2015 BMW 3-series at a glance
- Handling: ★★★★★
- Performance: ★★★★☆
- Design: ★★★★☆
- Interior: ★★★★☆
- Practicality: ★★★★☆
- Costs: ★★★★☆
BMW 3-series 320d ED Plus, from £30,485
THE BMW 3-series is 40 years old. Incredible to think that the world’s most trusty sports saloon came among us at the same time as the Austin Princess and Harold Wilson, and Mud singing Oh Boy. It looks pretty good for it, too, having managed to stay fresh and relevant in the intervening years in ways that neither the Princess, Wilson nor even the magnificent Mud quite managed.
Hot hatches, people carriers, SUVs, crossovers . . . whole car types have sprung up in the definitive Beamer’s lifetime, accompanied by shifts of fashion that have sometimes seemed to leave the viability of the mere saloon car hanging on by a thread. The world has been in and out of flares at least three times in this model’s history, but the 3-series simply keeps powering out of the showroom — still marvelled at, still longed for, still in vogue.
Now here it comes again, on its 40th birthday, in a midlife refreshment of the sixth-generation model that emerged to the usual appreciative reviews and a healthy run of sales in 2012. As is common with midlife refreshments, the car remains similar to the naked eye. The headlights have slightly narrowed their letterbox gaze, there has been some mild thinning and stretching of the chrome on the front air intake and the indicators in the new LED headlamp units form a cheeky eyebrow above the main bulbs. But if there was any temptation among the designers to do anything drastic, it was resisted.
Equally typically for this phase of a car’s life, there has been just enough vamping up of the standard equipment (DAB radio, 6½in colour screen, rear parking monitor, rain-sensitive windscreen wipers, some fruity alloys) to make people who bought the last version at entry level feel slightly miffed and consider a trade-up.
The key distinction, though, and the justification for the birthday upgrade is the set of TwinPower turbo engines introduced across the range — three, four and six-cylinder variants capable of new feats of power and efficiency, along with new levels of sportiness (BMW insists, looking anxiously over its shoulders at the Jaguar XE and the new Mercedes C-class).
The eight-speed transmission in the 320d ED (EfficientDynamics) Plus automatic version, which I drove, has been upgraded to provide a more tangible dinstinction between Comfort and Sport modes, the latter of which casually flips through the gears as if they were pages in a glossy magazine.
Yet somehow it does 70mpg-plus and its emissions are officially logged as 99g/km, placing it in the free vehicle tax bracket, which seems remarkable for any five-seat, four-door car with a fat boot, let alone one that surges as efficiently and handles as certainly as this one.
The thing about any 3-series is that it’s still interested in the driver. If you were to represent the feeling of driving this car in a diagram, you would show arrows of energy flowing from the pedals up the driver’s legs and spine, on to his arms and then down the steering column and into the engine again, and doing this in a cycle for the duration of the journey. Very few saloons (very few cars of any kind, in fact) feel quite so involving.
Then again, it should be good. They’ve had 40 years to work on it, don’t forget.
2015 BMW 320d ED Plus automatic specifications
- PRICE: £32,175
- ENGINE: 1995cc, 4 cylinders
- POWER: 161bhp
- TORQUE: 295 lb ft
- ACCELERATION: 0-62mph: 7.8sec
- TOP SPEED: 143mph
- FUEL: 74.3mpg (combined)
- CO2: 99g/km
- RELEASE DATE: On sale now