What happens when the Germans decide to make a sporty fuel efficient car? We celebrate.
- BMW 320d; 2.0-litre, four cylinder, diesel; six-speed automatic; four-door wagon: $61,500*
When it comes to writing a review, it's actually rather hard to fault BMW in recent times. The company doesn't seem to be putting a foot wrong in its progress towards perfecting the ultimate driving machines. This can be the BMW M3, BMW M5, BMW 6 Series or as is the case here, a 'simple' BMW 320d Touring.
Never before has there been a BMW 3 Series that can do what the 320d can and yet deliver such outstanding fuel economy. Let me get the point across here, being green, fuel efficient and polluting less are at the top of the agenda for most car companies these days and BMW is no different.
The Munich based manufacturer hasn't made much of a fuss over its EfficientDynamics technologies but it's now showing up across nearly all BMW models. The idea is simple, instead of just focusing on hybrid or full-electric cars (which BMW are developing regardless), why not first get the basics right.
For example the use of brake energy regeneration, electric power steering, auto start-stop (on manual models only), lightweight engineering, low-resistance tyres, low-friction oils and better aerodynamics all go a long way to help reduce fuel consumption and emissions.
Put all those features in a blender and add a 2.0-litre diesel engine making use of the latest in common rail diesel technology and you'll get real-world achievable fuel economy figures of 5.6L/100km for the combined cycle. Remember this is in a medium-sized luxury touring wagon!
You have to wonder, if BMW can do it, why can't the rest of them?
Fuel figures go as low as 5.5L/100km for the 3 Series Coupe making use of the same engine (and as high as 5.8L/100km for the convertible 320d).
Whenever I mention the words green car or fuel efficiency people start to fall asleep, instantly it becomes this discussion about how you can drive slower than the next guy to save that extra tree over a period of 10 years. Guess what, you don't have to in the 320d. You can boot it around all you want, in fact if you didn't give it some on the odd occasion you are seriously missing the point.
As I've said for years now, BMW don't make boring cars (granted, the 116i was about as exciting as Tony Abbot in speedos), it really doesn't matter what model you find yourself in so long as it has the BMW badge on it, it will steer like a sports car.
Some say you are simply buying a badge when it comes to German prestige cars and no doubt you're paying that bit extra to drive around in a BMW, but it's the actual driving dynamics that make BMWs special. We all know the Germans can be a little pedantic about things and that can get annoying if you want to marry one but when it comes to engineering it means nothing leaves the factory unless it can pass German quality checks and handle the country's autobahns.
When you engineer a car to handle 220km/h down the autobahn as part of its daily routine, you can imagine how it feels at 110km/h. From the sporty three spokes leather steering wheel to the perfectly weighted dynamics, the BMW 320d is an absolute joy to drive.
There are two diesel engines available in the 3 Series, the twin-turbo 180 kW, 520Nm six-cylinder diesel is currently only available with the 330d in coupe or convertible body types, if you're after a touring shape the 320d is powered by a smaller 2.0-litre engine making 130kW and 350 Nm of torque.
Despite one litre capacity difference and one less turbo, the 2.0-litre helps the 320d accelerate from 0-100km/h in 8.3 seconds. Nonetheless it's not the 0-100km/h times that matter but the enormous torque that make highway overtakes a breeze. All that pull comes between 1,750 and 3,000rpm.
The engine is more than sufficient to pull five adults with the aircon on around hilly Brisbane, it never complains or makes any noise inside the cabin (exterior noise is still very diesel). BMW says the engine's performance is greatly enhanced by an exhaust gas turbocharger which by making use of variable turbine geometry results in much smoother power delivery throughout all ranges. A little too technical? It simple means the engine delivers power evenly.
If diesel is not a necessity and you want something with a bit more power but the same practicalities, the 3 Series range offers a 335i Touring which can catapult you from 0-100km/h in just 5.9 seconds thanks to its twin-turbo inline six petrol engine that has won numerous engine of the year awards. The BMW M3 may not come in Touring form, but the 335i Touring is as close as it gets.
Being a wagon the 320d's luggage compartment capacity is between 460 to 1385 litres depending on the position of the rear seats (60/40-split folding backrest).
During the weeklong road test I took the 320d for a drive out to Warwick (300km round journey to and from Brisbane) and for those that know the drive you may be aware of "the gap" which is a twisty section through the mountains about two-thirds of the way to Warwick. A perfect location to test out the car's handling and power delivery up hills.
