IT WASN’T a conversion anything on the scale of Paul on the road to Damascus let it be said, but it was a strong win over nonetheless.
By John Knox
For two days I was driving around in the new 3 Series BMW wondering what all the fuss was about. Here we had the sixth generation of the world’s best selling premium saloon that is expected to reach out to those who never previously considered the BMW brand, and it did nothing for me.
Car and driver just didn’t bond. And then it happened! An evening trip to Cork was on the agenda. Determined to get more from the drive I decided to fidget and experiment with the seating and steering positions; a revision of everything to do with my position in the car basically.
Bang, we turned the corner. The 3 Series has another loyalist. The return trip to Cork was so enjoyable I considered driving on by the house when I got home! Well, not really, but you get the gist.
Once I found my optimum position in the low set seat, the 3 Series delivered! Good looks, equipment, badges, strong figures for economy and so on are all fine, but if a car is incapable of delivering satisfaction in terms of the drive, and especially one in the premium sector, then what’s the use?
The rear-wheel-drive 3 Series delivers first and foremost with the drive. What’s that exactly, you might ask?
It is that sort of ‘not a care in the world’ feeling that is reached when you are tipping along the highways, byways or motorways and everything is in harmony, the car, the driver, the controls, the handling, the general ambience.
Not a hint of noise
My drive was in the 316d SE automatic, which like all the engines in the new 3 Series features BMW twinpower turbo technology, which eases rather than extracts the strong driving power from the free revving and delightfully flexible 116bhp unit under the bonnet. When you actually call up the horses you get a gush of power, with not a hint of engine noise.
BMW boast that the automatic versions (8-speed, by the way) are as fuel efficient as the manual (6-speed) equivalents. The easy flow of power and the seamless switch from gear to gear leave you looking for road in this lovely machine.
The cabin is an oasis of comfort, without a hint of wind, road or tyre noise, rather like the serene mood in the cabin of a plane, actually. A streamline underside and Aero Curtain air channels in the front apron that diffuses any noise from the wheels most certainly do the business.
BMW’s Efficient Dynamics technology which reduce fuel consumption and C02 emissions (117g/km for E160 annual road tax) helps keep running costs down after the initial investment.
The new 3 Series saloon features a stiffer body and an all new chassis based on a longer (50mm) wheelbase and wider (37mm front and 47mm rear) track. The handling qualities of the car are top of the range, the overall performance very impressive.
All versions feature Drive Performance Control as standard, a switch which allows the driver to swap between up to four driving modes, varying from sporty to extremely economical.
The four modes are ECO PRO, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ (the latter only on Sport models or with selected optional equipment). In ECO PRO, for example, a heavier touch is required on the accelerator, which is a sort of constant reminder that the emphasis is on economy.
All but one car in the range (320d) is shod with Run-flat tyres on light alloy wheels of at least 17” in diameter. Not having had the experience, thankfully, of dealing with a puncture on such tyres I won’t offer an opinion.
BMW realise there is an ever increasing demand for greater personalisation of cars. To help meet such demand the 3 Series is offered in six trim levels, and there is a length list of add on options.
The test car options, for example, included a most pleasing Servotronic Steering (E249), reversing assist camera (E413), Xenon headlights (E682) and brushed aluminium trim (E317).
All models include 17” alloy wheels, automatic air conditioning, Bluetooth, BMW professional radio with 6.5’ colour screen and i-Drive, keyless starting, USB, a multi-function leather steering wheel, cruise control and automatic boot opening.
The SE version driven also has rear park distance control, two zone air conditioning and a rain senior with automatic light activation.
Push back all the glitter and whatever, and bring it down to the basics and the 3 Series scores where it matters more……as a good driving car.
BMW 316d (116bhp) SE saloon automatic E35,980.
Combined mpg: 62.8.
C02 emissions: 118g/km.
Annual road tax: E160.