BMW 320d Sport

6 Feb, 2012 5:31pm Jack Rix

We get behind the wheel of a UK-spec 3 Series for the first time, in best-selling 320d guise


It’s hard to think of way in which the 3 Series hasn’t been improved, and the 320d is the perfect all-rounder. A price of almost £30,000 for this Sport model, before adding any choice options like adaptive suspension, leather seats and sat-nav, will be too steep for some. But for that you get a car that’s effortlessly fast and refined, cheap to run and huge fun to drive when the right road presents itself. The new 3 Series doesn’t trounce the competition quite like it used to, but BMW has done enough to keep its nose comfortably in front.

In terms of the UK market, this is the most important car BMW makes. It hopes to shift 21,000 3 Series saloons to British buyers every year, and the 320d will be the biggest seller. It’s only right then that the first RHD UK-spec car we’ve driven is a 320d, in Sport trim and with a manual gearbox.

With 181bhp from its four-cylinder diesel engine, 0-62mph in 7.5 seconds and CO2 emissions of just 120g/km (118g/km if you go for the optional eight-speed auto) the 320d is a remarkable achievement on paper – only the 161bhp 320d EfficientDynamics, with emissions of 109g/km, trumps it. The worry is that with such a strong focus on fuel efficiency, some of the handling sparkle may have been sacrificed - but it doesn’t take long to dismiss any doubts.

Video: Watch CarBuyer's video review of the new 3 Series

On start up, at idle and if you accelerate hard through the lower gears there’s a definite diesel rattle from under the bonnet, but there’s certainly no lack of power. It rips though the ratios and feels eager to rev, for a diesel. The short-throw, stubby gearlever is precise with a lovely mechanical feel, and as the revs rise so does the refinement. By the time you reach motorway speeds the engine noise is little more than a distant hum, while a light rustle of wind coming from the A-pillars is the only discernible sound.

Electromechanical steering, which doesn’t sap any power when the wheel isn’t turning, has been criticised in other cars for lacking in feel – but not here. Every millimetre of movement results in an instant reaction from the front of the car. Combine that with rear-wheel drive, and a wonderfully balanced chassis and this car flows down a twisting B-road better than anything in its class.

There’s no penalty in terms of ride comfort either, especially if you pay £750 for the adaptive M Sport suspension. This integrates seamlessly with the five driving modes – Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ - and even in its firmest setting cushions you from bad surfaces. In Comfort there’s a suppleness that the old car could never match.

Partly responsible for the improved ride and extra grip in the bends is the larger chassis, with a 50mm longer wheelbase and wider front and rear tracks. The other benefit is a more spacious interior – especially for rear passengers who get an extra 15mm of leg room and 8mm of headroom. The 480-litre boot is 20-litres up on the old model, too.

Don’t get the Sport trim on our test car confused with M-Sport. M-Sport models don’t arrive in the UK until later this year, and will include lower and stiffer suspension, beefed-up bodywork and 18-inch wheels, while the Sport model driven here is a milder makeover with a black chrome exhaust pipe, a unique front bumper and red trim and stitching on the inside. It’s a look that might be too garish for some, but the quality of the interior materials keeps things just this side of tacky.

ES and SE trim levels still kick off the range, and for a more sophisticated alternative to Sport, there’s Modern trim level which adds a more sombre colour palette and part-leather upholstery. Above that are Luxury models, which get 18-inch wheels and full leather thrown in as standard.


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I just wish they made BMWs a bit prettier. Can't they head hunt someone from Audi? It's no doubt the best best technical achievement, but it's uninspiring to look at.

they've never really fully recovered. The latest 5 looks much better than the previous version, but the new 1 series looks a disaster (again). This new 3 series looks better than the awkward Bangled E90 but it's still not 'neat' or 'smart' the way an E46 was. It's bland at best. The last good looking 3 was the E92 3 series coupe. But these days - a BMW is not a nailed on successful looker the way they used to be....

Yes, I agree with the above comments, I think predessors like the iconic 1970's & 80's E21 & E30 in particular, were much better designs. This latest generation doesn't really inspire or convey that 18 carat gold, razor sharp, noble look. This design is lacking in focus, overly fussy and those headlights and grille just look unresolved. I don't care how good the dynamics or engines are, if I'm spending £20,000 plus on this category of car it has to look beautiful or if not, at least bold, quirky and interesting, this car fails on those two design levels.

