First drive: BMW 3 Series

  • A Subtle face-lift
  • New distinctive look
  • Excellent car made better
Price from £21,475
On sale Now
You’ll like: Great to drive and own
You won’t: Everyone’s got one

What Car? Says
About as complete as cars get.

Improving on excellence is a tricky task, which is maybe why BMW’s approach to face-lifting the 3 Series has been closer to a subtle Botox injection than full-on nip, tuck and suck.

For the record, it has gained a new bonnet, grille, lights, bumpers and side skirts. Oh, and larger door mirrors. Although these are small changes, they do conspire to make the car look more distinctive than the outgoing model.

The changes on the inside are even more subtle. There’s new upholstery, to complement the classy and spacious cabin. Anti-whiplash head restraints, which spring forward in an accident to minimise the effects of neck injury, are a welcome addition. If you go for the optional satellite-navigation, there’s also an easier-to-use iDrive control system.

All well and good, but the most exciting changes are under the bonnet. There’s a cleaner and more powerful engine in the 330d, and the 318d is now available with an automatic gearbox (see the group test on page 68).

Our test cars were the 320d (which is expected to be the biggest seller) and the 318i (the entry-level 3 Series). The 2.0-litre diesel engine in the 320d is a beauty: smooth, quiet and punchy enough that you can be lazy with the slightly notchy gearbox.

The 318i’s 2.0-litre petrol engine is smooth and quiet, too, although it’s anything but punchy. It only gets going at high revs, so you’re constantly chasing the redline if you want to make brisk progress.

Both models are otherwise brilliant to drive, with enjoyable handling, loads of grip and nicely weighted steering. True, the ride is jittery at low speeds, but it’s perfectly acceptable and gets better the faster you go.

Refinement is top-notch, too. There’s a little wind noise from the front pillars at speed, but that’s only noticeable because the rest of the car is so quiet. Add super-low CO2 emissions and class-leading economy and you have an outstanding choice, whether you or the company is footing the bill.

There wasn’t much for BMW to do to the 3 Series, but what it has done has made an excellent car even better.

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