxury. So R18100 of your hard earned South African Rontz gets you the Sports Line (Sporty interior and exterior trim, “Sports” badging, chrome exhaust, sports front and rear bumper styling, lots of black high-gloss finishes, red detailing on the key and interior, sporty 17inch rims, sports leather seats & leather steering wheel with … wait for it … red stitching).

Hold on to your drink here, this test car came with a host of other options which added a fairly significant R180,000 to the base price of R390,500. That’s a R517,600 all inclusive price for a Sports 320d (ok, there are a lot of options) but sweet baby cheeses… how much does a 520d cost? Less.

Save the environment now.

Ok, now that the white elephant is out of the way, let’s start with the task at hand. The last 3series was criticized for what was a terribly harsh ride, due to the run-flat tires and sporty biased suspension. The 320d came with adaptive suspension, which has 4 modes. Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport +. These settings change steering, suspension, gearbox and throttle responses. If you decide to purchase a 3, take all that left over change, stop smoking, give up whiskey for a month, do whatever you can to take the variable suspension. It makes considerable changes in the driving behavior and really allows the car to take on 3 different “personalities”. In comfort the 3 truly felt … gasp … comfortable. Even in the Sport Trim, with 18inch rims it handled bumps and imperfections with aplomb. No thumping, wishing your kidneys a solemn goodbye, but rather Cadillac like wafting over the road. Ok it’s possibly even a bit too “wafty” but if you ever strayed from BMW because they aren’t comfortable, you can now come right back. Sport setting firms the suspension up, and gets the new 8speed gearbox riding a little higher up in the rev ranges.

The personality changer

The ECO mode brings up an eco driving instructor in the instrument binnacle (that’s an optional extra) and lightens up the steering, throttle response and tries to make the most economical shifts known to man. BMW claims that on a combined (city and highway) cycle the 320d will pull 4.4l/100km out of the bag. The Prius just shat itself. I never came close…the best I could muster up was 6.1l/100km. I’m sure you’d get closer on a really long stretch of highway doing 110km/h but city driving, even with start stop technology (standard), is going to be a struggle.

The 320d is a very popular model for South Africans, and in the new 3, it develops 135kW and 380NM (From 1750-2750RPM), to take it up to 100km/h in 7.6seconds (Auto). I was, however, surprised at how “rough” the engine sounds. The larger capacity diesels from BMW now sound like petrol engines, so maybe expected a bit of a smoother sound. That still said, it’s an impressive motor. There is a bit of turbo lag, which I found makes you shit yourself when you’re trying to take a gap, but once it gets into the rev range and on the move it’s incredibly smooth and soaks up the km’s with ease.

Distinctive

No doubt due to the marriage made in heaven with the 8-speed Sport automatic gearbox. It’s a phenomenal gearbox, but you can feel it can easily deal with more power. Shifts are incredibly smooth, and even in “manual” mode it allows you to actually take control of the auto-brain. Lovely.

Something that’s not-so-lovely, is the variable sports steering. Untick that option and save the money. It’s different to normal power steering because it’s electronic in actuation, which means that it varies the amount of tension on the steering rack. So when you’re in a parking lot, it’s nice and light, actually it’s considerably more drive-able in a parking lot than the previous 3. There’s no more feeling that the steering is straining under the weight of the nose of the vehicle. Unfortunately then in sport mode racing down the mountain pass, it’s weighted and should give more feedback. Well that’s the thought, but it doesn’t consistently provide that much needed level of feedback, sometimes leaving dead spots in the steering.

Red = Sport

Thankfully the steering-wheel itself is a 3spoke unit that feels solid and provides the perfect amount of buttons to control the right things. Things have changed on the inside, and definitely for the better. The sports seats are definitely more balanced than previous models, offering good side bolstering. The new 3 comes standard with a large flat-screen (showing everything from climate control to vehicle settings) on top of the dash, and the system is managed with the drive controller in your left hand. It sits nicely just after the armrest and is so terribly easy to use. Also fitted was an optional music interface connectivity pack, which connects your smartphone to the vehicle via Bluetooth. It easily connected my iPhone and displayed album covers, easily browsed playlists via the steering wheel mounted controls or even voice prompts. With a plethora of options on offer for the interior I really can’t comment on everything, but I really felt at home. It’s exciting without being tacky. One thing ,which was a big criticism of the last 3, was rear seat legroom. #Winning – the new 3 brings more head and legroom to the back seat drivers. Fantastic.

6foot - and much more space

I am a fan of the styling, even though it is indistinguishable from the 5series from behind (BMW please don’t pull an Audi cookie cutter styling card in the future). Sadly, the price is … well … pricey. You’re going to be able to do a lot of personalization on the new 3, and unfortunately it’s all costly, so choose wisely. It delivers on the core sheer driving pleasure, looks the part, and has improved on the previous 3’s shortcomings, so in my books, move aside Audi and Mercedes.

 

Ford Focus 2litre GDI Sport

Those old boys in Michigan in the US got a big wake up call in 2008, and they’ve had to do some rethinking…not only because of pressures in their local market…but more recently on a global level. Ford is now spending huge amounts of time and money to firm up global alignment of products. Ford calls this their global – “one strategy”, as these vehicles like the Focus are centrally designed and engineered for multiple markets.

