3-Se­ries grows up


Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODMOTORING - HENRI DU PLESSIS

IHAVE this vague mem­ory from childhood of my mother work­ing as a book­keeper at a To­tal garage in Strand Road, Stik­land, in Bel­lville, where the owner of the garage had set up one of the ear­li­est BMW deal­er­ships in the area.

And my mother fell in love with th­ese cars right away. My fa­ther, how­ever, who drove a big Citroen DS at that time, was not so sure. And when my mother ac­tu­ally bought one (a sec­ond-hand 1950s air-cooled model with a two-cylin­der boxer mo­tor) the old man was not all that im­pressed.

He tended to break the car. Not on pur­pose of course. Af­ter all, that was only go­ing to cost him money, a com­mod­ity not so com­mon in the house­hold in those days.

But, for in­stance, the DS had a col­umn shift gear lever. The BMW did not. The tiny stalk on the BMW’s steer­ing col­umn was for the in­di­ca­tor lights. It failed to work like a gear lever. Hence, it broke.

Now, when Se­nior thinks back to that car, he wishes he had never sold it. Back then, he could not sell it quickly enough.

Se­nior would be very slow to sell a cur­rent model BMW to­day.

De­spite be­ing 87, he is still a very good, at­ten­tive driver. And a driver’s car still ex­cites him and gives him plea­sure, even when he is in the pas­sen­ger’s seat, as he al­ways is when he goes with me in a test car. His big old E- Class Merc can­not ex­actly be de­scribed as a driver’s car, but he loves it.

So, when I re­cently had a BMW 330d on test, it was a good op­por­tu­nity for me to hear his opin­ion of the car.

Now I’ve al­ways ex­pe­ri­enced a BMW as a very good driver’s car. I don’t re­ally care which BMW is in­volved, my ex­pe­ri­ence is that the mere act of slid­ing in be­hind the steer­ing wheel puts one in a place of au­to­mo­tive seren­ity. It is a place where a per­son with a heart for driv­ing al­most im­me­di­ately feels at home.

I have driven some of the cra­zi­est BMWs re­cently brought to mar­ket (and, let us be hon­est, there have been a few!) and my ex­pe­ri­ence is the same ev­ery time. Whether it was the X6, the first 1-Se­ries, the X1 or that GT thing.

Even the BMW 320, which can­not re­motely be con­sid­ered a per­for­mance car, is nice to drive be­cause of the char­ac­ter of the car. In many re­spects, Audi still has the pret­ti­est in­te­rior. In many re­spects, Mercedes Benz still boasts solid qual­ity, but with the BMW you have the right feel, the right am­bi­ence.

So, one day, I went to pick Se­nior up with the 330d. He was a bit pre­oc­cu­pied with a few rel­a­tively mi­nor is­sues and did not do his usual walk-around, tyre-kick­ing rou­tine. He sat down in the front pas­sen­ger seat, clicked in his safety belt and off we went, he chat­ting away about those things fore­most in his mind.

The 2993cc, six-cylin­der turbo diesel en­gine is no slouch and we were up to speed in no time. The long list of stan­dard equip­ment and the even longer list of op­tions made that car look like a tech lab. The Dakota Black leather of the sporty seats was beau­ti­fully sub­dued. With 190kW and a mighty 560Nm of torque on tap, this softly snarling car spoke vol­umes about its po­ten­tial.

The Harman/Kar­don Sur­round Sound sys­tem of the test was richly pour­ing forth some Mark Knopfler.

The qual­ity of the car’s trans­porta­tion was such that had Scot­tie come to beam us up to wher­ever, we could not have been more com­fort­able.

Among all the op­tional ex­tras in the car were safety ef­forts such as lane change warn­ing, lane de­par­ture warn­ing and ac­tive pro­tec­tion. The stop and go func­tion would neatly cut the en­gine at stops and then start them again as you re­leased the brake pedal.

When driven care­fully, the 330d can be fairly fru­gal on petrol. I had it at 7.9 litres over 100km once, ac­cord­ing to the com­puter. I can’t say how ac­cu­rate that is.

With a base price of R511 000, this car was a se­ri­ous bit of kit. With the op­tional ex­tras, the price had gone to R732 319.50. I would love to know where the 50c came from. But what­ever.

Fi­nally, as we got out of the car at our desti­na­tion, Se­nior piped up.

“What car is this? A Mercedes Benz? Oh, I see, it is a BMW. Lovely hey? It feels just like a Mercedes Benz.”

Se­ri­ous kit in­deed. Gone is the some­what harsh sporty sus­pen­sion. Gone, the tight, hug­ging sport seats. My de­cid­edly mid­dle-aged car­cass fits in snugly all over.

But is that what BMW wants to achieve with the 3-Se­ries? A more se­ri­ous bit of kit? Prob­a­bly. Af­ter all, the 1-Se­ries is out there look­ing for match­ing boy rac­ers.

SE­RI­OUS KIT: The BMW 3-Se­ries is no longer that sedan with a se­ri­ously sporty char­ac­ter – be­cause it, and the per­son who buys it, has grown up.

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