The BMW 320d is a very efficient way to travel long motorway distances if an electric car isn’t suitable – and it also combines the handling of a Touring Car with the ride comfort of a 5 Series.
The BMW 3 Series has offered a sporty approach to the family saloon since it was first introduced in 1975. The latest 3 Series has been tweaked in a wide range of ways but should models such as the 320d still be considered by car buyers as the world moves towards electric cars?
The BMW 320d has a 4-cylinder, 2-litre diesel engine, automatic transmission in the case of our test car, and rear-wheel drive. The BMW TwinPower Turbo engine has been heavily revised and now includes multi-stage turbocharging, which brings increased efficiency across all engine speeds.
The new body, chassis and suspension mountings are stiffer, and lift-related dampers are standard, with the aim of delivering ride comfort and improving handling. The standard Performance Control function also improves agility by varying the drive torque through the rear wheels depending on conditions.
The new 3 Series Saloon also weighs up to 55kg less than its predecessor. The body itself is 20kg lighter, while aluminium front spring struts and engine subframe have cut 7.5kg from the overall weight. A further weight saving of almost 15kg is due to the use of aluminium for the bonnet and front side panels.
There are also aerodynamic improvements: the drag coefficient (Cd) of the 320d has been reduced from 0.26 to a highly impressive 0.23 thanks to an almost completely sealed underbody, aerodynamically optimised wheels, the use of Air Curtains at the front and the latest generation of active air flap control.
The interior of the new 3 Series is definitely more high-tech than the last model, and now features a digital instrument cluster.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the car has grown overall, and there’s also a slight increase in rear legroom, which was decent anyway.
Finally – the exterior design. The new 3 Series looks more like the 5 Series than the last model. We actually thought that the last 3 Series looked excellent – design is a very subjective thing, but we’re not sure how much of an improvement the new 3 Series styling is over the last model.
When you open the door and sit in a 3 Series it feels like you’re in a Touring Car, especially if you spend lots of time driving a range of the latest cars, which mostly seem to be SUVs. The driver’s seat goes very low, the thick-rimmed M Sport steering wheel has lots of reach adjustment, and all the controls are in the right places.
One of the first changes that you’ll notice is that the traditional black and white circular dials have gone, replaced with a digital instrument cluster. This may feel gimmicky at first, but the information provided about sat nav directions, for example, are excellent – and similar information is also projected by the optional head-up display.
The iDrive infomedia system remains the best in the business, with a user-friendly interface, and, critically, a rotary dial to avoid the need for having to reach out to press buttons on the touchscreen while driving, and this conroller also lets you easily zoom in and out of the map.
It only takes a few corners to realise that BMW has taken the rear-wheel drive chassis to the next level. The handling feels like that of a Touring Car, but the ride feels like that of a BMW 5 Series. Quite an achievement to combine these two often opposing features.
Despite the test car being a 320d model, the engine doesn’t feel or sound like a diesel. If it’s a few years since you drove a BMW with a 4-cylinder, 2-litre diesel engine, then you need to drive this latest 320d, because the engine is light years ahead of the older units in terms of refinement and flexibility.
It also has very undiesel-like levels of performance, with a 0-62mph time of 6.8 seconds if you opt for the automatic transmission. Virtually all 4-cylinder, 2-litre diesel cars that we’ve tested since the introduction of the new WLTP fuel economy and emissions test in September 2018 have had huge delays in response when accelerating from standstill. In contrast this latest 320d has virtually instant responses. Our test car had Sport automatic transmission, a £1,690 option, which features amazingly smooth gear changes.
There are three drive modes – Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport; these give you all the options you need, and the buttons to select the drive modes are located in a very convenient position between the driver and the gear selector.
The steering is well weighted; it’s not massively sharp, but, like the rest of the 3 Series, it’s a good balance between sporty and comfortable.
You’ll want to drive on A and B roads as much as you can to maximise the enjoyment from the rewarding handling, but if you do have to use a motorway, then the 320d is extremely refined, quiet, comfortable, stable and planted to the road.
Everything sounds good, but there is one issue. No, it’s not the lane departure warning system, which is a pain on all new cars, but the cabin temperature controls. The last 3 Series had rotary controls that you could twist to quickly and easily increase or decrease the temperature. Now there are silver switches which in comparison are more fiddly to operate, and aren’t as visually clear. A backward step!
The official WLTP combined fuel economy for the BMW 320d is 53.3 – 55.4 mpg based on the new, more accurate WLTP test, with CO2 emissions of 112 g/km.
In real-world driving we achieved some fairly amazing figures. At 50mph over 40 miles of motorway roadworks we recorded 83.2mpg. At 70mph the car returned 61.2mpg. Overall, after a week with the 320d, with our normal mix of 80% long journeys, we averaged 52.9mpg – very close to the combined WLTP figure.
It’s also possible to enjoy a driving range of over 600 miles between fuel stops.
The BMW 320d M Sport Saloon costs £36,190. However our test car had the normal extensive range of BMW options, as follows: Technology package (£1,800), Premium package (£1,700), Comfort package (£990), Sport automatic transmission (£1,690), Instrument panel in Sensatec (£500), Driving Assistant Professional (£1,250), Parking Assistant Plus (£500). All options totalled £8,430, and the total price of our test car was £45,405.
The new 3 Series is available with petrol, diesel and 330e plug-in hybrid powertrains, and a six-speed manual gearbox or an eight-speed Steptronic transmission. You can also choose rear-wheel drive or xDrive all-wheel-drive. Trim levels are SE, Sport and M Sport.
The industry is moving towards electric cars, but the BMW 320d shows that diesel isn’t dead yet. If you cover lots of miles up and down the UK’s motorways, then the 320d has to be one of the most efficient ways to do that. It’s also comfortable, it has rewarding handling, the infomedia and satnav systems are excellent, and there really are very few faults with the overall package.
The BMW 320d is the efficient diesel car perfected and is awarded a Green Car Guide rating of 9 out of 10. How could it be improved? Well, electric propulsion is better than diesel in urban areas. And the Touring body style is more practical than the Saloon. So it’s good news that the BMW 330e plug-in hybrid is coming very soon, and for the first time, it’s available in Touring form. A 10 out of 10 rating could very well be heading its way…