Thursday, January 15, 2009

BMW 3 Series

What is it?

It's mid-life refresh time for BMW's most popular model - the 3 Series. All the changes are cosmetic, apart from the modified powerplant in the 330d we've sampled here. BMW is calling its 3.0-litre engine new, although in truth it's a heavy revision of the previous, multi-award winning, one.

Away from the 330d, there are no engineering changes, but some reasonably major cosmetic ones. BMW reckons this is one of its most severe facelifts in a while because there are alterations to the metalwork as well as things like lights and bumpers. The bonnet and bootlid are both modified, with the extra creases in the bonnet being one of the main styling giveaways that this is the latest version. The other tell-tale sign for picking out the facelift is the rear LED lights. Only the spectacularly keen will pick up on the new wing mirrors or six new designs of alloy wheel.

BMW bosses reckon they've come up with a 'fresher, younger appearance,' and to be honest, the revised car does look a little better than its predecessor, which was launched in 2005.

On the inside, there are a couple of changes. Opting for the factory-fit satellite navigation also means you'll get the latest version of BMW's controversial iDrive system. But that's no longer a bad thing because BMW has finally morphed iDrive from a frustrating illogical mess into something that intelligently allows you to control the sat-nav, radio, CD and Bluetooth phone system from the rotating dial next to the handbrake.

It's such a refreshing change to sample an iDrive that's intuitive, and this version will roll out across the company's full range of cars, starting with the new 7 Series next month. The nav system is also now hard-drive-based rather than on a CD, which makes it quicker - handy for those times when you've missed a turn and it takes a frustrating age to recalculate, by which time you've missed the next turn. The hard drive also means you can store getting on for 150 CDs in the car.

Does it do the job?

Very very much so! While the cosmetic interior and exterior tweaks are little more than an efficient tidy up, both the new engine and the upgraded iDrive impress. It's now a shame and not a blessing that only the minority of customers opting for factory-fit navigation will benefit.

But the upgraded 330d is better than ever. As mentioned earlier, it's the only new engine in the facelifted line-up, as most of the smaller engines were upgraded last year when BMW launched its fuel-saving Efficient Dynamics programme. Unlike the smaller-engined models, the six-cylinder versions, including the 330d, don't get the stop-start technology that cuts the engine when the car's stopped at traffic lights, but the 330d does get low rolling-resistance tyres and a host of other measures that each shave a little off the fuel usage and CO2 emissions.

Which means that, despite power increasing by 14bhp to 242 - knocking more than half a second off the previous 0-62mph time - average fuel consumption actually improves from 46.3 to 49.6mpg, while CO2 emissions are down 8g/km to 152.

But it's the performance that continues to impress. And the noise. If someone had said a decade ago that a diesel would one day make a noise like this, they'd have been off to the funny farm faster than you can say clatter. There's no way of telling this is a diesel, outside of the little d on the badge, and the need to not destroy the engine by filling it with petrol. It's obscenely fast in a straight line, and, like all BMWs, handles better than anything in its segment. BMW has sensibly steered well clear of playing with its winning chassis and steering formula, though that does mean the 3 Series is short of the Mercedes C-class in terms of ride quality, especially through urban bumps and pot holes.

Should I give it garage space?

Undoubtedly. If you're in the market for a £30,000 saloon, there's nothing to touch the 330d and it's right up there in the race for that much-vaunted title of best car in the real world. There's nothing else out there that can offer the blend of performance - 6.1 seconds to 62mph - and low running costs. Drive like a hooligan and it's not far off sports-car performance and handling; treat it gently and well over 50mpg is easy.

Otherwise, the facelift is par for the course as mid-life facelifts go. Look for it and you?ll spot the new car compared to the outgoing version, but the uninitiated won't notice, or probably care. But that won't stop it selling by the bucketload. The UK nabs 11% of all 3 Series sales, behind only Germany and America, and BMW shifts a higher percentage of the more expensive and power six-cylinder variants than Mercedes or Audi manages.

Although the 3 Series is older than its A4 or C-class rivals launched in the last 12 month, it still leaves both rivals trailing in dynamic terms. And it'll cost a lot less to run. Over 30,000 miles, you'll put £500 less fuel in the Beemer than you would a 3.0-litre diesel Audi. A quality piece of kit has just got even better.


5 stars


Model: BMW 330d SE saloon
Price: £30,930
Engine: 2993cc 6cy diesel
Power: 245bhp @ 4000rpm
Torque: 295lb ft @ 1750-3000rpm
Performance: 0-62mph in 6.1 seconds, 155mph top speed
Fuel economy: 49.6mpg (combined)
CO2 emissions: 152g/km
On sale: 20 September 2008

No comments:

Post a Comment