Review and road test of the BMW 320d
The BMW 3 Series is at its most competitive in 320d guise. Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the improved version of this seventh generation model.
Ten Second Review of the BMW 320d
The BMW 3 Series is still the definitive mid-sized sports saloon and it sells most strongly in this 320d four cylinder diesel form. This improved version of the seventh generation design is smarter and gets a much more sophisticated cabin. Plus the diesel powerplant now features 48V mild hybrid tech and there's a big step forward in media connectivity. All the things you'd expect from a facelift really. Something else you'd expect from this model is rear wheel drive handling purity. It doesn't disappoint in that regard either.
Think of a really sharp handling relatively compact sports saloon and it's probable that you're thinking of this car, BMW's 3 Series. Over more than four decades, it's dominated the segment it first invented and upwards of 15 million of them have been sold. So of course the company's hopes are high for this seventh generation version.
The Munich maker certainly needs this contender to be good. The Bavarian marque used to advertise every car it made as being 'the ultimate driving machine', but that hasn't been a slogan appropriate to many of the SUV-inspired or electrified models the company's brought us in more recent times. And it's also been a difficult mantra to meet as the 3 Series has become larger and heavier over the last few years. It was time for a re-set. The question is whether this 'G20'-series design is good enough to provide it. I tried a 320d variant to find out.
A front engine, rear wheel drive formula with near perfect 50:50 weight distribution has defined the 3 Series to date and the improved version of this seventh generation model doesn't deviate too far from that script. Apart from the fact that 8-speed auto transmission has been standardised, the main difference with this update is the adoption of the brand's efficient 48V mild hybroid engine tech, which maximises energy recuperation and supplies an 11hp acceleration boost for overtaking. As before, the 320d comes in either rear-driven or xDrive 4WD forms.
Otherwise, much is familiar here; a front engine, rear wheel drive formula with near perfect 50:50 weight distribution has defined the 3 Series to date and this seventh generation model doesn't deviate too far from that script. Still notable are the standard 'lift-related' dampers. These clever shock absorbers incorporate structures that provide extra damping at the extremes of wheel travel, allowing quite a firm sporting set-up to be adopted, but also one able to deliver a fluent ride over tarmac imperfections. Thanks to that, this car's able to combine a set-up for Silverstone with something that works equally well on the North Circular.
Design and Build
This seventh generation 3 Series model has had a useful visual update here for both Saloon and Touring estate body styles. If you know this 'G20'-series seventh generation design, you'll notice the updated front end, which offers slimmer LED headlights, a resculpted grille and gloss black brake cooling vents. M Sport variants get a distinctive hexagonal lower air intake too. There are reshaped bumpers at the rear and colour-coded trim elements, plus M Sport models feature a chunky diffuser.
The major changes though, have taken place inside, where this 3 Series gets the new-look curved instrument panel that we first saw on the iX luxury EV. this incorporates a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster and a 14.9-inch infotainment screen with the brand's latest eighth generation iDrive interface. This all allows for a big step forward in media functionality, with things like real-time mapping, a parking space locator and wireless smartphone-mirroring. Other cabin updates include slimmer air vents, a redesigned gear shifter, standardised gear shift paddles and new touch-sensitive buttons for the centre console.
Otherwise, things are much as before. There's reasonably comfortable space for a couple of adults on the rear bench - it'd be a bit of a squash for three. Out back, there's a 480-litre boot in the Saloon, which you can extend by folding the seat backs forward. If you're going to be doing that very regularly though, then you're really a candidate for the alternative Touring estate version, which offers a 500-litre boot, extendable with seat folding to 1,500-litres.
Market and Model
For this 190hp 320d diesel, pricing starts in saloon form from just under £40,000. That's for a rear-driven model. For the xDrive version, you're looking at around £41,000. All 320d variants now get Sport automatic transmission as standard. The Touring estate body style costs around £1,500 more.
There are now just two trim levels, 'Sport' and 'M Sport' and all models now include the 'BMW Live Cockpit Plus' screen set-up, which includes cloud-based BMW Maps, over-the-air updates and an improved version of the brand's 'Intelligent Personal Assistant' voice control system. The company's 'Parking assistant' is now standard, steering you automatically into spaces. And yoiu can upgrade it with Park View, Panorama View and 3D View functions. M Sport customers are being offered a choice of exterior upgrades, including a carbonfibre rear diffuser, a large rear spoiler for the saloon and individual wheel designs of up to 20-inches in size.
As for safety, well as before, an optional across the range is the brand's 'Driving Assistant Professional' pack, which includes Active Cruise Control with a Stop&Go function. There's also a 'Steering and Lane Control Assistant', which helps the driver maintain their position on motorways where the lane narrows. The 'Active Navigation' function detects when a lane change for a motorway exit is required and prepares to steer the car into that lane. The system also comprises a 'Lane Keeping Assistant' with active side collision protection and an 'Evasion Assistant'.
Cost of Ownership
In rear-driven form, this 320d manages a combined reading of up to 58.9mpg and 127g/km of CO2. Or 55.4mpg and 135g/km as an xDrive variant. These are very competitive figures, helped by the Munich maker's latest 48V mild hybrid tech. This draws on a powerful 48-volt starter generator and an additional battery, both offering more possibilities for brake energy regeneration. The energy harvested by the system when braking or cruising is stored in a 48-volt battery and can be used to generate drive power. What's more, the 48-volt starter generator can also create an electric boost of 11hp during hard acceleration, which is particularly helpful for overtaking.
What else? Well the Steptronic automatic transmission features a coasting mode so that when the driver lifts off the throttle at higher speeds, for example on a gentle downhill grade on the motorway, the engine is automatically decoupled from the powertrain. It then simply ticks over in neutral, which saves fuel and ensures there is no unwanted engine braking at high speed. An additional fuel-saving feature, which also improves driving comfort, is the Proactive Driving Assistant, which uses information from the navigation system to "anticipate" upcoming roundabouts, corners and junctions and select exactly the right time to change gear.
This is the kind of car that BMW is best at making. We understand why the company has to make SUVs, People Carriers and Electric Vehicles, but it'll lose its soul if it ever stops making models like this one. The most recent previous generation 3 Series designs have dabbled with conformity, but this 'G20' version reasserts this Bavarian maker's dynamic dominance in the mid-sized sports saloon segment - especially in this improved form. No other rival serves up as deliciously rich a driving experience as this and this 320d variant arguably represents the sweet spot in the range.
There are a number of reasons why this seventh generation design has progressed once more in this regard - light weight, sequential turbocharging, a stiffer structure; all of it helps. But we reckon the 'lift-related' dampers are a crucial contributor, delivering a balance of ride and handling that no competitor can match. And segment-leading running cost efficiency adds the finishing touch to a classy package. Over the years, the 3 Series has changed a lot about the way we buy cars in this class, continually forcing its rivals to play catch up. This one's no different.
BMW 320d review by Jonathan Crouch