RE: BMW 320d: Driven

Monday 18th March

BMW 320d: Driven

Mid-spec oil burner promises handling upgrade thanks to lighter, stiffer chassis



BMW says every variant of its latest, G20 3 Series is fun to drive. It insists this was a priority for its engineers from day one of the platform's development, and when you consider that the outgoing F30 was no slouch in the handling department, the claim bodes well for the model's small mountain of UK buyers - not least for the significant proportion that remain wedded to the comparative benefits of the once revered 320d.

The improvements predominately centre on the car's architecture. Compared to its sixth-gen predecessor, the new 3 Series' underpinnings manage to be larger and 25 per cent stiffer yet also 20kg lighter; while an additional 15kg has been removed courtesy of the now aluminium front wings and bonnet. It is also used in the front spring struts and engine subframe, saving a further 7.5kg. In total, the 2019 3 Series is up to 55kg lighter than the F30, meaning a 320d now tips the scales at 1,525kg with a near 50:50 weight distribution. No featherweight, but it certainly makes the 1,705kg Mercedes-Benz C220d look rather podgy.

On that subject, the new car's bigger frame lends itself to wider tracks and, as a signal of BMW's intent, the wheels are set with more aggressive camber angles. There are also stiffened mounting points for the suspension and a slipperier than ever body, with drag coefficient now improved to an admirable 0.23 Cd (from 0.26 in the F30) thanks to, among other things, the installation of active grille flaps.


The overhaul continues inside with the appearance of BMW's latest 7.0 infotainment system, which features its "Hey BMW" voice activation technology. Think of this like Apple Siri or Amazon Alexa: saying "I'm cold", for example, is met with a response about what temp you'd like the cabin set to - but don't expect anything more intuitive or conversational than that. Also new for the G20 is a digital instrument cluster as part of the Tech Pack which enables customisation of the layout and what info is placed in front of you. Although BMW is rather playing catch-up here to Audi's superior Virtual Cockpit tech.

Beyond that, the best thing to report on startup of the 320d - with xDrive and M Sport trim in this case - is that the motor is practically inaudible on tick-over. That ought to come as welcome news to anyone who remembers what the F30 version was like at launch, and it remains subdued when you're underway to thanks to what we can only assume is serious upgrade of the car's sound-proofing. The car in question gets adaptive dampers (an option) and deploys its 'comfort' setting to impressive effect. (Effective enough that switching to 'sport' reveals ridges and cracks in the road that you'd never previously realised were there.)

Alongside the dampers you get an 'adaptive' drive mode that also impacts on the weight of the electrically assisted steering and the responsiveness of the powertrain. If you cruise along a motorway, for example, the car tunes itself for comfortable driving; venture onto a B-road though and everything tightens up like you were in 'sport'. The transformation incorporates the behaviour of the eight-speed automatic as well, which also quickens its shifts and adds a little percussive thud to each gear change. Of course, with its smooth and refined (but far from potent) turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the 320d lacks the drama to keep pace with the illusion; its 190hp and 295lb ft of torque are happily ensconced in the mid-range, and BMW still doesn't provide any compelling reason to explore beyond. The M Sport chassis, however, sat 10mm lower than standard, is positively eager to impress.


With Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber on 19-inch wheels, it's practically impossible to make the all-wheel drive version come unstuck on a 21-degree day. Body control is good, too, so you can fling the nose at a corner and it'll follow with a wonderfully neutral balance. Push harder and there's a tiny hint of adjustability from the rear - the first signal of it, anyway - but then nowhere near enough grunt to mobilise it properly. Still, that the 320d remains so content at the prospect of being chucked around sets it in good stead for the average rep's requirements - and leaves it with a traditional advantage over the equivalent C-Class and Audi A4.

For the rear-driven model we embark on the same motorway, village and then mountain road route as the xDrive. This model also has M Sport suspension, but no optional adaptive damping, and the difference in ride is clear from the start. It's not night and day, but the road ridges we discovered earlier in the adaptive car's 'sport' mode are definitely noticeable all of the time, albeit to a lesser degree. We'd imagine the rates are about halfway between 'sport' and 'comfort', which would make sense, although it does suggest that selective damping will be a virtual no-brainer in Britain - especially if it amounts to a few extra quid a week when bought on PCP.

