BMW delivers Coupe de grace with 3 series

IF YOU'RE in the market for a prestigiously badged, yet relatively affordable coupe, then BMW's 3 Series Coupe will be one of the first cars you'll turn to. In recent times, though, the competition has been building, first from Audi's A5, then from Mercedes' E-Class Coupe and even from niche alternatives, such as Infiniti's G37 Coupe.

Time then for Munich to ratchet up their car's desire factor a few notches. The result is the facelifted E90 version.

Taut, sleek, muscular and boasting not a single shared body panel with the 3 Series saloon, the latest coupe will earn whole legions of buyers before they ever clap eyes on one in the metal. The silhouette is low and elongated, giving it an elegance lacking in the buttoned-down saloon.

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The 3-Series coupe's focus on shaving weight comes with some seriously powerful engines. The petrol line-up starts with the 170bhp 320i, then comes the 218bhp 325i model, which sits just below the 272bhp 330i derivative. At the top of the pile sits the legendary M3, but you can enjoy much of what this offers in the desirable 306bhp 335i.

This is a revolutionary engine as it marked BMW's first turbo-charged petrol unit offered in this country since the 2002 turbo, a car that was pensioned off in 1975.

The 335i is almost as fast as the old-shape M3, yet far less temperamental. As is the norm with high-end BMWs, the top speed is electronically limited to 155mph. Ignore the badge on the back, this is no 3.5-litre unit. Instead, it's a turbocharged 3.0-litre powerplant with Valvetronic variable-valve management and direct injection technology.

Talking of turbos, what about the diesel options? These start with a 184bhp 320d variant that these days offers another 7bhp and another 30Nm of torque, helping it sprint from rest to 60mph in just 7.5s. There's the same kind of improvement to the six-cylinder 204bhp 325d, then comes the 330d and the diesel flagship is the 286bhp 335d.

BMW has taken steps to differentiate the latest coupe from the saloon and Tourer estate. Most noticeable is the single air-intake sliced in below the front bumper with matt aluminium fins mounted within it. Its effect is to lower and widen the car visually for a more planted and sporty stance.

With a fixed centre console dividing the rear seats, the 3 Series Coupe is a proper four-seater with room in the back for two adults. The 440-litre boot and folding rear seats add a welcome dose of practicality, but this is, above all, a coupe model.

All models come with close-ratio six-speed manual gearboxes, but there's also a very decent automatic option that halves the shift times of a conventional auto, thanks to a smart interface between software and torque converter. There is even a pair of paddle shifts behind the wheel for when the driver wants to have some fun.

The standard 3 Series Coupe comes in SE trim, and that gets buyers 17-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, xenon headlights, Dakota leather upholstery and dual-zone air-conditioning.

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The 3-Series Coupe may be predictably pricey to buy, but it's surprisingly affordable to run. BMW's EfficientDynamics technology is standard across the range, helping the cars achieve economy and emissions levels that belie the kind of performance on offer. The diesels shine particularly brightly, with the 320d returning an outstanding 60mpg and 125g/km emissions. Even the improved 335d can manage 42.8mpg and 174g/km (now dropping a VED band to H), while the petrol options are hardly profligate.

The BMW 3-Series is a great driver's car with some world-beating engines, and this improved Coupe version adds even sleeker styling and some more efficient engines into that outstanding mix.

Sacrificing two of the doors that you get on a 3-Series saloon for the markedly improved aesthetics of the coupe will make sense to many buyers. The car looks better and handles with a touch more verve. It all means that in the wider mid-sized sports coupe market, there's still little to touch BMW's offering if your priorities are good looks and a sparkling driving experience with a modicum of practicality thrown in. Surely, that's what coupes are all about.


CAR: BMW 3 Series Coupe range

PRICE: 27,845-49,525 – OTR


EMISSIONS: 125-295g/km

PERFORMANCE: Max speed 155mph; 0-60mph 5.5 seconds

FUEL CONSUMPTION: (335i] (combined) 34mpg