THE new BMW 3 Series saloon is a car of contradictions because, while it is larger and more spacious, it is lighter, quicker in many cases, more fuel efficient, safer and more nimble and agile, writes John Knox.
That is the gospel according to BMW Ireland, who in common with trends for the marque across the world, are enjoying a bit of a boom despite all the gloom.
The 3 Series is the world’s best selling premium saloon, and the current, sixth incarnation of the range was planned to, and is currently reaching out to, buyers who never previously considered the BMW brand.
Strong sales figures would suggest the 3 Series is doing exactly what it was engineered to do, and from my experience of three versions of the range, that is down in the main to a core reason – the superior driving dynamics of the car.
Cars grab your attention for many and various reasons, including safety factors, equipment levels, economy, green issue or good old ‘I must have’ reasons or whatever.
However, if it doesn’t deliver in terms of the drive, in the satisfaction and joy you get behind the wheel each time you turn that ignition, then it is missing a core value.
The 3 Series has what I would class as a connection with the driver. It has the ability to deliver, to satisfy….consistently.
The most recent experience was in the 320d Sport, a big, strong puncher that pumps out 184bhp (380Nm of torque). Here is a car that simply wants road. When the road opens up in front of you, this elegant performer will gobble it up.
It has an impressive sprint time of 7.6 seconds from zero to 100kph. If you want a car that can perform, even if you have to keep it on leash, the 320d could be your mate.
Oh, the C02 figure is a slim 118g/km which (currently) qualifies for annual road tax of 160 Euro.
Prices start at 40,800 Euro. The Sport has unique alloy wheels, black high-gloss air intakes in redesigned bumpers and matching bars in the double kidney grille and a black chrome tailpipe finisher. Red stitching adorns the sport seats and leather-rimmed sports steering wheel.
The interior is in high-gloss black with a red finisher; the instrument cluster has red highlighting and there is extended and switchable interior lighting with exclusive colours and ‘Sport’ insignia on the door entry sills.
Sport also comes with an additional ‘Sport+’ mode on the Drive Performance Control.
All versions feature Drive Performance Control as standard, a system which allows the driver to swap between up to four driving modes, varying from sporty to extremely economical.
The four modes are ECO PRO, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ (the latter only on Sport models or with selected optional equipment). In ECO PRO, for example, a heavier touch is required on the accelerator, which is a sort of constant reminder that the emphasis is on economy.
The 318d experience didn’t lose out in the visuals stakes. Beige seating stood out against a strong sky blue coloured body. One hugely impressed admirer almost climbed in through the driver’s door window, such was the enthusiasm to get a peep.
This car has the look of power, might and prestige and is fronted by a big smiling grille. It is a wide looking car, but it doesn’t feel that way at all in the drive.
Again the road tax comes in at 160 per annum for a unit that delivers 143bhp, and a zero to 100kph time of 9.1 seconds. Prices begin at 37,780 Euro.
One was really taken by the excellent view beamed on to the screen in the dash’ from the reversing assist camera. It was like a satellite shot, with the view appearing to be from above showing all sides of the car. Top class!
My initial drive was in the 316d SE automatic, which like all the engines in the new 3 Series features BMW twinpower turbo technology, which eases rather than extracts the strong driving power from the free revving and delightfully flexible 116bhp unit under the bonnet.
When you actually call up the horses you get a gush of power, with not a hint of engine noise.
BMW boast that the automatic versions (8-speed, by the way) are as fuel efficient as the manual (6-speed) equivalents. The easy flow of power and the seamless switch from gear to gear leave you looking for road in this lovely machine.
The cabin is top notch, without a hint of wind, road or tyre noise. A streamline underside and Aero Curtain air channels in the front apron diffuses any noise from the wheels.
BMW’s Efficient Dynamics technology which reduces fuel consumption and C02 emissions (117g/km for £160 annual road tax) helps keep running costs down after the initial investment.
The new 3 Series saloon features a stiffer body and an all new chassis based on a longer (50mm) wheelbase and wider (37mm front and 47mm rear) track. The handling qualities of the car are top of the range, the overall performance very impressive.
All but one car in the range (320d) is shod with Run-flat tyres on light alloy wheels of at least 17” in diameter.
BMW realise there is an ever increasing demand for greater personalisation of cars. To help meet such demand the 3 Series is offered in six trim levels, and there is a lengthy list of add on options.
The 316d, for example, included a most pleasing Servotronic Steering (249 Euro), Xenon headlights (682 Euro) and brushed aluminium trim (317 Euro). Prices here begin at 34,750 Euro.
All models include 17” alloy wheels, automatic air conditioning, Bluetooth, BMW professional radio with 6.5’ colour screen and i-Drive, keyless starting, USB, a multi-function leather steering wheel, cruise control and automatic boot opening.
The SE version driven also had rear park distance control, two zone air conditioning and a rain senior with automatic light activation.
The best of the lot? It was the 316d. Why? I felt more a part of the drive than in any car. Delightful!