BMW 320d xDrive M Sport
Back in 1994, one of my neighbours took delivery of a new company car, a BMW E36 3 Series 316i. To my mind, this was the 3 Series that became so popular, it turned BMW into a main stream brand in the UK & led to managers & company car driver’s the length & breadth of the UK, getting into a BMW for the first time.
Roll on to 2019 & BMW’s 3 Series has in the ensuing 25 year’s been a resounding success. Even after a quarter of a century, it’s true to say that the launch of a new 3 Series was & is, most definitely, a big deal. For fleet in particular, the mid-size saloon sector has become incredibly competitive, with Audi’s A4 & the Mercedes-Benz C Class also fighting for a slice of the pie. Sales wise, Mercedes Benz have been steadily attacking the 3 Series with better & better C Class models, whilst Audis A4 has it’s fans as well. BMW therefore, have had to dig deep with their latest offering, not only to appeal to their existing 3 Series customers, but to try & steal a few back from their German competitors.
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, seems to be BMW’s mantra, as the latest 3 Series, retains the familiar look of the BMW family line & doesn’t look too dissimilar from the previous model. BMW purists would probably approve of this, however, one could argue that with both Audi & Mercedes breathing down their necks, that perhaps BMW ‘s designers could have made more dramatic changes than they have, although let’s face it, why change the look of a car that sells in bucket loads to an incredibly discerning customer.
There are three models on offer; SE, M Sport or Sport. The new model is offered as a petrol, a diesel or a plug-in petrol hybrid. The 320i is now the entry level petrol model, with a 182bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine plus optional xDrive 4WD. There’s also a 258bhp petrol version, badged as the 330i & a range topping petrol M340i xDrive.
For fleet customer’s it’s the diesels that will hold the most appeal. Choose from a 148bhp 318d, a 187bhp 320d or a 369bhp 330d xDrive. There is also a plug-in hybrid, the 330e , which uses the same 182bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine as the 320i, combined with an electric motor that adds 67bhp. It offers a claimed all-electric range of 41 miles.
We were testing the most likely fleet best-seller the 320d auto, in M Sport xDrive guise. The range is offered with fuel economy of 54.3–57.6mpg & 110-118g/km of CO2 for the manual version, with these figures drops of slightly,if you order the auto. Our test car, the xDrive, which offers all wheel drive & is therefore heavier, increases emissions to between 119-121g/km, whilst also lowering fuel economy to between 48.7-51.4mpg.
Compared to the previous model, which was more of a facelift than an all-new car, it is immediately apparent that the latest 3 Series is now larger than any of it’s predecessor’s. The new car is 85 millimetres longer (at 4,709mm), 16 millimetres wider (1,827mm) & just 1 mm taller (1,442 millimetres) than the Series 6.
The wheelbase has also grown by 41mm, with the result of increasing leg room in the rear. The car’s front & rear tracks have also been widened, which in turn improve the ride & handling. More legroom also helps to increase headroom, which is better in the 3 Series than either the C Class or the A4. Getting in and out of the car is also easier for the rear passengers, because the door aperture height on the new version, has been increased.
Boot capacity is 480 litres, the same as the previous model, but the new model offers partitioning in the boot, with a primary luggage compartment & two separate storage compartments, which has created an additional 36 litres of space.
Inside, there’s a newly-designed instrument cluster & Control Display, with the air conditioning located at the centre of the instrument panel. Light functions are operated via a panel of buttons next to the steering wheel. The start/stop button for the engine is now positioned in a control panel in the centre console, that also houses the gearshift lever, the iDrive Controller, electromechanical parking brake & the buttons for the Driving Experience Control switch unit.
The new 3 Series now offers as standard, adaptive LED headlights & LED fog lights, rain sensor, automatic headlight activation, a Bluetooth hands-free phone facility, automatic climate control (including three zones with independent controls for the driver, front passenger and rear passengers) & acoustic glass for the windscreen, driver & passenger side windows. DAB radio also comes as standard & features six speakers with an output of 100 watts.
