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Our first drive in the new BMW 3 Series

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start with some facts, because we’ll admit that the BMW 3-Series, especially in
320d guise, might not be the most exciting car you can read about on the web
right now.

it is one of the most important. Your mates who have proper jobs, ones that
involve company cars, will want to know about the sixth generation BMW
3-Series, and it’s your duty to tell them what they need to know.

this needs to be communicated briefly, via Twitter or somesuch, just tell them
it’s the best car in its class. Still. Because it is. If you want to go into
much depth, begin with increased dimensions (93mm longer, 9mm taller etc) and
go on to discuss how the new lower nose design has improved both aerodynamics
(0.26Cd for the most air-cheating models) and pedestrian safety.

course it’s not a revolutionary leap forward. This is a mainstream car that
sells in massive numbers – when it goes on sale in the UK next February it
needs to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. We can’t see it alienating
many. With the exception of the pointier front end the exterior is entirely
fine. Nothing radical, just a good freshen up. Same indoors, too. BMW has been
bolder with materials, folding them into more interesting shapes, yet the
ergonomics are excellent and the quality and design is fully up to scratch.

engines will be available, four diesels and three petrols, although on the
launch just two were present, a pair of 2.0-litre turbos, one petrol, the other
diesel. The 328i is the new engine, a four cylinder turbo that replaces the old
naturally aspirated straight six of the 330i. No, it’s not as charismatic, and
yes, that does matter as there’s now one less reason to buy petrol instead of a
more sensible diesel. It’s got plenty of grunt though, as in 242bhp and 0-62mph
in 5.9secs and growls in a vaguely interesting way as it homes in on the
7000rpm redline. Look, it’s an impressive engine for its combination of power
and efficiency (44.1mpg), but it’s not especially memorable or lovable.

See more pictures of the
new BMW 328i

goes for the 320d, except you should be doing 62.8mpg. You won’t be, you’ll be
getting about 50mpg, but you’ll be enjoying sub-120g/km of CO2 and 181bhp along
the way. That’s enough for 0-62mph in 7.6secs and although the diesel isn’t a
miracle of refinement and aural suppression, it’s plenty good enough to bear
comparison with the best out there.

See more pictures of the
new BMW 320d

mention also goes to the eight speed automatic gearbox worn by every car on the
launch. I can’t report on what the standard-fit six speed manual is like, but
the auto (likely to cost around £1,400) is terrific. It has many ratios to
choose from, but manages to slink through them all rapidly and unobtrusively.

good drivetrain isn’t the be all and end all of this car though. Granted, it
would be a shock if BMW had ballsed up the ride and handling, but it really
hasn’t. Quite the opposite. The rear wheel drive saloon drives smoothly,
precisely and rewardingly. The steering might not be the last word in feedback,
but the weighting is so good and the nose so responsive that it’s never an
issue. And the thing’s just so well balanced and agile. For a mainstream car,
it’s brilliant.

we’re not just talking about the petrol here. Sure, the 328i has a bit more
about it if you’re really going for gold, but the 320d isn’t far behind and the
one we drove rode marginally better on its smaller 18-inch wheels. Both,
though, are mighty capable motorway devices: quiet, stable, smooth and all the

3-Series, all seven engines and five trim levels, arrives here next February,
to be followed in the autumn not only by new body styles (estate leads the way,
followed by coupe and cabrio), but also a hybrid model and, for the first time
ever, a 4wd version. Now that really will put the cat among the Audi pigeons.

start at £24,880, with the car you actually want, the 320d Sport, costing
£29,080. Insist on petrol? The 328i starts at £29,060 in SE trim. Both are
good. No scratch that – both are excellent, excellent cars. Now go tell your

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