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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.