With Jaguar launching its all-new XE saloon this year, the contest for junior exec honours in the office car park has been reignited – and now the BMW 3 Series is back with a vengeance, looking to retake its crown with this facelifted model. We got behind the wheel of one of the most popular models in the range – the £33,635 320d M Sport automatic – to see what BMW’s best-selling saloon is like on UK roads.
The 3 Series has always been the best-in-class when it comes to driving dynamics, and it’s still brilliant on the road. The 187bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine serves up smooth revving performance that sees the 0-62mph sprint dispatched in a rapid 7.2 seconds when fitted with the Sport Automatic eight-speed gearbox that we’ve tested here, but the refinement this engine and transmission combination brings is a real boon on long journeys.
Plenty of 3 Series drivers will spend a lot of time on the motorway, so the impressive comfort and supple ride quality is a welcome trait, but as with most BMW’s, get the 320d on a twisting road and the chassis really shines.
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The optional £515 adjustable dampers that tie in with BMW’s standard Drive Performance Control system smooth bumps out in Comfort mode, but select Sport and the suspension controls the 3 Series’ body with real composure, giving a more focused edge that allows you to work the car’s precise steering and carry plenty of speed. With steering wheel mounted paddles you can flip up and down the refined transmission’s ratios, adding an extra layer of involvement to the fantastic driving experience.
Cars like this have to be excellent all-rounders too, and fun behind the wheel isn’t enough on its own. Thankfully, there’s another EcoPro mode that means the 320d maximises efficiency. Claimed fuel economy of 67.3mpg and CO2 emissions of 116g/km mean it’s on a par with its closest rival, the Jaguar XE, so it’ll appeal to business users and families alike thanks to its affordable running costs and practicality.
The styling changes inside and out on this revised 3 Series are minimal, but it still remains one of the sharpest looking saloons on sale – especially with the sportier body kit and 19-inch alloy wheels as part of the M Sport Plus pack fitted to this car.
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High-quality materials inside the cabin give the premium feel you’d expect from a BMW, and there’s ample head and legroom in the rear for adult passengers. A 480-litre boot gives it an edge over the XE when it comes to luggage space, and a folding seat option adds even more practicality.
Go for M Sport spec like this car and there’s lots on offer, including the sportier styling, leather, DAB radio, Bluetooth, cruise and climate control and sat-nav that works with the gearbox to pre-select the perfect gear based on where you are on the road.
With the BMW’s basic structure unchanged over its predecessor, the five-star Euro NCAP safety rating still stands, and with options such as a £370 Driving Assistant pack, which adds lane departure and forward collision warning as well as autonomous emergency braking, it means safety should be strong.