Our cars: BMW 3 Series - April
Week ending April 26
Driven this week 574 miles
Read the full BMW 3 Series review
One of the common features of modern cars with even a whiff of sporting potential is the ability to change the set-up of the car to suit the road conditions, weather or just your general mood.
My overriding impression from driving our BMW 320d Sport is just what an accomplished all-rounder it is, and that’s partly down to the ability to change how the car rides and delivers its power.
From a fuel economy perspective, the 320d claims an average of 61.4mpg in official tests. I adjusted our True MPG tool to my driving conditions and style and was told to expect 51.2mpg from the car. Sure enough, setting the car to Eco Pro mode to boost efficiency, I managed 50.2mpg over one 90-minute run.
Switching past the intermediate Comfort mode to Sport adjusts the throttle, gearbox and suspension settings accordingly, and changes the whole character of the car within seconds. It doesn’t turn the 320d into a sports car, but it does show a different dimension.
While many cars now feature selective driving modes, too often there’s no discernable variation between settings, or worse, you’ll find that one of the modes is pointless because it ruins the gearbox performance or the ride quality.
The adjustable system in the 320d Sport deftly avoids such problems, instead offering genuinely contrasting modes to suit a variety of driving styles. It’s no wonder that this is such a popular car on our long-term test fleet.
By Ed Callow
Week ending April 19
Miles this week 150
Everyone loves this car, but after a couple of quick drives in our 320d I’d failed to see what all the fuss was about. Worse, it’s the boss’s car, and he likes it - offhand criticism could adversely affect my career.
I initially struggled to find the right driving position. To move the seat (manually), you grasp some unexpectedly cheap feeling levers. Where I’d hoped to find electronic controls is a button, but, although I’ve pressed it, I’ve no idea what it does.
I’m not a fan of the asymmetric centre console, and I’m not sure about the quality of some of the cabin materials either. The thick-rimmed steering wheel feels uncomfortable in the hands - in the right position for me it obscures the top of the instruments, although this is compensated for by the head-up display. The scuttle feels high, the windscreen and side windows small, the sombre black leather cabin cramped – there’s not much legroom behind a tall driver. Two of my passengers shared my opinion that it felt claustrophobic.
Around town that 2.0 diesel engine is unexpectedly gruff, too, though it seems refined enough in other BMWs, and at motorway speeds there’s too much wind and road noise.
But, and it’s a big but, dynamically this car is superb. It’s quick, and it’s economical. With adaptive M Sport suspension it rides, steers and handles beautifully, and the eight-speed auto transmission is a peach. Press Sport and the whole plot comes alive (though the steering becomes a bit too heavily weighted), and the faster you go, the better it gets.
I begin to see why everyone loves it. My job is safe.
By Mark Pearson
Week ending April 12
Miles this week 203
BMW 320d vs BMW 330d. A few of you have asked me recently which 3 Series to go for: the same 320d Sport that’s become a mainstay on the What Car? fleet, or the more potent and more expensive six-cylinder diesel.
So in the interests of science I purloined a 330d this week to form an opinion. The test car in question was a Touring, admittedly, but close enough to make a comparison meaningful.
The first benefit of the bigger-engined car is low-speed refinement. That isn’t a huge virtue of our 320d, admittedly, but the 330d is both creamier and quieter in town and under full acceleration. It’s faster too, as you’d expect, but you’ll barely notice the benefit in most circumstances. My car’s also got an equally excellent auto gearbox and the 330d certainly doesn’t feel any sharper or more relaxing to drive.
Of course, most of the comparisons are about the numbers. You’d have to be pretty committed not to go for the 320d as a company car because you get clobbered for a lot more tax with the 330d.
Private buyers have a tougher decision. Spec for spec you’ll pay about £3000 more for a 330d but it’s easier to get a bigger discount on the bigger engine. In the real world the economy differences aren’t as onerous as you may expect either: our True MPG testers got 54.8mpg from the 320d but a credible 45.3mpg from the 330d. All other running costs are virtually identical.
In the end though I’m happy that I drive a 320d most days. I would appreciate the added refinement and oomph of the 330d, but those fuel bills do matter and my car is fast enough for 99% of the time.
By Chas Hallett
Week ending April 5
Miles this week 647
I often get a bad back when driving long distances (the legacy of an old sports injury), so a four-hour trip to the Lake District over Easter was always going to be a bit uncomfortable.
However, I do find adjustable lumbar support makes a massive difference to how long a stint I can hack at a time, and surprisingly our 3 Series lacks this important feature.
You might imagine it would come as standard on a £30k executive car, but certainly you’d have thought it would be thrown in as part of the optional Black Dakota leather seats (£1625) our Sport model is fitted with.
Well, it turns out you can have a four-way electrically adjustable lumbar support system, but only if you spend an extra £235 – leather or not. That’s a little stingy, I reckon.
By Will Nightingale