Car review: BMW’s latest 3 Series Saloon

LARGER, roomier, lighter and quicker, with improved economy, better handling, but slightly more expensive.

It is a formula for almost any model replacement – in this case the latest 3 Series Saloon from BMW. It is in showrooms now, from £24,880.

There are seven petrol or diesel choices at launch, all with six-speed manual gearboxes or a new eight-speed automatic with increased economy. All have stop-start ignition and BMW’s innovative fuel-saving technology. There are six trim options, from the ES with the weakest 316d diesel to the M Sport, with several engines including the 302bhp 335i with a 0-62mph time of 5.5 seconds.

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At launch, all the diesel engines are four-cylinder two-litre turbo with various power levels. The two-litre, four-cylinder turbo policy also applies to the petrol engines, except for the 335i, which retains a twin-turbo three-litre straight- six engine.

Like most BMWs they have run-flat tyres, apart from the 320d Efficiency Dynamics model, which has lower-friction Michelin tyres. This 161bhp engine delivers 280lb ft of torque, 0-62mph in eight seconds, nudges 69mpg on the official average and is taxed at just 109g/km of CO2.

The car is all-new, with every panel changed, a longer wheelbase and a new interior. The face is latest generation: wider headlamps, full-width lower air intake and angular plastic edges. A second, higher styling line runs along the side to the back lights, which are now more oblong than polyhedral and give the tail a lower look.

Underneath, the chassis is reworked. Suspension changes mirror the new 1 Series, with the springs and struts mounted directly onto the body, and a rubber mount for the dampers which have new valving.

Front-door pockets are roomier. There is increased rear leg space and the boot capacity now matches the Audi A4, despite the BMW being rear-wheel-drive.

Any good? I’ll say. BMW chose the hills between the Spanish coast and Ronda for the UK media launch. Our first car was the 320d Sport with 181.4 bhp, manual gears, 0-62mph in 7.5 seconds, 61.4mpg and 120g/km. Its list price was £29,080. It rode the roads almost magically. The handling was positive, but then the last model was no slouch. It achieved 54 miles a gallon – not far off the official mpg average.

The next car was the two-litre 328i, with 241.6bhp, which produces plenty of snarl from its four cylinders, though not the crisp note of a straight-six. However, it beats the old 330i and is £2,800 cheaper. We had the 328i automatic, which sounds glorious as it slips through the lower gears. At 70mph it is running serenely in eighth gear at 2,000rpm.

BMW quotes a 0-62mph time of 6.1 seconds for the 328i auto, 147g/km of CO2 and overall economy of 44.8 miles a gallon.

• Verdict: BMW continues its performance, with economy movement in fine style.