Agressive front end

The previous generation Focus was a very successful model, especially so in the UK, and more so in performance variants ST and RS, which offer some of the most hardcore driving experiences at the price. Unfortunately where they excelled in driving dynamics and handling, they could never quite match the quality interior of the VW Golf, and overall value of everyday driving car. However. Ford wasn’t happy with that. So this time around the Focus takes another swing, not only the Germans, but also the host of new competitors from the East.

The new Focus has various model variants available. On offer are 4-door and 5-door variants, all with different Trend, Ambiente and Sport trim levels. A few engine variants, from the 1.6 & 2litre petrol with Ti-VCT to a 2litre diesel with Powershift automatic transmission (only available in the 4door).

The model I had on test was the 2litre hatchback GDI Sport manual. which is the top of the range for the hatchback (currently). This is the model every Benoni and Pretoria mullet boy yearns after, the ST, comes to market here in 2012. Until then we’ll have to live with the 2litre naturally aspirated, which pushes out 125kW at 6600RPM (quite high) and 202Nm of torque at just over 4450RPM. I’m very used to a turbo engine, but have to say that I was SO surprised with this naturally aspirated new 4pot baby from Ford I had to double check the variant I was driving. It’s not ridiculously fast, but it sounds like the air is flowing through the guts of it, and it’s good mid range punch. You have to get the engine on the boil a bit as there isn’t a lot of shove from low down in the rev range, but once on the move it’s a very pleasant engine (in sound, and performance).

Thankfully the engine isn’t the only good bit. The Focus has been dipped in Ford’s new Kinetic design language, and … well … it’s better looking than the old Focus. It’s bigger than the previous generation model, and from the sideline, I had a few people remark it looks like a station wagon. A station wagon?! Well, either way, at least it brings about opinion, which is something no Golf does.

Very futuristic looking

Something else that definitely got opinions going was the interior. I find it rather refreshing getting into a car that looks like it’s been designed for the future. It’s not trying to copy anyone, or just be a plainly boring ergonomic design. It’s daring, different and at the same time fairly easy to get accustomed to. The Sport comes with cloth (come now Ford, you could have shed some cow blood here) black seats that are electrically adjustable for the driver, and the moment you get in, the dual screens (one on the dash, and one in the instrument binnacle) catch your eye. Ford has probably come closest of any of the competitors to the Golf 6 in terms of quality of material, fit and finish. The Focus interior is awash with simple black soft touch materials and quite a few pieces of brushed aluminium. The steering wheel sits quite far out, and is meaty and purposeful in your hands. What I didn’t like was that the steering-wheel controls were quite complicated and took some time to get used to. There are

The Borg controls

1.Buttons on the left, which control the screen on the centre console

2.Buttons on the right which control the screen inside the instrument binnacle

3. A weird Borg type control below those on the left that controlled the cruise control

4. More weird Borg type controls on the right that control the sound system

Look, you get used to it, and nice work that it’s all there, but then surely there should be less than the 1584 buttons on the piano black Sony sound system on the centre console. They haven’t done the best job of making buttons you use often, big or legible (E.g. door lock and unlock).

These are small niggles, and overall it’s a great place to be, I really enjoyed the lighting and quality feel of the controls. (Ambiance lighting in red, puddle lighting and the bright LED entry lights). Standard features on the Sport bring in a SONY 9-speaker 450watt system with Bluetooth, iPod prep, voice recognition, auto wipers & lights, heated front seats and dual zone climate control. It’s an incredible amount of standard kit. Bravo Ford. Bravo. Something they could have added, is xenon headlamps and daytime running lights, which you can’t spec or get on our local models.

For those with families, there’s space for 4adults, and a significant amount of space in the boot. At least 4 hookers if you squeeze them in properly.

Sony sound system

On the road the new Focus has lost a little bit of the spark of the old model. It’s not AS raw and engaging as the old model was, but I didn’t expect it to be, as the majority of the buyers just want a comfortable quiet car. That said, the chassis feels alive when it’s on the go, and in true Focus form, the car is incredibly planted. You need to try very hard to get the front to wash wide, and I’d say it’s now on par with the Golf’s chassis in terms how balanced it is. It’s even more impressive considering the 17inch 10spoke rubber that comes standard on the Sport. If things should get out of hand there is traction and stability control as standard, as well as Ford’s Torque Vectoring control to keep the front wheels from causing too much torque steer. Not likely on this model, but thanks anyways. I suspect that will come in handy on the ST though. The manual gearbox is angled close to the driver and has short direct throws, but strangely only 5 gears? It works well, but on long distance cruising the fuel economy suffers because of the lack of final 6th gear driving ratio, which might get some buyers opting for the diesel with Powershift.

I thoroughly enjoyed the meaty steering, giving enough feedback from the wheels and there was never a point it felt over assisted. The brakes too, are excellent, and the Focus comes with ABS, EBD and EBA standard across the range.

The Rear

Overall, It’s clear this car can handle a lovely turbocharged engine and there were times I yearned for some more power. That said the 2litre has a nice growl to it and the handling is superb, thanks to the dynamic chassis. The interior is comfortable and the whole car is superbly specced. The only drawback being the lack of 6th gear which will have a detrimental effect on fuel economy.

So far, in this model guise, the Ford has got everything going for it, and then comes the big surprise… the price.

R270 000 for the top of the range model I reviewed, which is excellent value considering the size, specification and quality of vehicle.