Sub­tlety the name of the game with BMW’s ul­ti­mate small sports saloon

Plus ca change? In parts, says Fred­eric Manby.

Yorkshire Post - Motoring - - FEATURES -

EVEN BMW will ad­mit that the mid-life re­vamp of its uber suc­cess­ful 3-se­ries changes very lit­tle on the ex­te­rior of the car: to whit, sub­tle at­ten­tion to the front and rear lights and lower sec­tions of the bumpers.

Oh, and the bon­net is a nudge longer. Oh, and there are a few changes to the 320d and 325d diesels with power and econ­omy in­creased, and emis­sions de­creased. The 335i sin­gle turbo petrol en­gine achieves the same im­prove­ments.

The changes ap­ply to the con­vert­ible, coupé, es­tate and saloon – with the lat­ter tak­ing most sales. All now have Dakota leather, usu­ally taken as an op­tion, and which on its own can­cels out the £900-£1,000 price hikes. The M3 ver­sions are not for­got­ten, with stop-start ig­ni­tion on both the man­ual and DSG au­to­matic, plus a new op­tion of a com­pe­ti­tion kit which low­ers the M3 and re­vises the elec­tronic damp­ing and sta­bil­ity sys­tems.

Sub­tle, in­deed, tak­ing the lat­est ver­sion of the ul­ti­mate small sports saloon to­wards the next ma­jor re­vi­sion, when­ever that will be. It is the class leader, de­spite some ex­cel­lent chal­lengers in the A4, C-class and, to be tried, the lat­est Volvo S60. BMW has been con­cen­trat­ing on fuel ef­fi­ciency so hard that the com­pe­ti­tion is trail­ing. Since 2005, it has got the 3-se­ries av­er­age con­sump­tion down by 28 per cent. Such things mat­ter for all sorts of rea­sons and, in par­tic­u­lar, for the Bri­tish com­pany car driver who pays, quite rightly, through the nose for high CO2 emis­sions.

There is, then, a new best friend for the com­pany man and woman, a 3-se­ries which has been sell­ing out since its launch here last month. BMW GB ar­gued hard for this model, and takes 60 per cent of the pro­duc­tion from the fac­tory in Re­gens­burg.

It is not the fastest 3-se­ries by a long way, though it is ca­pa­ble of 0-62mph in eight sec­onds, thanks to a 163ps en­gine. Its name is the 320d ED, the ED stand­ing for ef­fi­cient dy­nam­ics. This ED tech­nik is so ef­fi­cient that the of­fi­cial av­er­age for the saloon is 68.9 miles a gal­lon and its car­bon diox­ide emis­sions are just, only, a mere 109g/km. This is stag­ger­ing, low, al­most hard to be­lieve.

In per­spec­tive, then, it is much faster and pow­er­ful than any of the hand­ful of small econ­omy cars that get near or un­der 109g/km. It is greener than eco ver­sions of Fo­cus, As­tra, Golf etc. It leaves its peers from Ger­many trail­ing.

Run­ning a 320d ED means lower daily costs for ev­ery­one, no road tax at all this year and just £20 next year, and for the large per­cent­age of busi­ness and cor­po­rate users huge gains in per­sonal tax and write-down val­ues, which I do not un­der­stand. The write-down on this one is 100 per cent in the first year. The ben­e­fit in kind tax is 13 per cent, which is 5pc lower than its near­est ri­val.

It is truly a “wow, want one” fac­tor for the tar­get cus­tomer. It is based on the SE model and costs £27,245. The bald power and ac­cel­er­a­tion fig­ures show it is no slouch, but what is it like to drive? Has it, as BMW claims, es­caped the low-revs noise and vi­bra­tion that are fa­mil­iar with high-geared econ­omy diesel mod­els?

The an­swer is “not quite”. There is still a harsh­ness when pick­ing up speed from low en­gine revs, de­spite the high torque. The case for the de­fence could be that these were brand new cars and may im­prove with some miles. Also, the driver may not care when, as I did, see­ing a 50-plus mpg read­ing on the trip com­puter in “ev­ery­day” mo­tor­ing ex­plor­ing its ac­cel­er­a­tion and not driv­ing in an eco­nom­i­cal way, dur­ing a morn­ing drive last week on the press event.

There is a fuller ex­pla­na­tion of how ED works in the fact box but es­sen­tially it moves on from ex­ist­ing ED meth­ods, evolv­ing as fast as the en­gi­neers come up with new meth­ods. It is also 21ps down on the reg­u­lar 320d. (I give Ger­man ps val­ues here in­stead of Bri­tish brake horse power to avoid frac­tions, in this case 20.7bhp. To do your own, di­vide ps by 1.014 to get bhp.)

The 3-se­ries per se re­mains a fine state­ment of how a mid-size car can be. It has rear-wheel drive (also used by Mercedes and Lexus), very pleas­ing body shapes, and re­cent buy­ers of the “old” model will not feel they have missed out on looks. It is large enough for four adults yet small enough to park eas­ily.

I’d rather have a 5-se­ries but I have al­ways felt that way about the larger model, one of my hand­ful of nearul­ti­mate cars.

Pic­tures by Fred­eric Manby.

MAK­ING A STATE­MENT: BMW’s 3-se­ries.

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