Firmly established in the European psyche as a marker of prosperity, BMW’s mid-size saloon maintains kerb appeal after its latest facelift
You’ll need your strongest magnifying glass to see the tiny nips and tucks at the front and rear, but the financially savvy will notice the improvements that have been made to the fuel economy and emissions of various models in this updated 3 Series range.
There’s now a version that dips to 99g/km, earning free road tax – although to get it you’ll need to add the £1,550 automatic gearbox. You’ll have to do the maths on that one.
The front bumper is a little less sculpted than before, with a greater emphasis on horizontal lines. That’s to cater for the tastes of larger markets than ours. The 3 Series is still an image-focused car, though, proudly displaying the correct badge for business types and feeling very much the part on the inside, too.
You could argue that when it comes to premium cars, the domination of the three-box saloon is not as strong as it once was, but there’s still a strong following for what has been a hugely popular and influential model in Britain. If you’ve got a new 3 Series, you’re doing alright.
There’s a big boot behind the three rear seats, with recessed bins at the sides and a large aperture that lets you nonchalantly slot larger cases straight in. In the front there are useful door bins, and while you won’t fit much into the glovebox, the cabin is very spacious for passengers.
Legroom in the back is ample, and more accommodating than it looks because the 3 Series has longer rear seat squabs than many non-premium cars that use shorter squabs to increase the appearance of space. Leather-covered surfaces are potentially vulnerable to the rigours of family life, but that’s pretty much a given in this part of the market.
The 320d is likely to be the biggest seller. The efficiency numbers are impressive and that optional eight-speed automatic gearbox is superb, despite the hefty price tag. The test car only had around 500 miles on it so the engine was almost certainly still at its tightest, but it’s fair to say that it felt nowhere near as brisk as its on-paper 188bhp and 295lb/ft suggest.
What you do get is super-stable handling and oodles of grip on the larger wheels of M Sport versions, and well- controlled floatiness on the Efficient Dynamics (ED Plus) model and its tiny-looking but efficiency-boosting 16-inch alloys. Avoid the inconsistent Servotronic steering, though, which completely ruins the standard setup’s linearity and directness.
There’s good visibility in all directions, which is handy because you don’t sit too high. Using the iDrive is a joy these days, and if you upgrade the standard BMW Business navigation to the Professional grade you’re rewarded with a wider, sharper screen with more functionality. It’s not a cheap step up, though. My pick of the options is the superb head-up display. Again, it’s pricey, but once you’ve had it you’ll wonder how you ever managed without.
With options the 320d xDrive I drove totalled £46,000. That’s a terrifying, absurd figure you should run away from. A standard but very well equipped 335d, with all its lovely torque, is less than £41,000. Many of BMW’s options are simply replacing existing systems with better versions rather than adding crucial new tech, so stick as close to standard spec as you can. In Sport trim and with the automatic added, the 320d is arguably cheaper to own than rivals from Mercedes, Audi and Jaguar.
This is a car with a long-standing trail of success in this country, but its days as the default upgrade from a Mondeo or Passat have been ended by the splurge of crossovers and compact SUVs, most of which are waving the ‘premium’ flag as hard as they can. The BMW might be becoming the understated choice, but it still drives and handles better than any of its high-riding rivals.
Price: From £29,785 (£46,000 as driven)
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol producing 188bhp and 295lb/ft
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic driving the rear wheels
Performance: Top speed 146mph, 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds
Economy: 67.3mpg combined
Emissions: 111g/km of CO2