3 Series Saloon and Touring
estate models have just received
their mid-life nip-and-tuck changes.
The result is an even sharper car in
LAUNCHED IN MARCH 2005, THE FIFTH GENERATION BMW 3 Series Saloon and Touring
estate models have just received their mid-life nip-and-tuck changes (for the
record, the 'younger' 3 Series Coupé and Cabriolet models are
not due for their styling 'updates' until late 2009 at the earliest).
The 3 Series is immensely important to BMW. It is their best selling model range
in the UK and the highest selling model range in the compact executive sector
of the UK's new car market.
However, it faces the strongest-ever competition from the all-new Audi A4 and
Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Unlike the 3 Series models that have received re-styling
and equipment upgrades, the Audi and Mercedes-Benz cars are all-new, better
equipped and larger than the versions they replace. The 3 Series remains the
The revised BMW 3 Series is offered with a range of five petrol and five diesel
engine derivatives, while the popular BMW 318d can now, for the first time,
be ordered with a six-speed automatic transmission. Specification levels are
ES, SE, M Sport and M3, and prices start from £21,475.
A new 3.0-litre, six-cylinder, 330d all-aluminium engine is available, and it
makes use of third generation common-rail diesel injection technology with piezo
injectors and a single turbocharger with variable vane geometry.
In the 330d, this new six-cylinder 2,993cc engine produces 245bhp at 4,000rpm
14bhp up on its predecessor. Torque has also increased by 15lb ft to
384lb ft, and this peak figure is available from 1,750 through to 3,000rpm.
Consequently, performance figures for the new 330d Saloon and Touring have improved
compared to the previous model. The 330d Saloon now accelerates from zero to
62mph in 6.1 seconds (Touring 6.2) before going on to an electronically-limited
top speed of 155mph. The economy and emissions of the new 330d have similarly
improved; from 46.3 up to 49.6mpg and from 160g/km down to 152g/km with an accompanying
annual Vehicle Excise Duty bill of £145.
The majority of new 330d drivers who favour an automatic transmission will see
an additional benefit as their chosen vehicle now qualifies for a lower Vehicle
Excise Duty band D instead of E thanks to CO2 emissions down to
The performance of the 325d and 335d Saloon and Touring also see improvements
in performance and efficiency. Other engines remain unchanged following last
year's introduction of widespread engine enhancements. This means the 3 Series
model portfolio continues to be powered by the International Engine of the Year
for 2007 and 2008 (the petrol 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged unit) and, says BMW,
the most fuel efficient and least polluting diesel and petrol engines in their
class. All 3 Series powerplants feature direct injection technology and the
extensive use of lightweight materials to improve efficiency.
BMW's highly-praised EfficientDynamics technologies are, of course, widely used
and, depending on the model/engine chosen, can include auto stop/start, brake
energy regeneration, electric power steering, intelligent alternator and optimum
gear change indicator.
In this competitive premium sector it's very much all about image, so styling
plays an important initial role in the desire to own the latest model
and if one is to impress one's peers, then it has to look different. That's
not so easy to achieve when it's a mid-life nip-and-tuck as opposed to an all-new
design and a much larger replacement body.
However, BMW enthusiasts will instantly see a more elegant new 3 Series body
shape, much of which has been achieved by just detailed styling tweaks rather
than any major panel changes. The previous heavy-looking bonnet now features
two strong precision lines and there is a re-styled kidney grille, edgy new
front bumper with revised air intakes, re-worked headlights and rear light clusters
with LED indicators along with light reflecting lines in the side sills and
front and rear overhangs which make the Saloon and the Touring seem longer although
they are, in fact, the same length as the outgoing models. There are also new
style wheels and paintwork options.
Inside, the 3 Series looks much the same although there are detailed changes.
The plastics still look hard, the driver's armrest is better positioned and,
thankfully, where specified there is a much better, simpler to use iDrive information
and operating system. Storage space is still an issue only when we get
the all-new 3 Series (probably 2012) will it have the rear interior space and
legroom offered by the new Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class cars. Until then the
3 Series excels as a driver's car because of its superb engines and handling,
but its competitors have the edge for space and refinement.
I briefly had the opportunity to try three of the models from the new line-up.
The best selling retail model is the 318i SE Saloon priced at £22,765. The 143bhp
four-cylinder 1.8-litre unit is as competent as ever and with CO2 emissions
now at a low 142g/km. This means a VED rating of Group C costing £120 a year
excellent for a petrol engine model in a car of this class. Real-life
fuel economy was 30.3mpg although officially it should on average return 47.9mpg.
Ideal for the retail buyer who covers only limited annual mileage.
The second test model is regarded as the most popular in the range: the 320d
Saloon with SE specification and priced at £26,680. Its 2.0-litre, four-cylinder,
177bhp turbodiesel unit produces 258lb ft of torque; it has a top speed of 143mph
and will scoot from zero to 62mph in 7.9 seconds. Officially, 58.9mpg is the
average fuel consumption 38.1mpg was my figure for some rapid country
road driving. This model, too, gets a VED Group C rating. This is still the
most sensible, easy to drive, easy to live with model in the range and should
remain the top seller.
Finally, the new 330d with the 3.0-litre, six-cylinder engine that puts out
245bhp and 384lb ft of torque. Its top speed is limited to 155mph and 0-62mph
takes a keen 6.2 seconds.
For those customers who want the driving luxury of a performance six-cylinder
engine, but with cost-effective fuel economy and the least amount of expensive
road tax, this is the one to buy. Officially this engine will return 45.6mpg
with automatic transmission, and most buyers choose that option. The CO2 emissions
are 164g/km which means a road tax bill of £145. The fuel consumption during
my test run was 34.8mpg, but that will improve with more sympathetic real-world
driving. My test saloon with the auto gearbox and in M Sport specification
the likely most popular combination with this engine costs £33,885.
Thanks to the traditional rear-wheel drive layout, the handling for all versions
is supreme with perfect balance. Only the hard-walled run-flat tyres occasionally
disturb what, overall, is a very fine and comfortable drive. And to that you
can add smart and classy new looks, impeccable poise, great engine options,
performance, fuel economy potential and reasonable purchase and running costs.
That, for many a BMW buyer, will outweigh the fact that the 3 Series loses out
to the all-new Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class for interior space and refinement.
BMW 320d SE | £26,680
Maximum speed: 143mph | 0-62mph: 7.9 seconds
Overall test MPG: 38.1mpg | Power: 177bhp | Torque: 258lb ft
CO2 128g/km | Insurance group 14