In the past, if you wanted your 3 Series with everything on it, adding extras to your model would have cost you a packet & taken you a good few hours to piece together. Whilst the cost of said extras is still there, for example our 320d X Drive included an added Technology Pack for £1500, the overall package & option structure for the new 3 Series has been dramatically simplified, with a package & option list reduced to 6 main packages & 10 single options. To simplify things, the packages group together options which share similar functionality or customer benefit & eases the ordering process while still allowing for a wide degree of personalisation. The Technology pack for example, includes a head up display, enhanced Bluetooth wiring, BMW gesture control & WiFi hotspot preparation.
Undoubtedly one of the best improvements over the previous model on the new 3 Series, is the interior. Gone is the slightly Bavarian drabness of previous incarnations, replaced by a far more attractive & user-friendly layout. Perhaps BMW felt it needed to change, because the latest Audi A4 & Mercedes C-Class are pretty impressive inside as well.
What BMW have cleverly done is to also up the ante with a selection of higher quality materials, which have really improved the finish. Both the look & the feel of the materials is more aesthetically pleasing. I struggled to find anything you can see or touch, that doesn’t either look great or feel top notch. And, it’s all bolted together brilliantly as well. For example, the black leather seating with blue stitching on our test car was beautifully made & the sports seats are very, very comfortable.
Another new feature, its that the 3 Series now comes with a pair of screens as standard. A 9″ display on the dashboard & a 6″ one replacing the instrument display. BMW’s iDrive rotary controller controls the 9″ touchscreen, whilst the steering wheel contains the function buttons to control the 6″ version. Our M Sport test model is offered with the upgraded Live Cockpit Professional system, which adds a 12″ instrument display & a 10″ central touchscreen & this includes the BMW Personal Assistant. This allows the driver or front passenger to ask the car to make phone calls, adjust the volume, alter the SatNav or choose a new function, by saying ‘ Hey BMW, call John Smith mobile,’ for example. I did try to choose a SatNav location like this, but it failed to recognise my request. I tried again & still had no luck, so I reverted to a manual post code entry, which worked just fine. Plainly, I nee dot work on my diction.
I mentioned Audi & Mercedes-Benz earlier & even though both the latest A4 & C Class are both pretty good to drive, the good news for BMW, is that neither can match the new 3 Series for it’s drive ability. I don’t know how, but every new 3 Series drives better then the last & this one is no different. It handles better than anything else in it’s class. The steering offers incredible feel & works brilliantly here. Not only is it lighter & more precise, especially around town, when combined with rear wheel drive, with it’s balanced chassis, you have go-kart handling around bends, handling that’s just not available from the competition. The auto box fitted to my test car is also worth mentioning. When compared to other auto box’s out there, BMW’s version is just better.
The 3 Series comes with four drive functions; Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport & Individual. As usual when testing a press car for a fleet customer, I am trying my hardest to try to get as good as an average fuel consumption in a calendar week that I possibly can.. Consequently, I drove almost only in Eco Pro, which is still enjoyable & managed to average 44.1 mpg, a slightly disappointing result, which I put down to my test car being an xDrive version. Idid try the other options. In Comfort mode, the ride was smoother & the steering more relaxed. In Sport mode, the car is quicker & more responsive, reaching 62 mph in 6.8 seconds, so no surprises there. Without a doubt, it’s more fun in Sport mode, but if you want to save money, then stick to the Eco Pro mode, which still offers the driver plenty of enjoyment.
It’s not all good news though. The 3 Series is not perfect. The fuel economy in the xDrive version was disappointing & the voice control as we can attest, can be a bit temperamental. You’ll also need to download the BMW App for ConnectedDrive Services to be able to use Apple CarPlay & despite all of the equipment fitted to my model, it did not feature Adaptive Cruise Control.
I did though, have to think long & hard to pick these faults in the BMW 3 Series & in reality, none are that major. A week spent driving the 3 Series left me even more convinced than I was before, that this saloon really does deserve the mantra of ‘ the ultimate driving machine, ‘ certainly in it’s sector. In terms of refinement, dynamism & general fun, it’s not only vastly improved over it’s predecessor, it also leaves the latest offerings from Audi & Mercedes lagging behind. We would recommend you go for the more frugal but still well equipped standard 320d auto in SE or M Sport trim. Choose one of these & you will be driving, a very, very, good car indeed.
Still the best after all these years. 4.75/5.