BMW 320d M Sport saloon - Snow problem

  • The 320d faces the stuff of rear-wheel drive nightmares - snow - but copes surprisingly well
  • We learn how to drive the previous generation 420bhp M3 in slippery conditions
  • Our long-termer proves itself to be a confident winter car, despite lack of winter tyres

If there’s one thing that can upset the delicate handling balance of a powerful rear-wheel drive car, it’s a surface covered in snow and ice.

So you can imagine my trepidation when I woke up early for my first-ever track experience - a day at Brands Hatch in a 420bhp BMW M3 - to find it had snowed overnight.

I planned to drive there in our current BMW 320d long termer so I could compare it to the racing car. Granted, it is powered by a frugal diesel engine rather than a petrol V8 like the previous model M3, but it wears a bag-full of M-Sport badges and is blessed with the same driver-focussed DNA.

Diesel engine rather than the M3's petrol V8

Snow hinders grip on Brands Hatch track

My day started with a sighting lap where I realised my usual snow-driving tactics of pottering around and taking it easy weren't going to cut it on a race track.

Keeping the hugely powerful M3 off of the grass, despite the worsening weather conditions, while maintaining a competitive speed meant adapting to a new driving style quickly. I had to look much further ahead than I was used to, and use progressive force on the accelerator and brake pedals, slowing the car before the corner to make it as stable through the turn as possible.

What’s more, the experience of nursing the M3 around a track in poor weather made me a safer driver in our long termer.

I found the best set up for snow driving in our 320d was to use “eco” mode, which softens the power delivery, and changes up gears early in the rev range to save fuel, both of which enable smooth and confident getaways.

Eco Mode works well in the snow

BMW 320d proves stable in the snow

It didn’t miss a beat, and displayed the same balance and poise on the road as its much larger-engined cousin had done on the track. Although it is less powerful, our diesel 3 Series has the same eagerness to make progress, superb body control and pin-sharp handling.

The fast and accurate steering that makes the BMW so fun to drive in the dry meant I could aim the car where I wanted it in the snow, avoiding any ice or slippery looking patches, and be confident of where the front wheels were pointing.

I spotted the traction control light a few times, especially in some of the smaller lanes which had become quite thick with snow. The system worked away silently, stepping in as things started to slip and keeping us pointed in the right direction.

Not just grippy, also full of great winter features

Inside there are a number of features that make winter driving a less arduous experience; the heated seats get up to temperature quickly and have a good distribution of warmth while the iDrive, which controls everything from the stereo settings to the satnav, is chunky and easy to use even when wearing gloves. 

Auto wipers were a bit confused by snow

One feature that did seem a little confused by the snow, however, was the automatic windscreen wipers. I found it much more effective to just put them into intermittent rather than relying on the sensor, which had previously worked quite well in the rain.

Our BMW 320d is already promising to be a great all-rounder, and if it’s as accomplished in good driving conditions as it is in the snow, we’re in for a treat.

 

Mileage: 3,159 miles                    Economy:.46.2mpg (calculated)