On the mountain route our rear-drive 320d is undoubtedly the more mobile machine. Direct comparison is impossible thanks to smaller 18-inch wheels and less grippy Goodyear Eagle F1s, but certainly the reduced traction helps us examine the G20's inherent chassis balance at a lower pace. It's very good, too, with the steering providing the sort of quick reactions that you'd typically associate with hot hatches. It never gets to pantomime levels, obviously - really lob the 320d into a bend and stamp on the throttle and you'll enjoy some oversteer, but only for a second on a warm, dry day and to a tiny degree as there's not enough power to keep it going.


The real revelation - and the 3 Series' calling card - is that the genuine handling credibility at one end doesn't interfere with what it was designed to do brilliantly at the other: be a calm, quiet and easy to live with executive saloon. Frankly this was always going to be the case (the 320d is no more likely to be bad than the latest Porsche 911 or Volkswagen Golf) but if you want the PH-certified edition, we'd plump for the rear-drive (obvs) model on those smaller wheels, tick the adjustable dampers box and probably stick with the six-speed manual we didn't get to test.

Obviously that goes against the established grain for actual 320d drivers - where passive suspension and big alloys are likely to proliferate - but it might make the commute home a little more fun. As ever, that commodity is ultimately in short supply with a four-cylinder diesel engine doing the heavy lifting, but the G20 reasserts BMW's place at the top of the old pecking order by being lighter, swifter and cleverer than anything else. And even if that means little to anyone outside the business user community, it does at least suggest that the starting point for the next M3 is already exceptionally good.


SPECIFICATIONS - BMW 320D XDRIVE (AND REAR-WHEEL DRIVE)
Engine:
1,995cc, four-cyl turbo
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 190@4,400rpm
Torque (lb ft): 295@1,750-2,500rpm
0-62mph: 6.9 seconds (6.8 seconds)
Top speed: 145mph (149mph)
Weight: 1,615kg (1,525kg)
MPG: 49.6 (53.3)
CO2: 118g/km (110)
Price: £36,800 (£33,610)











Author
Discussion

mrclav

Original Poster:

766 posts

163 months

Monday 18th March
quotequote all
I have to admit that it's actually quite handsome...

GTEYE

1,301 posts

150 months

Monday 18th March
quotequote all
Tried one on Friday - on non adaptive M Sport suspension, the ride on UK roads was quite frankly terrible.

They’ve certainly made it a better drivers car, but they’ve gone too far on the firm ride.

And according to the dealer there is no manual, it’s auto only.

cjcor

64 posts

177 months

Monday 18th March
quotequote all
Does look good, and instantly recoganisable as a beemer.

Limpet

3,288 posts

101 months

Monday 18th March
quotequote all
I did about 100k in a couple of F30 320ds (one manual, one auto) between 2012 and 2016, and thought they were absolutely brilliant all round packages. Engines that delivered their performance exactly where you want it in normal A to B use, well balanced handling, ridiculous economy, and good reliability. Biggest gripes for me related to engine refinement, and the heavy, notchy, and occasionally recalcitrant gear change on the manual car. I personally felt it was a much better car as an automatic (the auto box seemed to help NVH as well)

I know a 320d is widely considered on PH to be the devil's instrument, but for real world, high mileage use, this looks like a good update of what was already one of the best all-round cars on the market. Lighter, stiffer, more refined, nicer inside and faster. On the latter, look at those performance figures - that's last gen hot hatch acceleration in a car that will do 50 mpg without trying.

These will deservedly sell like hot cakes.

Shame about the wonky door handles though smile

Alucidnation

10,148 posts

110 months

Monday 18th March
quotequote all
Too many exhaust pipes.
Advertisement

NicoG

488 posts

148 months

Monday 18th March
quotequote all
The 4WD variant is a tenth slower to 62?

