If you turn the pages of history and go back to the 1960’s, you’ll find BMW introducing a new class range of compact sedans and coupes, the ancestors of today’s 3 series and 5 series. It was in the 1970’s when the first generation 3 Series sedan was introduced to the world with the codename of E21. From there on, the BMW 3 Series’ shape has evolved quite a bit over the years. The only thing that’s been common across BMW 3 Series sedans over the years has been the excellent driving dynamics and of course, the signature kidney grille up front. The evolution of the 3 Series includes models such as the E30, the E36 and the E90. The latest offering from BMW is the F30, 6th generation version of the 3-Series sedan, a car that comes across as a blend of sportiness and elegance in a brand new form factor.
The sporty history of the 3 series serves as an inspiration for new F30 3-Series sedan, a car that looks more fresh and muscular than its predecessor. Team ICB got chance to get into the cockpit of 320d and commandeer the all new 320d sports line. Right from the outset, the new 3-Series feels different from the outgoing model in that it comes with brand new styling. The car is wider in track while its length and wheelbase are longer. The uninitiated may even mistake the new 5 Series for the 5’er because of the length increase. And if you still find someone buying a 5 series even after detailing of this 3 series you can say its just for status symbol and not for size. Surprisingly the car is 40kg lighter than its predecessor, thanks to lighter materials used in its construction.
The first noticeable exterior aspect of new 3 series is the headlamps which are flat and extended, reaching close to the BMW kidney grill. The front spoiler of F30 320D with a small air dam underneath gives a glimpse of this car’s high performance M-version, by adding a few curves to the bumper. This style treatment helps add road presence to this car, what with its wider track. The side profile of car shows a sporty character line with vortex generator at top and followed by a tail spoiler at boot area. In terms of looks, the F30 320D stands strong when compared to its rivals, the Audi A4, the Volvo S60 and Mercedes Benz C-Slass.
On getting behind the wheel of 320d, the first thing you’ll notice is the soft touch dashboard with a combination of black and red colours. The dashboard also gets a few satin inserts to heighten its appeal. The dashboard also features the distinctive rich red wood insert running across much of its length, a design cue that adds a dash of luxury. The sporty lines from body seem to merge into the car’s dashboard, adding another dimension to the sporty DNA of this car. The leather seats on the 320D come finished in black, and so does the other upholstery on the car. A stand still display at center of dashboard activates as soon as you hit the start button.
Coming to the interior space that the 3-Series offers, the car definitely has grown in terms of size on the inside, in line with its larger external dimensions. The 3-Series almost feels like it belongs to a segment higher in terms of cabin room and is clearly the winner of its class in terms of the sheer space on offer. The high quality rear seat’s armrest has cup holders and a small case to hold holds a paperback. Coming to the front seats, the driver’s seat is adjustable for height, recline and position. The best thing about the front seats are the pelvic and thigh supports. Quite typical of luxury sedans, the driver’s seat feels very comfortable with plenty of leg room. A particular feature that drivers of the 320D will love over longer distances is the left arm rest, which encloses a small storage bin and USB mount.
With the steering adjusted for height and reach(telescopic), a driver can actually rest both his arms on the armrests on either side, and this is a significant fatigue reducing factor over long distances. Storage bits on the BMW are plenty and the storage bits and instrumentation controls feel industrial to operate. In fact, this is a major feel good factor in the car. Overall, the BMW 320D’s cabin reeks of quality and a luxury car buyer will feel right at home in the Beemer. The BMW iDrive system on the 320D is the same as the one found on the other 3 Series Beemers and you get to see and control an array of car functions. The automatic sun roof too is a standard piece of kit on the 3 Series Beemer. One lack though is the reverse parking assist camera. Instead, you have to make do with sensors. The test car was loaded with features and we have to mention that the professional SatNav system and the Harman-Kardon audio system were nice touches.