You people do not understand! This is a BMW! It is made in Europe! It has a BMW propeller badge on bonnet and boot! Ipso facto, the styling is above approach and it is without doubt the most beautiful car on which mere mortals have ever been blessed to gaze. If you don't believe me, read the British motoring press.

and there I was thinking Auto Express was a car wash.... Now where do I find a UK motoring magazine? Umm...

Undoubtably a good car, but driven by smug, arrogant, uncourteous people who don't know how to use their indicators... In general.

Yet again according to Auto Express BMW can do no wrong.
Why should you have to pay£750 to get a decent ride?
You mention all the guff about emission and economy BUT, and it is a big but, where are the real world fuel consumption figures for this ugly car?
It has a nose bigger than Cyrano De Bergerac and an almost non existent boot.
In short another BMW triumph of marketing over substance.
All very King's New Clothes

Seven comments above. Seven people whinging that "It isn't very pretty".

Do any of you actually DRIVE a car? Or do you just sit in a deckchair, look at a cars and DROOL?

Personally, I'm a driver not a drooler. I don't give a tinker's cuss what a car looks like.

I agree the car doesnt look very sophisticated ,or stylish but? lets look at other makes , the closest being mercedes,yes i own an old one, my folks own a bot bellied pig(the bmw one) yuk there arent many makes today that turn out a truly stylish motor , why , because they want everybody to part with hard erned cash every three or four yrs, you have to take your hat off to the parts that matter under the skin , truly an engineering masterpiece , economy with comfort, speed with safety , i gues its an age thing , some youngsters think the hyundi sports is beautiful OmG

Seriously, since when BMW was pretty? Pretty sick of people complaining that BMW's aren't pretty enough or cosseting enough. If that is what you really want, you need the Alfa Romeo or Citroen showroom. There are no cars that come close to being the 3er's competitor as of now.

'more spacious interior – especially for rear passengers who get an extra 15mm of leg room and 8mm of headroom.' Ha Ha, all of 15mm eh! That should make a lot of difference!!
Please lets get real here!

"but driven by smug, arrogant, uncourteous people who don't know how to use their indicators"

Eh. I think I have seen the same comment written about Ford, Vauxhall, white van, Renault etc drivers. At best silly.

As Julianlee says brillant cars. Nothing to touch them.

How can OBMITTY say that BMW should nab Audi designers? The A4 is probably the most boring car I've seen in a long time. And they are hopeless to drive compared with BMW. JohnMarriot2 seems to think a car is judged on its rear legroom! Get real. You obviously have never driven a BMW. You would then realise that the only thing that matters is the driver. Sod everyone else!

For the same price £29 K I would pick up a Ford Mondeo Titanium X Sport 2.0 240ps EcoBoost and get a load of toppings too... A much nicer car for my pounds

AutoExpress have driven the car - YOU HAVEN'T.
You don't have to pay PND750 to get a decent ride - that's already there. You pay extra for a superb ride. People like you never want to pay the price, and expect things to be given to you.
BMW consistently give better fuel economy than their peers - FACT. Styling is a matter of personal choice - you don't have to like it. Having owned 5x 3 series over the years, before I got my 6 series, I was always happy with the boot size.
It is obvious you cannot afford a 3 series, so hop in your Hillman Imp and buzz off.

I wish MORE people didn't like BMWs. Great car, but in a few weeks, we won't be able to move for 320d's.

If @Liverpool is wasting someone else's cash then it's his choice but if not, compare the residual's. Ford dump & discount their cars on the market while BMW do not and don't need to. I drove a four year old 320d and a four year old Modeo the other week while searching for an economical commuter. They had both done circa 60K miles - one felt like like new and rattle free, the other flet and sounded like a bag of nails. You can guess which was which!

....and i suspect the BMW was worth around £14k where as the mondeo was up for £3.50. I couldn't bring myself to spend £30k on a car that was going to lose about 10-20% of its value in 4 years

Sit them side by side and the mondeo wins inside and out a much nicer car!

