BMW 320d Sport review: buried treasure

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Current page

180

BMW is in the middle of the greatest product offensive in its history. Six months either side of right now it either has – or will have – launched a new X2, X4, X5 and X7, a Z4 and the 8-series. But among all these SUVs and sports cars, there is another that in terms of its sales, and importance to how BMW is perceived around the world, is probably most important of all. Saloons and estates might be surrendering ground to the relentless rush of SUVs, but the launch of an all-new 3-series is still a crucially important date, not just in BMW’s diary, but those of all other brands that for more than 40 years have tried and hitherto failed to eclipse it.

BMW 320d Sport

As tends to be the way these days, the new car has grown in every significant direction – though as much of that is taken up with new crash structures, don’t expect there to be a commensurate improvement in interior space. There is more headroom front and rear and a touch more rear legroom, but this is still a cosy car for four, and luggage space remains unchanged.

It looks pretty similar, too, disappointingly so in my view, until you park it next to the current car and realise that while the design language is the same, the details are very different. Inside, however, you’ll never mistake it for the older car. In the modern idiom, gauges have been replaced by high-definition screens, notable in particular for a completely fresh design for the instruments. It takes a little acclimatisation and I was still getting used to it after a couple of hours at the wheel, but there should be no surprise in that given the frankly bamboozling level of information and options such cars now provide.

Two models are available from launch – this 187bhp 320d diesel and a 254bhp 330i petrol. Confusingly, both cars are powered by unrelated 2-litre, four-cylinder turbo engines. The 320d has no more power or torque than the car it replaces, but because it is more aerodynamically efficient and 55kg lighter despite its additional size, it is slightly but significantly quicker in terms of both acceleration and top speed.

So far, so good. Head out onto the road, however, and the 3-series has a surprise waiting for you, and not everyone is going to like it. The Sport version I drove has 18in wheels as standard, but does without the firmer springing of the top-of-the-range M Sport model. Even so, it’s not just the structure that’s stiffer than that of the outgoing car, its suspension is too, by 20 per cent. And that’s something you’re going to notice immediately.

BMW 320d Sport
I’d not call the ride harsh, but it’s certainly firm and courageously so for a car that, despite all BMW’s sporting aspirations, is going to spend most of its time sat on motorways or commuting into towns. It made me wonder whether the adaptive suspension currently only selectable on M Sport models should become a more widely available option. It allows not only a Sport mode, but has a dedicated ‘Comfort’ setting too, I’ve tried it on other BMWs and it works.

That said, if you like a car that feels properly planted on the road, the 320d is very interesting indeed, providing clearer differentiation in set-up approach relative to rival Audis and Mercedes-Benzes than in any previous generation I can recall. And while you could argue the toss all day long over which side of acceptable the ride quality consequently falls, no one’s going to doubt the effect this has on the car’s handling.

BMW 320d Sport

For a four-door saloon, the new 3-series is improbably capable on a decent road. All cars like this grip hard and handle securely, but I doubt any of those you can buy new today are as deft and offer such steely body control. And while I’d prefer more steering feel, it’s a car you can get into for the first time and drive quickly and confidently from the outset. It made me want to hang back or even park up and wait for a gap in the traffic, just as I used to in 3-series models from many generations ago. 

It felt more like a BMW than any standard BMW I’ve driven in a while, and in these days of timid design and incremental engineering, such a bold step is to be applauded. Over the last few years Mercedes-Benz, Alfa Romeo and Jaguar have all had convincing stabs at beating the 3-series at its own game and, at least in this regard, BMW has put clear air between it and its rivals once more.

Whether this diesel motor will continue to be the weapon au choix for the majority of the next generation of 3-series drivers remains to be seen. Although none is available from launch, a hybrid 330e is not far away and the increasingly hostile environment in which diesel rightly or wrongly now exists (entirely wrongly in my view) means customers will be increasingly tempted towards the alternatives. 

But before you abandon the black pump altogether, might I remind you what you’re passing up? Even under stricter, more realistic WLTP means of measurement, the 320d does a claimed 62.8mpg, which means a real-world 55mpg should be easily achieved. This in a car that hits 62mph from rest in 6.8sec, with the optional automatic gearbox most will choose, and won’t stop pulling until it’s doing 150mph. So even with a small 13-gallon tank, it should cover more than 600 miles before the reserve light blinks on. And though the motor is a little rattly at rest, once you’re up to speed you’d really never know there was a diesel under the bonnet.

In other respects the 320d is entirely predictable: probably its greatest technological leap is the advance of voice recognition to the point where BMW feels it can call it an ‘Intelligent Personal Assistant’. You don’t even need to press a button: just say ‘Hey BMW’ and it will wake up, whereupon you can ask it for anything from a touch more cabin temperature to the meaning of life, so long as you’re prepared for it not always to have the answers.

This, then, is a car that in its design and technology takes a huge leap towards the future while, philosophically, taking a smaller but probably more significant step back to a time when BMWs more frequently lived up to their ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ moniker. Not everyone will appreciate its no-nonsense approach to the open road, but in an era where every new generation of car becomes more formulaic and less distinct than the last, I welcome the fact that even this mid-range diesel is a 3-series of real character once more. It bodes well for the more sporting versions yet to come and, in particular, the new M3 that should be with us in 2020.

It has been too long since BMW last produced an M3 worthy of the badge and, while execution is all, I’d say it has built the most promising platform for such a car in years.

BMW 320d Sport

FACT FILE

Price £34,750 Engine 2.0 litres, 4 cylinders, turbocharged Power [email protected] Torque 295lb [email protected] Weight 1525kg Power to weight 123bhp per tonne Transmission six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive 0-60mph 7.1sec Top speed 150mph Economy 64.2mpg CO2 115g/km