BMW 320d xdrive

Re­flec­tions af­ter 17,000 miles

Auto Car (UK) - - CONTENTS - MARK TIS­SHAW

WHY WE RAN IT To see if BMW has cre­ated the world’s best all-round ex­ec­u­tive sa­loon “D

o you know what?” my part­ner asked me as we homed back in on Calais af­ter 1500 miles in a week in the BMW 320d xdrive, adding those to the 15,000 miles racked up in the pre­vi­ous 11 months. “I’m re­ally go­ing to miss this car.” Why did she think that? “I don’t know why…”

Ah. But as strange as it sounds, I’m with her on that. Well, I do know why, but I un­der­stand what she meant: the 3 Se­ries is one of those cars that gets pretty much ev­ery lit­tle thing right, in such an unas­sum­ing way, that it makes life with it so easy, en­joy­able and re­ward­ing al­most with­out you ever re­ally notic­ing it.

What­ever the 3 Se­ries’ sta­tus and rep­u­ta­tion as a stel­lar car to drive and a fine all-rounder, though, it still ar­rived in our pos­ses­sion last sum­mer with a lot to prove. Back then, it had just un­der­gone a facelift and its po­si­tion as the star pupil of the class it had ruled for so long was un­der threat like never be­fore.

The Jaguar XE had not long been launched and had beaten the 3 Se­ries for han­dling prow­ess in com­par­i­son tests, even if the plucky up­start did not quite de­liver as a fault­less exec with which to live when we added one to our long-term test fleet. The Audi A4 had also just come along with its posh in­te­rior, and the Mercedes-benz C-class was still fresh, with the kind of de­sir­abil­ity many ri­vals envy.

How­ever, there was more to this story than de­ter­min­ing where the 3 Se­ries ranks among exec saloons, be­cause our car had xdrive all-wheel drive. BMW had long re­sisted giv­ing UK buy­ers the op­tion of all-wheel drive, yet it came on this 3 Se­ries (and other non-suv BMWS) in this gen­er­a­tion for the first time.

One in five 3 Se­ries sa­loon buy­ers in the UK have been spec­i­fy­ing their cars that way, but is the £1500 pre­mium worth pay­ing for?

Let’s deal with that point first. As you’d ex­pect, you wouldn’t do it for fi­nan­cial rea­sons. The CO2 emis­sions of a four-wheel-drive model (123g/km plays 116g/km for a rear-drive ver­sion in an equiv­a­lent spec) take a hit, as does econ­omy. A rear-drive 320d we ran in 2013 re­turned 61.1mpg over its time with us com­pared with this car’s 48.1mpg.

Purists might also have some­thing to say about xdrive it­self. Some on the team be­moaned the slight edge be­ing taken off the han­dling, yet I was im­pressed by how the nose kept tucked in mid-cor­ner even un­der plenty of power. But the per­ma­nent sys­tem with a 60/40 rear-to-front split chief ly added ex­tra rock-solid, sure­footed se­cu­rity to the pack­age, and I never prop­erly broke trac­tion, even in the most tor­ren­tial rain. The sys­tem would take a split se­cond or two to work out where to send drive un­der harder ac­cel­er­a­tion, yet the lit­tle wob­ble that en­sued pro­duced a gig­gle more than a cold sweat.

How­ever, xdrive did give the 3 Se­ries a large turn­ing cir­cle, as any­one who wit­nessed me squeez­ing into tight multi-storey park­ing spa­ces will at­test. Still, at that point, some of the car’s tech­nol­ogy came into play: the 3 Se­ries could re­verse park it­self into a bay with quite some suc­cess us­ing its cam­eras and sen­sors.

As far as the rest of our car’s spec was con­cerned, we opted for the 2.0-litre diesel en­gine. We also went for the M Sport spec, as more than half of all 3 Se­ries buy­ers do, with all the sporty trim and up­grades that come with it (sports sus­pen­sion, smart al­loy wheels with lower-pro­file rub­ber, a bodykit and M trim in­side, in­clud­ing a chunky steer­ing wheel.

The con­cept of a diesel sports sa­loon is not an alien one, as the 3 Se­ries has long proven. The han­dling and low-to-the-ground driv­ing po­si­tion in­volve you in the drive in the way that an SUV – or, in­deed, many ri­val saloons – can only dream of, and the per­for­mance from the diesel is im­pres­sive, too. This facelift has nudged the 3 Se­ries more to­wards over­all com­fort and away from out-and-out fun. It’s nei­ther bet­ter nor worse, just dif­fer­ent.

One thing you don’t yet as­so­ci­ate with a 3 Se­ries is lash­ings of tech­nol­ogy, but for me, BMW’S idrive in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem re­mains the best around, both for clar­ity and ease of use. Long live a ro­tary dial and click wheel con­trol set-up in­stead of a dis­tract­ing touch­screen.

Prob­lems with our car? None. It needed a new tyre, but that was due to a slow punc­ture.

Changes I’d make? The ride can crash over badly bro­ken road sur­faces on those 19in al­loys and low-pro­file tyres. The steer­ing is a bit squidgy around the straight-ahead and the re­fine­ment of the en­gine at low speeds is still not good enough. Fi­nally, the whop­ping dep­re­ca­tion fig­ure of our car is in­dica­tive of the vast amount of op­tions on it.

Af­ter such a year, this car was not go­ing to go out with a whim­per. I’d al­ready got a taste for Euro­pean road trips thanks to a drive to north­ern France in the spring, so for a sum­mer hol­i­day, when ex­it­ing the DFDS ferry in Calais, I pointed the car to­wards La Rochelle in west­ern France.

Many miles on roads as di­verse as the pub­lic sec­tions of Le Mans’ Cir­cuit de la Sarthe, wind­ing Nor­mandy B-roads and au­toroutes con­firmed what I’d spent a year think­ing: that there’s no other com­pact ex­ec­u­tive sa­loon I’d have rather spent the time in. Af­ter six years on sale for this gen­er­a­tion of the 3 Se­ries, that’s some achieve­ment.

There’s no other com­pact ex­ec­u­tive car I’d rather have spent the time in

Route to La Rochelle took in the Cir­cuit de la Sarthe at Le Mans

A 1500-mile week through France showed its tal­ents

Tis­shaw is a big fan of the 3 Se­ries’ lowset driv­ing po­si­tion

When the 480-litre boot was al­ready full, you had to box clever

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