DRIVEN: 2013 BMW 3 Series 320d Luxury Sedan

Carhoots road test and review the 2013 BMW 3 Series 320d Sedan. With a great blend of dynamic ability, comfort and efficiency – we like.

Why is the BMW 3 Series so popular? I mean, just about every man and his cheap suit and stupid haircut has one. Compared to cars like the Ford Mondeo (or Fusion if you’re American) and other luxurious mid-sizers that don’t wear German badges you’re getting less power, less standard equipment and more people suggesting that you might be a bit vain, too. And you have to pay more money for all of this. So, why do so many people buy BMW 3 Series’? Well, it’s pretty simple actually – it is a truly fantastic car.

When our silver 2.0liter diesel 3 Series first appeared on the driveway it looked gigantic, from a distance I thought it was a 5 Series – the fact that all BMWs look nearly identical these days doesn’t help. But on the road it never feels large at all. It feels very good actually.

Naturally, the first thing to do when you hop into a new car is play with all of its buttons. I bypass ‘eco-pro’ mode – which is less fun than catching bird flu -, ‘Comfort’ – which, rather shockingly, is comfortable -, ‘Sport’ – which is er, sporty – and lock in ‘Sport Plus’ which puts the steering in its weightiest setting, sharpens the throttle response, slackens off the stability control nannies and makes the gearbox shift more quickly. Our car is fitted with the optional eight-speed automatic, so the gear selector gets knocked into its manual mode and the BMW’s kidney grille gets aimed at some of our favorite roads. Lets see what’s what.

Like most 3 Series models that have come and gone, this one feels extremely well sorted, and dynamically superb despite not being fitted with the sportier M-Sport suspension or adaptive dampers, which sharpen handling even more. You get into a rhythm with the car, and as you learn to trust its sublime chassis you just push it harder and harder through turns and it simply grips and goes, it changes direction with minimal body roll and real aplomb. The 3 is totally unflappable, and I suspect it makes the numpty behind the wheel seem a better driver than they actually are thanks to its clever electronic systems and finely tuned suspension which isn’t phased by mid-corner bumps.

The eight-speed gearbox is very good when it comes to enthusiastic driving. The steering wheel mounted paddles react quickly and smoothly. It can’t quite match the speed of a dual clutch unit, but a dual clutch gearbox can’t deliver the smoothness or refinement of this torque converter auto during normal everyday use.

Surprisingly, the engine doesn’t mind a few revs. Of course being a diesel there’s oodles of torque (280lb ft) from low down in the rev range, but the 2.0liter turbo unit spins keenly up to 4000rpm, at which point it’s producing a fruity rumble and 184hp. 0-62mph is dealt with in a swift 7.5 seconds, and thanks to a broad torque band, overtaking annoying busses, trucks and hopeless learner drivers is a doddle.

The steering is quite good in both ‘Comfort’ and ‘Sport’ modes, it’s direct and nicely accurate, but it’s best in the ‘Comfort’ setting. ‘Sport’ mode adds weight, but weirdly robs you of some of the feel-some chatter that was evident in ‘Comfort’. This would be fine if you could specify the comfort steering with the sport drivetrain setting, but you can’t so it does feel slightly compromised in either drive modes during really exuberant driving (but this is no M3 after all). It’s a minor niggle that effects all F30 generation 3 Series models. Does it affect your ability to drive the 3 Series like a bit of a loon, though? Not really. 

The chassis has a really neutral balance. Drive the 3 Series up to eight or nine tenths and it’ll just cling onto the road like a small child clinging onto its mother’s leg irritatingly, except in this case its clinginess is most welcome.
Push harder and you’ll get a touch of safety understeer as the front tyres lose grip, which is the car’s way of calmly telling you “perhaps you should relax a little”. Or you can push past the understeer with some enthusiastic throttle application, doing so allows the car dance just on the limit of grip. In the 320d diesel you’ll struggle to pull mahoosive powerslides unless you’re driving in a seriously enraged manner on a soggy surface, but at moderately sane speeds the car rotates through corners enough to edge the nose in towards the corner apex and for the driver to think they’re pretty awesome. It’s a car that ultimately feels rear-driven, and that is certainly a good thing.

Slow things down and you begin to notice the 3 Series’ breadth of ability. It floats along the road on its generously sized rubber, soaking up bumps effortlessly, the ZF eight-speed ‘box shifts seamlessly, and the steering is light (in ‘Comfort’ mode). Add in a lovely, simple interior filled with quality leather, warm woods, flashes of metallic trim, plus comfortable seats, and you’ve got an incredibly relaxing car that’s perfect for long journeys or the daily commute. The boot (trunk) and rear seats are even commodious, too. BMW’s iDrive system is also intuitive and easy enough to use.

The 320d is pretty fuel efficient, as well. BMW claim 62mpg, although, unless you’re driving in the ‘eco-pro’ mode – which ruins the throttle response and makes the engine feel like it has asthma – with all of the windows closed, the air-conditioning turned off, and your feet shod in the softest of loafers, you’ll struggle to reach that figure. We averaged 44mpg for the duration of the test, which, admittedly included some, OK, a lot of um, childish behavior.

There are a few other minor niggles. The 2.0liter diesel sounds agricultural at idle, the standard seats lack lateral support (you can option better ones) and in automatic mode the gearbox can be a little jerky when you mash the throttle pedal and it’s forced to skip gears, say, from eighth to fourth for an overtake (otherwise the gearbox is faultless).

The BMW 320d strikes an astoundingly good balance between thrilling and engaging dynamics, comfort, luxury, and efficiency. It could very well be, the most accomplished sedan currently on sale and all the car you’ll ever need.

The Specs:

Engine: 2.0liter turbo diesel four-cylinder

Transmission: Eight-speed ZF Automatic

Power: 184hp @4000rpm and 280lb ft @1750-2750rpm

Acceleration: 0-62mph – 7.5 seconds.

MPG: 62.8 (combined)

Price: From £29,080, $60,900 AUD, $32,550 USD – for 320i Petrol

Rating: 8.5/10 

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