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BMW 320d Sport

Click to view picture gallery“BMWs all-new 3 Series saloon is
  here now, and MotorBar has just
  driven the core best-selling model

  the four-door 320d Sport manual.
  So, are we impressed? And should
  you be?”

FIRST OF THE NEW SIXTH generation 3 Series to arrive is the highest-selling bodystyle, the four door saloon. This will be joined towards the end of 2012 by the Touring estate. Coupes and Convertibles follow in 2013. No doubt adding further interest when they arrive late in 2012 will be the four-wheel drive and petrol hybrid powertrain models.

The latest 3 Series saloon is larger and more spacious (but with lower CO2 emissions and better economy), more nimble and undoubtedly more comfortable and with a better ride quality than its predecessor. And only marginally more expensive…

£24,880 is the minimum you'll pay to put one on your drive. Saloon prices currently top-out at £37,025, but when the other variants come on stream you'll see a greater price spread. While £25K is the least you'll pay, the likely best-selling saloon, the 320d Sport as reviewed here, costs £29,080.

“Within the cabin there’s
a noticeable
improvement in the
ambience — this new
BMW feels a class above
the outgoing one.
Overall it’s more polished
and a better rounded
product, one that offers
more specification and
equipment choices
Powerplant choices, initially, are 320d EfficientDynamics and 320d diesel forms, with 328i and 335i petrol engines. Three additional engine options are on offer from March 2012 — the 316d and 318d 2.0-litre diesels, along with another version of the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, the 320i.

All new 3 Series models make use of BMW's highly praised EfficientDynamics technologies including Stop-Start; and a new eight-speed autobox is also available across the range.

A major drawback of the superseded 3 Series models was the lack of rear seat legroom. This has now been sorted thanks to the new car's 50mm longer wheelbase. The all-new platform also comes with wider tracks: 37mm at the front; 47mm at the rear.

All these extra millimetres improve the legroom as well as making access easier to and from the rear seats. They also help improve the handling and balance. And with suspension tuned specifically for UK roads, the ride comfort is also significantly better despite run-flat tyres being fitted as standard.

Within the cabin there's a noticeable improvement in the ambience and this new BMW feels a class above the outgoing one. Overall it's more polished and a better-rounded product, one that offers more specification and equipment choices. This should also mean more conquest sales from the Audi and Mercedes brands because BMW has finally addressed the only real criticisms of the previous 3 Series models.

As for more specification levels, there are now six: ES, SE, Sport, M Sport, Modern and Luxury. Each has its own distinct character and, combined with the long list of extra-cost options, it will now be easier for owners to personalise their cars — the same sales programme that has done so well, under BMW's ownership, for the MINI marque.

Externally, the styling changes add more 'polish'. While the new 3 Series retains the range's characteristic dynamic stance, it looks — thanks to the increased front and rear tracks and curvaceous wheelarches — lower and wider.

“There are now six trim
levels, each with its own
distinct character

combined with the long
list of extra-cost options,
s now easier for
owners to personalise
their cars
The bonnet and the sides are deeply sculptured, and seen from the side the nose looks lower to the ground, giving the side profile a wedge shape. Also lower is the waistline, whereas the roof is higher for additional rear headroom, the side windows larger and the rear doors longer to improve access.

Sit inside and you'll find the usual selection of trim-matched equipment; power windows and door mirrors, AirCon and so forth are all standard. Where fitted, the SatNav benefits from sharper responses and there's a Multimedia option which includes BMW Assist and a list of other communication functions including an Internet facility.

During the press launch on the narrow and winding roads in the mountains overlooking Marbella and Malaga in Spain, I drove the 320d Sport (181bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel) fitted with a six-speed manual 'box as well as the new 328i (turbocharged 241bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine) with the new eight-speed auto transmission.

The 328i features a twin scroll turbocharger, direct injection and variable valve timing and replaces the six-pot 3.0-litre engine used in the previous 325i and 330i. Quicker than either with zero to 62mph in 5.9 seconds and a 155mph top speed, it shows inherent advantages in weight and fuel consumption (more than 44mpg).

In real-world driving this new powerplant shows how well downsizing in engine capacity and the number of cylinders works with the addition of turbo power: it's free revving and gutsy although perhaps not with the actual feel of 'grunt' or smoothness under hard acceleration offered by a 'six'. Against the official 44.8mpg Combined Cycle figure for the automatic model, my test drive up and down steep mountain roads was a creditable 35.2mpg — and on our flatter UK roads it should be even better.

The 328i had the new Modern trim — for me, its imitation tree bark-patterned inserts in the fascia and door cappings seemed a bit retro. That said, the interiors of the new 3 Series are very much improved.

“This responsive diesel
unit will, officially,
return 61.4mpg
with the manual ’box —
my test average
worked out to 46.6mpg.
Impressive given the
mountainous Spanish
The diesel engine powering the 320d Sport is a unit we already know well. It puts out 181bhp and 280lb ft of torque and although it's not quite as polished noise- and vibration-wise, it isn't by any means raucous.

This responsive diesel will, officially, return 61.4mpg with the manual 'box and my test average worked out to 46.6mpg — impressive given the severity of the roads. Tailpipe emissions are 120g/km, so no road tax bill for the first year and just £30 per year due thereafter. Company car tax is the lowest rate for any diesel car: just 13 per cent.

Not so low is the performance: a top speed of 146mph with zero to 62mph in 7.7 seconds. Eco-Pro, BMW's Drive Performance Control, is a standard-fit feature and lets the driver tailor the responses he or she wants, even down to the most economical driving settings. Three selectable modes can be called up: Comfort, Sport and Sport+.

Reasons to buy: the new 3 Series has bettered the 'best' (which was the previous generation 3 Series), brilliant to drive, more polished and rounded performer from nose to tail with sharp and agile handling, more rear seat legroom and significantly more comfortable plus it's beautifully built. Against? Some radical trim choices for top spec models — just choose with care!

In all areas where the 3 Series saloon needed improving — rear legroom, a more compliant ride and better interiors — it's been done, together with BMW's ongoing programme of providing more power, better fuel economy and less CO2 emissions. It was the best in its class; it's now even better, and a tough benchmark model for other premium brands to try and match. — David Miles

BMW 320d Sport | £29,080
Maximum speed: 146mph | 0-62mph: 7.7 seconds | Overall test MPG: 46.6mpg
Power: 181bhp | Torque: 280lb ft | CO2 120g/km