Can a fuel-sipping saloon really provide the sporty drive the BMW brand is famous for? I find some of Europe’s finest roads and find out.
|Model Tested: BMW 320d ED Plus Auto|
|Top speed||143 mph|
|0-62 mph||7.8 seconds|
|Official fuel economy||74.3 mpg|
|CO2 emissions||99 g/km|
|Car tax band||A / £0|
|Engine||2.0-litre turbo diesel|
|Power||163 PS (161 bhp)|
|Torque||400 Nm (295 ft lb)|
What is it?
The BMW 3 Series has been kicking around in one form or another for 40 years now. The current model is the sixth generation, but it’s been on sale since 2012 so it’s time to give the ubiquitous executive saloon a nip and tuck to keep it competitive.
It’s still a four-door saloon that oozes ‘premium’ from every panel, being a straight rival for the likes of the Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4, as well as a more serious rival than you might expect for the likes of the Ford Mondeo and Volkswagen Passat.
While BMW might have traded on the Ultimate Driving Machine tagline for years, the modern world is about efficiency, so that’s why I’ve got the keys to the super-frugal Efficient Dynamics model and 1,200 miles of European roads ahead of me; is the 163hp offered by this 2.0-litre diesel engine enough to keep me smiling, and is the 400Nm punchy enough to keep the bank manager smiling with its promised 74.3mpg economy?
What’s it like?
Blink and you might miss the facelift entirely; the headlights are ever so slightly different, along with the air intake under the bumper, both designed to accentuate the car’s width. There’s a change to the rear lights and the bumper has a couple of new creases, while the exhaust is slightly wider.
Inside it’s even more subtle, but there are a few new materials and a bit of extra lighting. The biggest change is that there is now a sliding cover over the cupholders.
Slipping the 8-speed automatic gearbox in to Drive, I faced the Pyrenees mountains, found a twisty road, and extracted what I could. There’s no shortage of torque to rocket you from one corner to the next, certainly, and there’s even enough to overcome the car’s natural tendency to understeer and use the rear end to balance things instead, but none of it was as fun as it should have been.
Despite having the optional adaptive M Sport suspension to stiffen up the suspension, the tall tyres on the 16-inch wheels felt like they flexed just too much to offer the security I really needed. Outright grip levels were good, but the path described was unstable. When the brakes got hot and started to struggle to slow the car, it was time to relax.
Back on the motorway, the 320d was in its natural habitat. The same tyres that hindered now helped, providing a supple ride along the smooth French tarmac. Economy unsurprisingly improved, and 600-mile journeys between fuel stops were the norm.
Is it practical?
That engine means there’s no car tax to pay, while economy over the 1,200 miles was 54.7mpg – reasonably impressive considering the early roads.
However, the car costs a fair wedge – starting at £32,000 for the ‘base’ model with automatic gearbox, you’ll need to tick plenty of options to kit it out. Folding rear seats, for example, come in at £250, while parking sensors and reversing camera are £700. The infotainment system might be good, but the upgrade is excellent and provides a much better experience, but that’s an extra £900.
The boot is exactly the same size as in the Audi or Mercedes, and the interior space feels almost identical, so there’s nothing to choose between the premium rivals. The Mondeo and Passat are both appreciably bigger though.
Should I buy one?
A BMW 3 Series? Yes, sure. It’s still the best handling saloon out there, without giving up too much in terms of comfort and economy.
The 320d ED Plus? Probably not, actually. It’s fine up and down the motorway, but at that point you might as well take the extra comfort or space offered by the likes of the C-Class or Passat.
Or, if you like to head off the motorway from time to time, sacrifice a little bit of economy and pay a little bit of car tax and take the standard 320d, without any of the Efficient Dynamics malarky. You’ll barely notice the difference in costs, but you’ll be smiling as the car comes alive.