The Sunday Times Driving Placeholder
Four wheels good
Pros
xDrive will help save face if it snows
Spot on layout; like it was designed by you
Diesel engine isn't rattly, has lots of torques
Cons
Economy drops, nitrogens increase with xDrive
Four-wheel-drive also adds cost
Where can I put my feet?

The Clarkson review: 2015 BMW 3-series 320d xDrive SE

You did have one excuse not to buy a 3-series. Not any more

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BMW

BMW 320d xDrive SE, £31,285

I HAVE been much amused in recent weeks by various earnest BBC news reporters telling us that people these days decide which car to buy on the basis of how much damage it will cause to the environment.


View the used BMW 3-series for sale on driving.co.uk


Of course, this is entirely true inside the BBC, which is why many of the staff go to work on foldaway bicycles. But in the actual world, where women shave their armpits and see Jeremy Corbyn as a humorous throwback, people couldn’t give a stuff about emissions or any of that PC nonsense. You could use slave labour to build a car that ran on a mixture of cyanide and potassium, and if it had free mud flaps and a five-year warranty, you’d sell it by the shipload.

Value for money matters. Fuel economy matters too, along with comfort, zest and reliability. What comes out of the poo chute is irrelevant. And so too, weirdly, is styling.

It’s odd. Nobody would choose to have ugly children and nobody would deliberately fill their house with furniture that they found displeasing to the eye. And yet, every year, thousands and thousands of people buy a car that has the aesthetic appeal of a gaping wound.

bmw-rear

I don’t think there’s been a time in automotive history when the market has been so awash with ugly cars. Skinny-wheeled, ungainly monstrosities crammed with unnecessary styling features and roof lines that seem to have been designed so people in the back can wear stovepipe hats.

I look at the Citroën Cactus and wonder: “What’s that all about? Why’s it got bubble wrap down the side?” But plainly lots of people think differently because the damn things are everywhere. It’s the same with that new Lexus NX. Why did they allow a four-year-old with a space laser fixation to do the styling?

Then you have the Mini Countryman and, oh, I nearly forgot, the new Jeep Cherokee. That’s astonishing. Because what they’ve done is taken the old Pontiac Aztec and blended it with a wide-mouthed frog.

However, there are a few manufacturers that are swimming against the ugly tide. Kia is one. And BMW is another. Of course, the German giant can sell you an X3 that is terrible, but its saloons and coupés are magnificent, their lines spoilt only by the curse of familiarity. The 5-series in particular is a masterpiece.

The main reason the country grinds to a halt every time there’s a light dusting of snow or a mild frost is that every road in the land is blocked by a BMW

And the 3-series that I was using last week is not far behind. You look at it and you think: “Why on earth would someone choose to buy an Audi or a Mercedes or a Lexus instead?”

One of the reasons, of course, is that in winter BMWs are famously hopeless. In fact the main reason the country grinds to a halt every time there’s a light dusting of snow or a mild frost is that every road in the land is blocked by a BMW, its big fat rear wheels spinning uselessly and its panicking driver filling in insurance forms, knowing that although the accident hasn’t happened yet, it will.

Well, with the BMW I’ve been driving, those days are gone, because it has four-wheel drive. Such a car has been available on the Continent for almost a decade, but until recently BMW’s designers never really saw the point of engineering all-wheel drive into right-hand-drive models. They probably thought that in Britain, where the weather is rarely very bad, we could cope. Yeah, right.

We are told this winter will be very bad, and doubtless, if it is, the BBC will blame Volkswagen. But in your sparkly new 320d with xDrive you’ll be fine.

BMW-interior

There are, however, some downsides on the days when it’s not snowing. First of all, there’s a premium to pay. That’s reasonable. There are a lot of extra cogs and stuff. But the premium is £1,500, and that’s what economists call “a lot”.

There’s more. The space between the centre console and the wheelarch is quite tight, which means that every time you want to go faster, you hit the brake and come to a halt.

More importantly, the fuel consumption is hit hard. The four-wheel-drive car does 5.3 fewer miles to the gallon than its rear-drive sister. And it’s slower. I suppose, in case someone from the BBC is reading this — highly unlikely, I know — I should also mention that it produces 10 more carbon dioxides.

So, there’s a heavy price to pay for the ability to get out of your drive on that chilly February morning when you wake to find Jack Frost has been round in the night. And in all probability you won’t be going anywhere anyway, because your neighbour will have slithered into a lamppost in his two-wheel-drive 3-series and blocked the road.

Really, then, it’s up to you whether you choose xDrive or not. Only you know whether you need it enough to make the penalties worthwhile.

Either way, you do get a lovely car. Wheelarch intrusion aside, the driving position is sublime and the thickness and texture of the steering wheel are perfect.

Two years ago eco-loonies were telling everyone diesel was the fuel to use. But then they woke up one day and decided that, no, diesel was not the fuel to use. Because it will cause global warming that will cool the planet. Or something

In the early days, BMW’s iDrive command and control system was a jumble of unintelligible submenus and nonsense, but today it’s the standard-bearer of common sense and logic, twin features that you find throughout the car. Rear seat space, the size of the boot, the way everything operates and the ride: it’s all how it would be if you’d designed it yourself.

Naturally, I do have a couple of niggles. The steering — electric these days, rather than hydraulic — is a bit 50p-piecey, if you know what I mean. It doesn’t have the fluidity that used to be a hallmark of BMW when it billed itself as the maker of the ultimate driving machine. And the parking sensors are stupidly pessimistic. “You’re going to crash! You’re going to crash!!!!” they wail hysterically when you are still yards from the car behind.

Oh, and then there’s the diesel engine. Two years ago eco-loonies were telling everyone diesel was the fuel to use. But then they woke up one day and decided that, no, diesel was not the fuel to use. Because it will cause global warming that will cool the planet. Or something.

It’s hard to be sure with these nutters who say they can predict what the weather will be in a thousand years even though the Met Office’s giant computers can’t even work out what it will be doing tomorrow afternoon. So I shall ignore them and tell you that BMW’s diesel engine is fine. It sounds rather good, it has immense torque and it settles down to a muted hum on the motorway.

Plus, you’ll be doing many more miles to the gallon than you would be with a petrol-powered alternative. Which, as we established at the beginning, matters a great deal more than how many nitrogens are being left in your wake.

BMW 320d xDrive SE specifications
  • Engine: 1995cc, 4 cylinders
  • Power: 222bhp @ 4250rpm
  • Torque: 280 lb ft @ 1750rpm
  • Transmission: 6-speed manual
  • Performance: 0-62mph: 7.5sec
  • Top speed: 146mph
  • Fuel: 58.9mpg
  • CO2: 116g/km
  • Road tax band: C (free for first year; £30 thereafter)
  • Price:£31,285
  • Release date: On sale now

 

Do you agree with Clarkson? Have your say by emailing the Driving team at driving@sunday-times.co.uk. Your letter might appear in the paper.

 


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