No surprise in the handling department, find the approach angle in to a long sweeping corner, keep your foot flat on the accelerator and the rear-wheel drive setup delivers a smooth, predictable and enjoyable driving experience. I mean predictable in a good way as in you know exactly what the car is going to do next, there is no sense of the rear 'hanging-on', it always feels balanced and in control.
Brakes are top-notch and force the 1520kg (kerb weight) B-em-veh to a stop as good as anything else out there for the money. Average fuel economy over the entire trip was just under 6L/100km despite my enthusiastic driving.
One complaint here is the lack of gearshift paddles which are simply not offered on the 320d touring. Despite that, the 320d's six-speed automatic transmission with steptronic works well in distributing power across the range and changing gears almost seamlessly.
This is still the type of car you can actually justify for a family that has a bit motoring enthusiasm. Sure it's not that quick to 100km/h (it's not that slow either) but when it comes to cornering and general handling ability you'll find it hard to complain about this family wagon.
The interior is typical BMW, high quality leather and a similar look across the range. I personally wouldn't pick white leather given how difficult it can be to keep clean but it certainly does look the business. Additionally the not-so-real "woodgrain" is not the best look as far as interior designs go, perhaps a flush aluminium look would bring more modern ambience to the cabin. Instead of having to use the iDrive the car's climate system is controlled via simple knobs which means much quicker adjustment and less distraction.
The front seats offer a great deal of support all around and certainly keep you still around corners. The 320d may sit five by default but for long distances four adults would be the way to go if comfort is a requirement. The rear seats are a good place to be with much more legroom than you'll find in a BMW 1 Series plus there is generally more room than you think. It almost feels like a BMW 5 Series.
BMW's iDrive system is seamless in its current iteration, a very simple system of logically designed menus that can control everything from navigation to the audio system and the even car's many options.
It may at first seem like a disadvantage that BMW don't offer touch-screens but given the position of the LCD (placed deep inside the centre console), it would not only be impractical but after getting used to iDrive you'll find it quicker to use the cleverly designed joystick controls to type in a destination.
You can option it out with either the business pack or the professional pack which comes with a high-definition 8.8" colour monitor, bird’s-eye view and arrow display, DVD drive, hard disk drive for maps and audio data, MP3 decoder, including iDrive Controller with one-touch keys and eight favourite buttons.
The 320d's stock standard stereo does the job with ample bass and clarity but the audiophiles can (of course) option a much higher grade of audio equipement to satisfy their needs.
Speaking of options, the Germans are generally known as the option kings. This is where the likes of Lexus has created a selling point by offering nearly everything as standard. Nonetheless it's not to say the BMW 320d is under-equipped, far from it. The 320 is the cheapest of the 3 Series diesel range and starts at $61,500. For that you get:
- Automatic transmission,
- Dakota Leather interior,
- Sports multifunction leather steering wheel,
- Bluetooth telephone connectivity,
- Automatic Climate Control,
- Auxiliary in-put,
- Park Distance Control,
- light alloys wheels - 16-inch
- Luggage compartment package: includes luggage net on the left, floornet, waterproof folding box, reversible floor mat with integrated protective cover
Options are aplenty but the most notable lack of standard features is Xenon headlights (which is standard on all 320d body types except Touring).
Safety is typical BMW five-star, you'll never have to worry about it but to put your mind at ease:
- Driver and front passenger airbags, with seat occupation detector for front passenger airbag
- Front-to-rear head airbags, covering the entire side window area ?
- Side airbags for driver and front passenger integrated into the seats.
- Central locking with electronic immobiliser and crash sensor; fuel tank filler cap integrated in central locking
- Dynamic Stability Control (DSC, incl. ABS, CBC and Traction Mode DTC) Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) with additional functions
- Safety bodyshell:
- – Bumper system with replaceable deformation elements at the front and rear, designed for impacts up to 15 km/h
- – Integrated side impact protection in doors
Overall the BMW 320d Touring is easily the logical pick of the 3 Series range for those looking for a bit more room. It not only offers practically in every sense of the word but also provides incredible fuel economy, a built-in BMW inherited sporty nature and loads of luxury, best of all it's available at an affordable price.
CarAdvice Overall Rating: How does it Drive: How does it Look: How does it Go: