2009 BMW 3 Series Review and Road Test

$108,700 Mrlp
  • Fuel Economy
    6L
  • Engine Power
    125kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    179g
  • ANCAP Rating
    5Stars

2009 BMW 320i Review and Road Test

320i has tough competition from within!

Model Tested:

  • 2009 BMW 320i Executive auto - $54,500 RRP

Options:
  • Professional Navigation System including: TV and voice recognition with control display and 8.8” colour monitor - $6750
  • Electric Sunroof – Glass - $2920
  • Metallic Paint (Space Grey) - $1700
  • BMW light-alloy wheels star-spoke 283, 7 J x 16-inch, 225/50 R 16 run-flat safety tyres - $700
  • Interior Trim (Light Walnut) - No Cost Option

CarAdvice Rating:


If it's the latter you're after, then your choices are two. Mercedes or BMW. In this case, we chose the entry level version of BMW's mid-sized contender.

The 320i is the cheapest 3 Series available, and for your money you'll get a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder with 115kW and 200Nm on tap. It doesn't sound like a lot, and really, it isn't. Both figures occur at over 3600rpm, which means you need to rev it to get anything to happen.

It's not overly heavy though, at 1390kgs, so it's geared for economy. Apparently, but with a combined cycle of 8.0-litres per 100 kilometres, it's no more than average.

Also, if you're after performance, then stop reading now. Zero to 100km/h is dispensed with in 9.8 seconds, and while it feels quicker than that while rolling, it's not going to set anyone's world on fire.

Thankfully, the driving dynamics more than make up for it. The handling is assured, with brilliant balance. The engine being mounted so far back probably helps here, making the 320i almost a mid-mounted car.

The steering is excellent, too, with good weight and feel, and no 'fakeness' throughout the lock, unlike some of BMW's competitors. However, it is a tad heavy at lower speeds for the 320i's main market segment.

The other thing that disappoints slightly is the ride itself. The short travel suspension, combined with the stiff sidewalls of the runflat tyres means that there is a jiggly ride that seems a tad harsh.

It needs to be more compliant to really fit the demographic that will buy this car. If it's designed for driving enthusiasts, it needs to be stiffer. Then, it's too slow to fit that bill. So soften it up, and it becomes a plush luxurious ride, and you don't care about going quick. So why have such heavy steering, then? You can see the problem, I'm sure.

Even the M3, with its non-runflat tyres, won't split your kidneys in the way that the standard 3 Series does. Fit a set of different tyres, and you'll probably be okay.

Despite all this, the seating arrangement is quite comfy, and even though there's not a lot in the way of side support, you can eat up long distances without fuss. Even the rear seats, in which you sit a little "knees up" tend to be comfortable, and space isn't too bad - if the driver and passenger don't sit too far back.

Standard equipment isn't skimped on either, with safety taking in six airbags, stability and traction control, ABS, wheel-independent brake force distribution and active headrests. ANCAP has awarded the 3 Series five stars, in case you're wondering.

Then there's the parking sensors, rain sensing wipers, auto headlights, cruise control, dual zone climate control and leather as standard. In the eyes of this tester, as well, the freshen of the 3 Series crisps up the exterior to keep it from looking tired, with different bonnet creases, lights and front bumper.

Certainly the quality is there, too. The fit and finish of the interior is very good, with nice, glossy woodgrains, and a solidly built cabin. The new I-Drive optioned on our test car is light-years ahead of the last model, with simple intuitive functions, and quick select buttons falling easily to hand. Really, the whole cabin is presented well, and is nicely functional.

So it should be for $55,000, but the price is only part of the problem for this car. You see, the engine is both somewhat efficient, and vibration-free, but it's not the smoothest four going around. Listening to it throughout the rev range, and you start to wonder what went on.

With BMW being touted as one of the best engine builders going around, it was a bit of a surprise to not hear the same sweetness for which BMW's sixes, eights and tens are renowned. It's not scratchy, but certainly a little gruff. There are more freely spinning 2.0-litre fours around for half this price.

The gearbox needs a little more torque to mask the changes, too, which comes back to the engine. It's not that the changes aren't smooth, but it's that they're almost DSG-like with a slight shunt to them. Not something you expect from a prestige car. You want it to flow, and be almost seamless.

So, it's not that quick, not that economical, and yet you still end up paying for a low output motor. The 320i seems a little lacklustre, then. Never fear, there's light at the end of the tunnel.

In the 3 Series range, there is a car positioned at the bottom of the ladder that really fulfils the ideal role. Enter the 320d.

It makes 130kW and 350Nm from its 2.0-litre, turbocharged diesel. You can tell that it's already better from the power and torque figures, and with a 0-100km/h time of 8.0 seconds, and a combined fuel cycle of just 6.0L/100km (admittedly with sometimes more expensive diesel), it still is hard to argue the case for the petrol four.

Knocking the 320i on the head, though, is the price differential. If you pay an extra $3000, you get the 320d. A car that's 1.8-seconds quicker to 100km/h, and two-litres better in fuel efficiency.

Not really a tough choice, is it?

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