BMW 320d 2012 Review

BMW 320d 2012 Review

The entry level model to BMW’s 3 series is surprising, mainly because if you’ve driven older base model 3s like the 318s from a few years ago you’d be expecting something kind of lacklustre and limp.

This obviously didn’t sit well with BMW. The base model is likely to be the best-seller, especially in Europe, where diesels are far more accepted, and you want to put your best precisely engineered Germanic foot forward.

BMW has cranked up

the quality and features of the car while keeping the price reasonably sensible for a Euro – it starts at $74,900, but our test model had $14,400 of fitted options.

The heart of this car is a four-cylinder, TwinPower turbo two-litre diesel motor that produces 135kW and 380Nm. This is good to get the 3 from 0-100 in 7.6 seconds, but still return 4.5l/100km combined. You’ll see figures around 3.7l/100km when cruising on the motorway. The fuel economy is helped by an extremely generous set of eight forward gears – don’t worry, it’s automatic, otherwise you’d be swapping cogs all day.

Being a diesel, it sounds a typically clattery when you’re outside the car. Inside the car is a different story. At normal cruising speeds you can’t tell it’s a diesel – there’s just low level wind noise coming from the A pillars; even at low speeds the diesel rattle is barely noticeable – well done to BMW for achieving a good level of noise insulation in the base model.

Even turning the 3 Series to Sport+ mode doesn’t increase the noise dramatically. The four modes – Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ – span more than the range of operating parameters virtually any driver will need and the vast majority will just leave it in Comfort mode, perhaps swapping to Sport mode if frequently overtaking or the road is particularly twisty.

Eco Pro mode modifies the throttle response, gear change parameters and air conditioning, plus it will make driving recommendations. Your savings are displayed on a readout on the 6.5-inch, in-dash colour display. Swap it to sport, though, and you’ll find the throttle responses is sharpened, it changes down earlier, and the suspension gets cozier with the tarmac. BMW has accomplished a significant change to the driving dynamics while keeping it compliant over rougher surfaces.

Even in Comfort mode the handling is more than acceptable. BMW has got electromechanical steering down pat and it’s not the vague mess that it used to be (and still is in some other manufacturers). Turn in is sharp and precise and you can feel the road. The additional handling chops are partly a result of a slightly longer wheelbase and wider front track.

European manufacturers are attempting to keep CO2 levels as low as possible. The 3 Series’ efforts are outstanding at just 117g/km. BMW’s Efficient Dynamics are employed. This cuts the engine when you’re stopped for more than three seconds using energy stored from braking to restart the engine, and recharge the battery. There are also changes to reduce rolling resistance and overall body weight.

The 3 Series’ belt tensioners tighten up the seat belts when you pull away, gently pulling you back into the seat. The usual mix of safety features are present – plenty of airbags, traction control, ABS, cornering brake control and brake assist – but there were options installed in our test car which improved safety further. These included xenon lights ($1000), head-up display ($2000), headlight washer system ($250), rear view camera ($950) and navigation system ($2500). Additional options were 19-inch wheels ($3000), heated seats ($800), sun protection glazing ($900) and sport line options ($3000) that updated the upholstery and interior.

The audio interface supports Bluetooth and smartphones. Sound quality is adequate and it can be controlled from buttons on the steering wheel (as can the cruise control).

There only two mildly irritating things about the 3 Series: one is that you have to confirm BMW’s disclaimer of liability for using the navigation system every single time you enter the car. Without doing this you can’t access the screen functions. The second is that the interior storage is not that capacious. The boot itself is good (bigger than the previous version, at 480l), but it’s lacking cubby holes and a decent armrest binnacle.

Everything else about the car is rock solid. It’s an excellent example of a car that’s the consummate all-rounder. The options can make it a little on the pricey side but that will be somewhat mitigated by the frugal engine.

Price: from $74,900. Price as tested: $89,300

Pros

  • Consumate all-rounder with few, if any, flaws

Cons

  • Go steady with the options list if you want to keep the price sensible

Words and photos: Darren Cottingham

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