The BMW 320d has to be the perfect balance between being a driver’s machine, an efficient green car, and a company car. Just look at the figures: average mpg 58.9, out of town mpg 68.9, urban mpg 47.1, 128g/km CO2, 175bhp, 143mph, and 0-60 mph in 7.9 seconds. An amazing blend of performance and fuel economy. However it’s not just about the figures – it gets better in reality, as the 320d is a great car to drive. It’s rear wheel drive, so the rear wheels get on with the business of putting down the car’s power, while the front wheels get on with the business of steering, unhindered by the torque steer associated with front wheel drive cars.
Model/Engine size: 2.0 D
Fuel economy combined: 58.9 mpg
As with all BMWs, the company has made maximum effort to get the weight balance front to rear as close to 50/50 as possible. This is helped by the engine being behind the front wheels, giving the nose of the 3 Series a very short front overhang. Contrast this with the overhang of cars such as the Peugeot 407 and the BMW looks decidedly mid-engined in comparison.
The 3 Series is also a good size balance. The 5 Series is a relatively large and heavy car for it to feel nimble, and it’s a struggle to get most business drivers with families into a 1 Series. The 3 Series can accommodate people and luggage comfortably (the boot is an excellent size for this class of car) while being small enough to feel sporty.
All this means that the 3 Series is a joy to drive. Its chassis and steering help it feel light, agile, precise and responsive on the UK’s meandering roads, and the whole package is solid, refined and high quality. The engine is excellent and it really is easy to forget you’re in a diesel under most driving conditions.
So how has BMW made such an excellent car so efficient? The brand has rolled out its EfficientDynamics treatment again, which means the application of technology such as auto-stop start, the disengaging of engine ancilliaries that drain energy, improved aerodynamics and mild energy recapture from braking.
The six speed gearbox also helps with keeping the revs low on the motorway, helping 50-55mpg to be easily achievable at motorway speeds, but as with the claimed fuel economy of most cars , it’s likely to be difficult to achieve an average of 58.9mpg in normal driving, never mind the 68.9mpg claimed for out of town driving.
The 3 Series is excellent on motorways; it’s quiet and stable, and it’s very easy to find yourself going much faster than you think you’re going – to keep out of trouble it’s best to set the cruise control (standard on the SE along with automatic air-conditioning and parking sensors).
The BMW’s ride is actually very good, although it’s often accused of being on the firm side. Buyers really need to decide if they want a car that’s great to drive for the vast majority of the time (buy a 3 Series), or a car that’s unengaging most of the time but slightly more comfortable on a motorway.
The run-flat tyres are also credited with contributing to the firm ride – and they also have one other problem. As they have grooves running around the circumference of the tyre, but hardly any tread across the tyre, there is virtually no traction on any surfaces less grippy than tarmac. Try and negotiate a minor incline on damp grass and you’ll not get very far. And snow? Forget it!
Other downsides? How about the styling? The 3 Series is certainly not universally accepted as the best looking car out there. The 5 Series looks striking, muscular and curvaceous, but the 3 Series, although it looks quite sleek, doesn’t quite carry that off, and appears just a little uncomfortable, especially at the front.
In summary the 320d is a great compromise without being a compromise – it’s an excellent driver’s car, but with average mpg of 58.9 and just 128g/km CO2, it’s also incredible efficient. This has to be the perfect company car, both from the company accountant’s and the employee’s point of view. The 3 Series is seen as expensive, but remember that you’re paying for a car engineered to drive extremely well, and if you enjoy driving, we’d say it was worth the extra premium. And the 3 Series will hold its value well.
If you want even more economy, consider the 318d. This doesn’t mean it’s a 1.8 litre – it has the same 2.0 litre engine as the 320d, but with slightly less power and even better economy and emissions – currently 60.1mpg and 123g/km CO2, but watch out for this to sneak under the 120g/km limit in the not too distant future.
Fuel economy extra urban: 68.9 mpg
Fuel economy urban: 47.1 mpg
CO2 emissions: 128 g/km
Green rating: VED band C – £120
Weight: 1505 Kg
Company car tax liability (2007): 18%
Price: £26,050 (From £21,115 to £36,460)
Insurance group: 14
Safety: NCAP 5 stars
Max speed: 143 mph
0-60mph: 7.9 seconds