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All new BMW 3 series remains the benchmark sports saloon

The 2012 BMW 3 series

The 2012 BMW 3 series

Road tested by Hugh Maguire

The BMW 3 Series needs no introduction. It is widely acknowledged as a quality premium saloon with a pedigree that spans in excess of 30 years.

As a driver’s car it has proven hard to beat, though in recent times the arrival of cars such as the very accomplished new Audi A4, the excellent Volvo S60 or indeed BMW’s famous adversary Mercedes with the latest C Class have all proved worthy competitors to the 3 Series.

The latest version of the BMW 3 series boasts numerous advancements which BMW hope will keep the 3 Series at the forefront of its class.

The problem they have nowadays is that Audi and the like are so good they make very enticing alternatives, so BMW have had to up their game with better specification and improved quality. Yes indeed the competition is tough out there.

There are nine petrol powered versions and twelve diesel versions starting with the 320i SE petrol rising to the 325i Luxury on the petrol side and starting with the 316d ES rising to the 320d Luxury for the oil burners.

The diesels are expected to be the big sellers here with the 316d SE probably proving to make up most of the sales.

My test car this week is the new BMW 320d SE.

First impressions

With the new 3 Series BMW have erred on the side of caution in terms of the new style. It is a mix of the new BMW family style seen already in the current 5 Series and 7 Series but in a much more subtle guise. It has evolved rather than become dramatically different. Parked beside the previous model the two look quite different, but overall the new look I must say works well.

Behind the Wheel

The cabin of the new 3 Series is typically BMW, very minimalist and simple. The dashboard is a model of ergonomic excellence. Clear, concise and uncluttered with just four round dials in the instrument binnacle. I do not like the way the centrally mounted information screen looks like a design afterthought. What a pity they did not integrate it into the flow of the dashboard as in the 5 Series. It really looks like an aftermarket fitment sticking up out of an otherwise attractive dash. At night all the instruments and switchgear are illuminated in a soft easy on the eye red glow. Studies have shown that this type of illumination best suits the transition from viewing the road ahead to refocusing on the car’s instruments at night. It is this attention to detail that I so admire and it is evident in every BMW I have driven. The driving position is excellent and the seats proved comfortable and supportive. The only downside for me was the all-enveloping blackness of the test car’s cabin. Everything, the seats, roof lining, carpets, and dash was black, choosing a grey or beige would be somewhat less oppressive I suppose.

The new 3 Series comes well equipped with all models getting a 6-speed manual gearbox, (or the optional 8 speed auto which is very good) the usual front side and curtain airbags, ABS with DSC, ISOFIX fittings and run flat tyres. On the creature comfort side, USB and Aux ports are standard, as is Bluetooth, cruise control, ECO PRO, and Comfort Go, air conditioning, electric windows, mirrors, and remote keyless entry with pushbutton start is standard as is “Drive Performance Control” which allows the driver switch between Normal, Comfort, Eco and Sport modes. I liked this feature and it really does work changing the car’s character at the touch of a button. The Auto Stop/Start function helps reduce emissions and improve economy and works very well.

Accommodation is improved over its predecessor with visibly more head and legroom particularly in the rear.

Performance

The new engines are all turbocharged for better efficiency. Interestingly also the 316d, 318d and 320d all now emit just 120g/km or below!

The new 4-cylinder 2-litre turbocharged diesel produces a healthy 184 bhp, giving the new car a respectable zero to 100 km/h of 7.6 seconds which is quite impressive. In everyday terms I must say that this new engine performs very well indeed. At idle only a faint thrum from the engine hints that this car is diesel powered. Once on the open road it truly is remarkable, it accelerates smoothly, proves refined and with the optional 8-speed automatic gearbox endows the car with great get up and go. On the economy side it proves equally impressive consuming just 5.8 litres per 100 km of diesel on average over my test period.

Road Behaviour

The rear wheel drive 3 Series corners flatly with little body roll, and grip is superb whether on wet or dry roads. The suspension system is tuned in such a way that it offers the ideal combination between sporting handling and a comfortable ride.

The steering is nicely weighted and overall the new BMW 3 Series retains its mantle of being one of the most rewarding cars to drive in its class. The only negative comment I can make here is that there seems to be quite a bit of wind noise at motorway speeds, otherwise it is a refined car.

Verdict

The new 3 Series is a good move forward for the model. BMW have addressed the areas that came in for criticism in the old model such as rear seat space for example which is improved and the new car benefits from the very latest materials available making it actually lighter than the old model though it is slightly bigger and body rigidity is up too. In driving terms it really is a rewarding car to hustle along a twisty road and that is the very area that gives the new 3 Series an advantage over most of its rivals, it’s still one of the best to drive. Entry to the new BMW 3 Series range starts with the 316d ES which costs €35,600. The petrol line up kicks off with the 320iSE which costs €39,200.

This week’s test car, the 320d SE excluding options fitted such as full leather, auto gearbox and reversing camera costs €40,200.

 

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