Strange thorntonjames my 03 plate 3L Xtype shares chassis with a Mondeo and a V6 engine *tuned by JAG... has 59K on the clock but drives and looks like a 2 year old car with 20K... Obviously your blinkered bias toward the German cars needs to grow up a bit... Mondeo is a great car and like every second hand car on the market condition will vary, it depends mainly on how the car has been looked after.... Good look with your BMW after 50K they tend to blow head gaskets especially the straight 6's ...

Having owned 4 Fords and 3 BMWs over the past 25 years and driven countless Ford hire cars I guess I can put myself down as an impartial judge.

Fords are great to drive, cheap to run (spare parts etc.), easy to fix and are great to buy if you pick them up when they are 3 yrs old (let some other sucker take the initial hit in deappreciation!).

The reason I now drive BMWs rather than Ford's are that
(a) RWD BMWs are generally more fun to drive than FWD cars (even Fords...who make some of the best driving FWD cars) and
(b) I avoid the anoying habbit that all my Fords had of failing MOTs (even at 3 yrs old!) most years and constantly requiring some additional maintenance at every annual service!

In comparison all of my BMWs have been significantly more reliable (albeit not perfect...if you want that, buy a japanese car!) but haven't left me stranded on a roadside unlike all of my Ford cars at 1 point or another.

I still rate Ford cars VERY highly, especially compared to similar cars from VW, Vauxhall, Fiat, etc.) but I would rather (if I had the funds) buy a 3 yr old BMW and run it for 6 happy years, rather than buy an equivalent Ford and have to replace it after 3-4 years due to reliability issues.

I guess it comes down to that fact that when I compare my equivaluent BMW (3 and 5 series)and Ford (Focus/Escort/Mondeo/Scorpio) cars side by side I can tell that the Fords are built more to a strict unit cost.

All in all, I know factoring deappreciation (when purchased when 3 years old), fuel, non franchised servicing etc. then my BMWs have cost me less per year than any of my Ford cars. If I didn't have the cash to buy a BMW, the equivalent Ford would be next on my list.

Just had a look at Jan-Sep latest available European sales the BMW 3 Series is the sales king.

Ford Mondeo 58,972 sales in Europe

BMW 3 Series 123,390 sales in Europe

This can't be right low volume quality producer outselling the mass produced car maker? BMW 3 Series never left the UK top 10 best selling cars list all last year, the Mondeo never made it into the UK top in any month in 2011.

Whats gone wrong at Ford the King of the road Cortina (Mondeo's grandad) was always No1 best selling car in the UK, and with the German Taunus was always No1 best selling car in Europe.

FWD Mondeo is letting Ford down big time, bring back a modern day RWD updated version of the Cortina the sales king of the road.

"NEW MONDEO not old" Ford have done a great job on the new one! and it will hold it's own even against a over priced BMW costing £10,000 more... Make take a while for some to catch on that for the same price as the base BMW you can get the top of the range Mondeo with a lot of them expensive extras that BMW charge crazy prices for.. Sit the 2 new cars side by side and BMW Dosent look that special any more ...Even with it's high quality plastic "LOL no such thing" and cheep tube angel eyes

Old Modeo was underestimated because it was FORD and not bold enough in design...BUT still a great car for the money..NEW MONDEO WILL SELL and could easily topple the 3 series


They will be very nice to you when you are buying a car but do not expect any satisfaction if there is a problem with your BMW car. I have experienced several problems with my BMW 320D bought in 2006 and cannot get any satisfaction. The attitude of BMW is very unhelpful when things go wrong. BMW attitude is ‘tough luck’ if you get a problem car, rather than addressing it in a responsible, customer-care fashion. It should not come down to a question of luck in getting a car that is reliable or one that is prone to failure. Unfortunately there is no customer service from BMW when it is needed.

Key specs

* Price: £29,080
* Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
* Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
* Power: 181bhp
* Torque: 380Nm
* 0-62mph: 7.5 seconds
* Top speed: 146mph
* Economy: 61.4mpg
* CO2: 120g/km
* Equipment: Dual-zone air-conditioning, 17-inch alloys, leather steering wheel, 6.5-inch colour screen, USB socket, cruise control
* On sale: Now