Our cars: BMW 3 Series - March
Week ending March 28
Driven this week 130 miles
Read the full BMW 3 Series review
Our 320d is fitted with the optional eight-speed automatic gearbox. It’s one of the best autos around and replaces the somewhat notchy manual gearbox that comes as standard, so is seriously worth considering at £1525.
In fact, if you’re a company car driver the auto 'box is a no-brainer, because it actually lowers the car’s official CO2 output. This means that if you pay tax at 40%, you’ll pay a fiver less in company car tax every year than if you’d gone for the manual.
By Will Nightingale
Week ending March 22
Driven this week 180
One odd thing about our BMW 320d Sport is that all four tyres, especially the rears, are still incredibly fresh. Yes, of course there's some sign of wear on the Pirellis, but considering the BMW's now done more than 20,000 miles, they're holding up well.
Admittedly, if you're really toasting it there's a mite more slip than when they were new – but that's usually only detectable by the traction control warning light coming on earlier.
The most impressive thing about the tyres is their wet weather grip. We've had plenty of rain lately – leaving more unwelcome standing water than normal – but I always feel confident that they're going to cling on and not raise my heart rate on the motorway.
They're not going to be cheap to replace, mind you. I just hope I can squeeze a few thousand miles out of them yet.
By Chas Hallett
Week ending March 15
Miles this week 210
So, our 3 Series has just passed the 20,000-mile mark in its nine months with us. Most cars on the What Car? fleet leave us with at least 12,000 miles after a year of testing, but the BMW's odometer reading is testament to its popularity with everyone who works here.
My drive home in it earlier this week was my first chance to get behind the wheel. I'm already a BMW fan, having owned an E36 1.8iS coupe 10 years ago and currently run an E92 330d Coupe. The latter has an 'old-school' six-speed automatic gearbox that's pretty good in most situations, but hunts between fifth and sixth (top) gears when you're cruising at 50mph. You can also nudge the gearlever left to put the 'box into Sport mode, but on my car the gearchanges are so savage I've tried it only a couple of times.
The eight-speed auto in our 320d is simply amazing in comparison. Slick, quick-changing, very smooth – it's simply a revelation. For most of my commute I had the car in Eco Pro mode, which makes the gearbox change up as quickly as possible. It's an odd feeling at first, trundling around at 30mph in town in fifth gear. You think the car's going to change its mind and start changing down, but it doesn't. It just gets it right every time.
Okay, it's not that willing to change down when you're still in Eco Pro on the motorway and are pressing on, but a quick flick of the left-hand steering wheel paddle is all it takes to encourage the 'box to slip down a gear.
Deeply impressive. I just hope I get another chance to take the 320d for a spin before it leaves us – no doubt with 30,000 miles on the clock.
Week ending March 8
Miles this week 330
Call me a pedant, but I can't help noticing one or two quality issues in the latest 3 Series. Don't get me wrong, it has a very smart cabin by the standards of the class, but the fit and finish aren't quite as faultless as you might expect.
For example, there's a surprisingly large and inconsistent gap between the surround for the heater vents and the instrument binnacle. The leather trim on the steering wheel doesn't feel all that classy, either, and neither do the touch-sensitive buttons above the stereo.
In fact, I'd go so far as to say the latest Audi A3 (a car from the class below) edges the BMW for perceived quality, with a tighter fit to interior panels and better materials throughout. That bodes well for the next-generation Audi A4, which will be the direct rival for the 3 Series.
The next A4 will have its work cut out to match the BMW's driving dynamics, though. Our long-term 320d has the optional M Sport adaptive suspension system fitted, which means it's even sharper to drive, but gives you the ability to soften the suspension when you simply want to waft yourself home in comfort.
By Will Nightingale
Week ending March 1
Miles this week 500
Had to make a last-minute dash down the M3 earlier this week, to go to look at a used car with a friend, and the 3 Series was the easiest car to get out of the car park. As ever, it was a wise choice. I hooked my phone into the Bluetooth system inseconds, which meant I was legal and able to stream music, and the navigation system was a doddle to operate.
The car got me to my destination with time to spare, and with no unplanned detours – great.
In fact, there are only a few things I don't like about the BMW. In town, the engine is far too grumbly and loud; BMW definitely no longer leads the way for diesel engine technology. Secondly, there's too much wind and road noise at speed.
Finally, on cars such as ours with adaptive suspension, hitting Sport also pits the transmission into a higher state of alert, and means it won't engage top gear. The only options are to take manual control of shifts and stick it in top, or to go into the iDrive system and disengage the transmission side of the Sport setting – but this means you lose the sharper accelerator control and quicker gearbox reactions. It'd be much easier if the 'box would just choose eighth of its own accord once it knows you're cruising.
Nonetheless, minor niggles aside, the BMW still makes a pretty convincing way to eat up the miles.