BMW 320d xdrive
Reflections after 17,000 miles
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