The BMW 3-series has long been one’s first step towards entering the BMW family. Small yet comfortable, the car is exceptionally popular. In the nineties, the 3-series grew up when the so-called dolphin-shape was introduced, which led to an increase in sales of the baby Beemer. But, as time moved on, the 3-series saw itself looking almost conservative against Chris Bangle’s love-it-or-hate-it 7 series, the disappointingly flame-surfaced Z4, the drop-dead gorgeous 6-series, the dramatically sporty 5-series and the odd-looking new 1-series.
All that was left to redesign was the 3-series, and the world waited with baited breath to see how ‘Bangled’ it would be, many fearing the worst. So when the new 3-series was released last year, it was a decided anti-climax – there was no revolution in sight. Yes, the new 3 had a front-end that channeled BMW’s new design language, but seen as a whole (and especially at the back) it is probably the most conservative design Chris Bangle has conjured up.
The BMW versus Mercedes-Benz battle has forever been a fierce one, (with Audi also joining the fray in recent years). Since Chris Bangle took over design duties at BMW, the battle has become even more interesting as the two marques’ designs now look like polar opposites. Still, the Bangled 7-series has started outselling the S-class (not for long though), the X5 has certainly stolen some of the ML’s limelight, and the new C-class has given 3 a very good go on the local sales charts. But the fact remains that the 3-series has for years been BMW’s volume seller, and while the Bavarians are hoping for the 1-series to be what the 3 was 15 years ago, 3 remains the BMW most people would probably buy – the main reason behind its slightly conservative design.
The design testifies to a play-it-safe attitude but in some way makes a bolder, more masculine statement than its predecessor. A car that will probably appeal to a broad base of consumers, I found that it becomes better-looking the more you see it, with the front definitely being its best angle. The trademark kidney-grille is wider and the newly-designed headlamps give it a look of authority. My favourite feature remains the corona-like rings around the headlamps; feline and menacing, it’s strangely sexy. The new 3-series is bigger than its predecessor (49mm longer, 78mm wider, 6mm higher and a 35mm longer wheelbase) and carries a 25% improvement on body stiffness. Yet, one can not call it gorgeous or ugly. Bold compared to its rivals, and in some instances even sporty, there is no denying that the car has a very eye-catching presence.
When it comes to features and comfort, there is very little lacking in the 3-series. Seating is comfortable (with adjustable side-bolsters) although shape of the rear bench is more suitable to two passengers than three. Steering is adjustable for height and reach, while head, shoulder and rear legroom is on par for its class. As can be expected, fit and finish is excellent: the audio and climate control systems are powerful and very effective, and cruise control and an on-board computer also come standard. There is a huge list of options with which you can spruce up your car, and I would definitely recommend adding the 17-inch alloy wheels – the standard 16-inchers are not bad, but the bigger size adds more presence. The 3-series is also right up there in terms of safety with six airbags and two-stage brake lights that shine brighter the harder you brake.
The BMW 320D’s 2,0-litre 16 valve turbocharged engine develops 115kW at 4000 rpm with 330Nm of torque available at 2000 rpm. The car is driven by the rear wheels and is fitted with BMW’s 6 speed Steptronic gearbox that is geared to perform at the optimum range of revolutions. The gearbox has a Comfort and Sport mode as well as a manual sequential override function, and the car comes standard with automatic stability and traction control (ASC+T), direction and stability control (DSC) and an electronic diff-lock.
The car also comes standard with 16-inch run-flat tyres (and no spare wheel). Ride is firmer than expected (due to the less flexible sidewalls or the run-flat tires), and steering feels stiff and sporty. You will reach 100km/h in 9,51 seconds before topping out at 213km/h. Braking is excellent, and the car is fitted with ABS, ventilated disc on all four wheels, electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), cornering brake control (CBC) and dynamic brake control (DBC). The 60-litre fuel tank should return an average fuel consumption figure of roughly 7 litres per 100km – or just about 14km per litre.
The BMW 320D retails for R274 500 and comes with a five year warranty and 100 000km Motorplan as standard. There are a multitude of cars that compete with the 320D, but its traditional rivals will always remain the offerings from Mercedes-Benz and Audi. The Mercedes Benz C220CDi and Audi A4 2.0TDI respectively sell for roughly R15 000 more and R15 000 less, and as is always the case with premium rated cars, brand loyalty and individual personality of car and buyer will be the deciding factors when determining which is best.
It is interesting to note that when compared to the Merc, the BMW is not only cheaper but also offers a better service package. However, few cars can beat a Merc’s resale value, and nowadays that is a distinctive part of the purchase decision. In most areas, the BMW can not be faulted. It is high quality, has an excellent ride and handling and offers more than decent value for money. BMW has won the title before with the 320D, and I see no reason why the latest incarnation won’t be able to achieve the same glory.