Now, let’s get to the all important aspect of how the BMW 320D feels to drive, both in the city as well as on the highways. Getting into the BMW’s driver seat, you immediately will feel you’re in a BMW with the typical BMW layout of instrumentation and other functions, which by the way fall into hand without a hitch. The center console is angled towards driver side by some degrees, a touch that gives the dashboard of the car a driver centric design. As soon as you hit the start button, the element that’ll impress you the most has to be the soundproofing. Quiet at idle, the car manages to offer an impression of speed while on the move and it doesn’t isolate the driver from what is happening under the hood. No, this isn’t a bad thing as many BMW 3 Series owners will want their ride to communicate with them and the F30 320D does just that.
The 3 series is not a car where speeds are mere numbers on the instrumentation console. Like has been the case with previous generation versions, the F30 320D is extremely agile when driven on city roads. New adaptive suspension and steering allows you to move quickly in rush hour traffic. Playing with drive modes you can make the car suited to for your driving style. The car comes with 4 driving comfort functions: ECO PRO, COMFORT, SPORT and SPORT+ modes. Each of these predefined set-ups activates different settings to suit the feel of the suspension, engine and steering.
The best part about the sport mode is the instant transformation in throttle response to make for a sporty feel. In this mode, the engine revs harder and the gearshifts get quicker. The car gets adaptive M-chassis and variable steering, and with above mentioned modes you see different personalities of the car with just a flick of a switch. Also, there is an improvement the locations of the steering mounted controls, which are now ergonomically positioned to ensure smooth operation. EcoPro mode is more suitable for Indian traffic conditions where you have lot of stop and go traffic conditions. BMW claims that the EcoPro mode allows average fuel consumption to be reduced by up to 20 per cent, with a corresponding increase in driving range.
The car features an 8 speed transmission that combines powerful acceleration, nifty mid range sprinting and smooth overtaking at high speeds. Using a single turbo to churn 184 Bhp and 380 Nm, a 2 liter diesel engines is mated to the 8 speed torque converter. We did find some amount of lag when flooring the gas pedal. The transmission takes a wee bit more time to engage the 2 liter engine when you push hard. Though not a deal downer, the response could’ve been more urgent. Meanwhile, if you simply can’t bear the slight lag, you may put the car in manual mode and enjoy the punch by keeping the car in its torque band. Talking performance, the 320D manages to reach 220kmph with ease when given a reasonably long stretch of empty tarmac. The fact however remains that the smaller motor means lesser punch and a smaller kick in the pants every time you want some rapidity.
Coming to the handling front, it is this area that the F30 320D truly excels in. This car loves the curves and the sheer balance of its chassis is something that has be experienced first hand. Usually, ride and handling are always at odds with each other. With the BMW F30 320D, the engineers from Munich have managed to narrow down this gap by the 4 driving modes that this car offers. On the fuel economy front, the BMW 320D will stretch the liter of diesel to about 14 Kpl while the city fuel economy figure hovered around the 10 Kpl figure. The city fuel efficiency was recorded while driving in a crowded Mumbai traffic, a testament to the high efficiency of the 320D’s turbo diesel motor.
Another stand out factor about the 320D was how well put together the car seemed all along. Even some really bad roads didn’t result in any rattles developing and this speaks volumes about the car’s build quality. At night, the xenon projector beam headlights of the BMW 320d proved to be very effective even on the twisties and thanks to them, progress was pretty brisk in the sun down hours too. The 320d comes with 225 section tires with 17 inch alloy rims. You also get 6 airbags as a standard piece of kit and that should make the car a pretty safe place to be ensconced in, in the unfortunate event of a crash. The car also features a safety system similar to that of Mercedes Benz’s PRE-SAFE. The safety system on the BMW makes sure that the windows and the sunroof are closed and the seat belts pre-tensioned when it detects the car loosing control and an imminent crash situation.
All in all, the BMW 320D is a fitting sixth generation model, a car that is the most refined 3’er ever. The BMW 320D will delight you every time you step into the car and get behind that steering wheel to hit a few twisties, underscoring its biggest strength: Driving Dynamics.
The good bits:
* BMW badge on the bonnet and the associated brand value
* Excellent driving dynamics
* Powerful yet frugal diesel engine mated to ZF’s 8 speed gearbox
* Solid build quality
What can be improved?
* That minor lag when you want to push car hard.
* Addition of reverse parking camera assist(only available with 328i sports line)