Deerfoot

3,988 posts

124 months

Monday 18th March
quotequote all
cjcor said:
Does look good, and instantly recoganisable as a beemer.
There were a few of the new 3 series at Thruxton last week. They look really good IMHO.


MikeGoodwin

1,421 posts

57 months

Monday 18th March
quotequote all
Saw a walk around of the new 340i on YouTube and it did look good actually.

Apart from those grills what the f is that all about? Hopefully an easy change

Also BMW have been saying their cars are fun to drive for years but the F30 was frankly ste, about as engaging as a submarine


scottygib553

69 posts

35 months

Monday 18th March
quotequote all
Hurry up with the Touring already, BMW.

ExPat2B

1,933 posts

140 months

Monday 18th March
quotequote all
Its interesting that this review doesn't really address in any way the issues with the 320 that have been building since the E36.

Each successive 3 series has been getting more mechanical grip and capability in the corners, at the expense of driver involvement. BMW don't seem to understand that although I can go round the corner faster, I have to want to go round the corner faster for it to be a worthwhile upgrade.

It is interesting that only a single sentence is employed about the steering, to say that it is "quick"

How is this car to drive ? How does it feel ? how communicative is the steering ? how does the chassis feel when accelerating out of a corner ? How does it feel when trail braking into the corner ?

Limpet

3,288 posts

101 months

Monday 18th March
quotequote all
NicoG said:
The 4WD variant is a tenth slower to 62?
I suspect with 190 bhp and fat rubber, traction off the line is less of a limiting factor for the 0-62 time in the 2WD one than the extra weight and drag of the AWD system is in the AWD version once it's rolling. I reckon you'll need the 330/340 versions before you see the AWD variant gain an advantage in 0-62 times.

NicoG

488 posts

148 months

Monday 18th March
quotequote all
Limpet said:
I suspect with 190 bhp and fat rubber, traction off the line is less of a limiting factor for the 0-62 time in the 2WD one than the extra weight and drag of the AWD system is in the AWD version once it's rolling. I reckon you'll need the 330/340 versions before you see the AWD variant gain an advantage in 0-62 times.
I think you're exactly right - My old 330D X-drive was (quoted as being) significantly quicker to 62 than the 2WD version.
There has to be a tipping point doesn't there,,,,

Thornaby

286 posts

9 months

Monday 18th March
quotequote all
Nearly £400/month company car tax on this at 40%.

simonbamg

232 posts

63 months

Monday 18th March
quotequote all
Alucidnation said:
Too many exhaust pipes.
one would look lopsided

simonbamg

232 posts

63 months

Monday 18th March
quotequote all
scottygib553 said:
Hurry up with the Touring already, BMW.
no one buys them, thats what the X3 is for

dazwalsh

4,273 posts

81 months

Monday 18th March
quotequote all
Was hoping to like this a lot, sadly it doesnt make me want one in quite the way the new volvo s60 does.

2smoke

74 posts

51 months

Monday 18th March
quotequote all
ExPat2B said:
Each successive 3 series has been getting more mechanical grip and capability in the corners, at the expense of driver involvement. BMW don't seem to understand that although I can go round the corner faster, I have to want to go round the corner faster for it to be a worthwhile upgrade.
Completely agree with with you on that. My old F30 felt less involved going round a bend at 70mph than my GTI PP does at 50mph. I never ever took the F30 out just for a drive, only for business.

Wills2

15,493 posts

115 months

Monday 18th March
quotequote all
1525kg if that's EU then that's a great achievement in a car this big, looks good in blue with the M sport bits as well.


Nerdherder

547 posts

37 months

Monday 18th March
quotequote all
As a former F30 driver I'd happily choose a 3 series again, but the exterior looks ain't improving..

iSore

4,011 posts

84 months

Monday 18th March
quotequote all
mrclav said:
I have to admit that it's actually quite handsome...
Yes - I slated the car on launch but have to admit that in the flesh, it's very pretty. It looks very good in black M Sport trim and seems to look smaller than the F30. The finish inside and out is superb and the doors close really nicely. A 330i Auto will do me nicely.