First drive: BMW 3-Series

Updated: 

BMW

BMW has a history of making the 3-Series an accomplished blend of both sporty handling and impressive economy, but with pressure coming from the likes of Audi and Jaguar, its job to be top-dog is harder than ever.

What is it?

This new 3-Series is a refreshed version of the F30 model that was first launched in 2012. This means revised front and rear styling through new headlights with LED running lights, along with optional full-LED headlights.

However, where the biggest update comes is under the bonnet, with new versions of both four and six-cylinder petrol and diesel powerplants. This means improved efficiency, along with increased fuel economy, without sacrificing performance.

What's under the bonnet?

With four petrol engines and seven diesel engines to choose from, there's plenty of choice when it comes to power.

The most popular will undoubtedly be the 320d ED +, which, whilst still getting to 62mph in a respectable 7.8 seconds, returns an impressive figure of 72.4mpg. It also only emits 99 g/km of C02, which means it'll be a hit with business buyers.

Star of the show will be the 335d, which returns 51.4mpg but sprints to 62mph in an incredible 4.8 seconds. This engine really proves you can have performance and economy all in one package.

What's the spec like?

Not bad at all. The 3-Series has always been one of the class leaders when it comes to interior quality and the new model is no exception. With an improved, clearer display along with 4G connectivity which allows faster loading along with automatically updated maps, there's definitely an improvement over the previous model. The standard equipment on offer, such as a multi function steering wheel and Bluetooth connectivity for calls and music, means that you're not going to feel short changed whichever model you go for.

Now of course, being BMW there's an options list as long as your arm. But with the entry-level 316d coming in at £27,435, there's an impressive amount of kit as standard. At the top of the range sits the M-Sport models, which includes larger alloy wheels, along with leather upholstery and ambient lighting. They also come with park distance control, ideal for making sure there are no dents in the M-Sport body kit.

However, the 320d ED Sport offers a great specification too, building on the ED + specification but adding larger alloys wheels and leather upholstery. The Sport package can be added to any model for £300 which, given the increase in the amount of kit, is a great option to go for should you be looking for an increased level of technology on board but without paying an awful lot more.

First drive: BMW 3-Series

First drive: BMW 3-Series


Any rivals?

The 3-Series has always had to fend off stiff competition from the likes of Audi and Mercedes, with the A4 and C-Class respectively. With this generation, the job is even harder as Jaguar and even Lexus have entered the fray, offering quality cars with involving drives which aim squarely at the 3-Series and BMW.

The 3-Series has always won over those who are looking for those looking for a dynamic and involving drive whilst still being able to fit the dogs in the back. It's previously set the benchmark in terms of style and comfort, but faces even stiffer competition this time around.

What's it like to drive?

It's usually difficult to admit this, but on this occasion there's no point in hiding praise. The 3-Series is a truly accomplished car to drive. The car we have on test has adaptive dampers fitted, so when put into 'comfort' mode the ride is sublime, absorbing bumps and potholes whilst never feeling to wallowy or soft.

Click the car into 'Sport' mode and it becomes a very different animal. The ride firms up, throttle response is sharpened and the whole car becomes taught. Gearshifts are smooth thanks to the updated ZF gearbox, which was specifically tuned by BMW. The shift can either be automatically changed or through the wheel-mounted paddles, but either way the gearchange is a delight.

The car we tested was sat on 19-inch M-Sport wheels, shod in a Bridgestone Potenza tyre which provides an excellent amount of grip without being too hard. Throttle response is good, and the X-Drive model we had means that there's an extra security in slippery conditions.

Overall, the updated 3-Series is excellent to drive. It is comfortable enough for a long-distance haul, whilst providing enough excitement in the bends to brighten up even the dreariest morning commute.

Verdict

With fierce competition coming in from all angles, this updated 3-Series really had its work cut out to stay ahead. It has, however, done remarkably well, offering all the perks of a sporty car without the drawbacks. In the past the 3-Series has been a well-rounded package, and it's pleasing to see that this new model is just as accomplished. With decent levels of interior equipment, along with a multitude of options for both engines and exterior design, it's easy to see how the new 3-Series is a seriously impressive package.

Model: 320d xDrive M Sport Saloon
Price as tested: £46,240
Engine: In-line 4-cylinder
Power: 188bhp
Max Speed: 145mph
0-62mph: 7.4 seconds
Emissions: 126 g/km co2
Economy: 58.9mpg (combined)