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An iX? I know what this means, there’s pirate treas…

Stop now. You’re being facetious, you know perfectly well that anything to which BMW attaches the xDrive badge is four-wheel drive. So what we have here is an AWD 3-series saloon.

What?! What sorcery is this?

Can we please drop the pretence now?

OK, I’m now ready for some proper facts.

Good. BMW has clearly decided it’s had enough of being derided in the UK every time fluffy white stuff falls from the clouds and its agile, beautifully balanced rear-wheel drive saloons spit themselves backwards into hedges or glide silently into unforgiving kerbs. So it’s now worked out a way to package the 4wd underpinnings with the right-hand drive layout so that British BMW owners have a fighting chance of keeping pace with Simon-from-next-door’s Quattro-equipped Audi A4.

So clearly you’ll now be able to have a sensible diesel with sensible 4wd?

Not quite yet. The xDrive system will be fitted to both saloon and estate versions (as seen in pics 7-10 above) of the 320d and 330d (a 330dX Touring might well be all the car you ever need…), plus the 120d five door hatch as well, but as a kick-off BMW has launched the 320iX. This mates 4wd-ness with the 2.0-litre turbocharged four cylinder that develops 184bhp and 199lb ft of torque.

That’s the same as the regular 320i, isn’t it?

Correct, the engine hasn’t been touched at all and you’ll still be able to choose between the six-speed manual and altogether brilliant eight-speed automatic. The addition of 4wd does mean that fuel consumption and CO2 figures are both heavier (by 4.8mpg to 41.5mpg and 12g/km to 159g/km respectively) due to the losses and friction in the system, plus the extra 85kg of weight the 320iX is hauling around. Performance is broadly identical, with a claimed loss of 2mph at the top end and a solitary tenth slower to 62mph. The 320iX never quite feels as quick as the 7.4secs time suggests, although chiefly this is because the two litre turbo isn’t that charismatic.

That’s a fair bit of data to take on board. Does it all stack up?

In the engine department, not quite - we’d have the diesel if it was up to us, even though it’s a bit more wedge (£29,910 in base SE trim, as opposed to £27,730). Speaking of which, the iX models carry a £1,535 mark-up over standard rear-wheels drive cars. But I digress, because on the road, this 320iX stacks up brilliantly well.

Ooh, can you really feel the 4wd system at work, then?

Not at all, which is the point. There’s no steering corruption, no sense of tightness in the drivetrain or a reluctance to turn, it flows as easily and naturally as the rear-wheel drive model. If I was being hyper-critical, I reckon the engine feels a mite blunter here and that the dynamics are a fraction less sparkly, but in all honesty without driving the two back-to-back it’s a very tight call. It rides brilliantly, you don’t need to make any compromises or adjustments, it steers super-fluently and is still the most enjoyable small saloon to punt around in. It’s very, very satisfying.

Are you sure you were driving the 4wd model?

Absolutely. If you find a suitably tight (and ideally pretty quiet) roundabout and drive a few laps of it playing with the throttle you can sense the power being jiggled back and forth, so now, where the rear-wheel drive car might end up engaging in some oversteer antics, the 4wd one sends power forward to balance things out. Enthusiasts might decry the lack of challenge in such tameness, but the added safety is bound to count for much more in buyer’s eyes. What makes it so good is that the BMW never feels nose heavy or clumsy in any way - it’s still very well balanced and with 60 per cent of the torque going to the rear axle in normal driving, still behaves as enjoyably as the rear driver in almost all situations. Once it detects the grip changing, then up to 100 per cent of the power can be fed either way.

Impressive stuff, should make the 3-Series better at dealing with that millimetre of ice that causes such chaos on British roads.

It does indeed. I think it’s also worth pointing out that this being a 2.0-litre turbo 4x4 hasn’t turned the 3-series into an Evo-chasing, Impreza-baiting rally weapon. It’s way too soft and well mannered for that. Here, the 4wd system is there if you need it, not a fundamental characteristic of the car. You won’t know you’ve got it until you need it. Which is what makes the 3-series so satisfying in the first place. We approve, BMW, and will have ours with a set of cold weather tyres and an extra helping of smugness, please.


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