3: Still the Magic Number

BMW’s 3-series seems to have been around for about as long as I can remember. Launched in 1975 it’s only a couple over years (yes, honestly) younger than me, and ever since then it seems, it’s been considered the benchmark aspirational executive saloon.

Recently though, it’s faced some stiff competition.  Obvious contenders include the Mercedes C-class and Audi’s increasingly competent and equally attractive A4. Let us not forget some home grown talent either. A few years ago who amongst us would have thought that Jaguar would have been stealing sales from the men from Munich?

Like all 30-somethings the new 3-series has grown a little in all directions. Wider and with both a longer body and wheelbase than the out going model, this all new car is noticeably more spacious.  Although who-ever gets to sit in the centre of the rear seat may still complain about the lack of legroom; the transmission tunnel – all BMW 3’s are rear wheel drive - forces passenger number four to adopt a straddled posture.

It’s lighter too, 50kg have been shed from the kerb weight in a bid improve both fuel economy and all important agility. After-all it was BMW remember, who once claimed to be making “The Ultimate Driving Machine”.

So then, how does it feel? Well that depends on you. The new 3-Series has been fitted with what BMW call Drive Performance Control. Flicking a switch beside the gear lever allows you to choose between up to four driving modes snappily titled Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+. Comfort and Sport do exactly what it you might expect, the former giving softer ride and throttle response, plus lighter steering, than the latter. Sport+ disables the traction control and even in lesser models its best left alone during everyday driving unless you’re really in the mood.  But it’s Eco Pro that really sets the new 3- series apart. By optimising the engine’s throttle settings it encourages a more, shall we say, relaxed driving style. Eco Pro also reduces the power consumption of luxuries such as the heated seats and climate control. When combined with auto stop-start, the result of all this elec-trickery is a claimed, and for once believable, 61.4mpg.  But despite all these concessions to fuel saving the 3-series still remains entertaining to drive: Even when it’s fitted with a diesel engine.

Surely BMW’s 2-litre oil-burner has to be one of the smoothest available. With 184bhp and on tap it’s capable of the kind of performance and acceleration which have become synonymous with premium priced saloons, and yet it does so without ever resorting to excessive noise or vibration. It is a little loud at idle though. The ride too is worthy of note. On all types of road surface, and in all types over corner this Sport-specced example never feels unwieldy or lacks composure. And even if the optional 18inch run-flat tyres do contribute a little rumble to the days proceedings you feel you could drive the new 3-series a long-long way without ever giving in to fatigue.

Inside it’s BMW business as usual. The near perfect ergonomics, clear dials and soft touch materials add to the feeling of precision engineered quality. However if your looking for a little “sparkle”, look elsewhere. Even the brushed aluminium trim and red accent lines, do little to lift an interior which, when fitted with the optional anthracite headlining, sadly feels undeniably gloomy.

But the 3-series real talent lies in the fact that it’s so good at so many things. It’s frugal, it’s well built, it accommodates five plus their luggage, it stylish and desirable without being showy, and its fine chassis and communicative steering make it entertaining to drive.

In 1975 BMW’s 3-Series set the benchmark by which others were judged. You can’t help but feel it’s done it again.

BMW 320 D Sport

Engine: 1995cc 4Cyl Diesel turbo
Power:  184bhp @ 4000rpm
Torque: 280lbft @ 1750 – 2750rpm
Transmission:  6 speed manual, rear wheel drive
Performance: 0-62mph 7.5 sec
Max Speed: 146mph
MPG: 61.4 Combined.
CO2: 120g/km
Price: £29,080. (Car driven £38,935)

Many Thanks to BMW’s UK press department for the loan of the 3 series.



Liam Bird Liam Bird

I'm Liam Bird, a freelance Motoring Writer based in the South Shropshire Marches. I currently write car reviews and road tests for a number of regional lifestyle magazines and newspapers which are distributed throughout Cheshire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire, most of Wales and beyond.

As a member of the Welsh Group of Motoring Writers I'm as happy behind the wheel of a super-mini as I am in the latest super-car. I have press accreditation with most of the major motor manufacturers, meaning that as well as always being on the look out for further commissions, I always have a number of cars arriving each month ready to review.

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