BMW 320d M Sport saloon : Driving

  • BMW 320d may steal the headlines for low emissions and high economy, but it's fun to drive too
  • Chassis is beautifully balanced, though ours benefits from £515 adaptive M Sport suspension
  • Manages to strike an excellent balance between agility and comfort, despite £600 19-inch alloys

You see a lot of 3 Series on our roads. An awful lot. There’s plenty of reason, plenty of good reasons in fact – low emissions, high economy, a pleasing shape, comfortable cabin, impressive technology and a better image than many rivals. But for me, coming towards the end of my time with YH14 VJP the prime reason for my enjoyment of this car is the way it drives.

On paper it may not actually promise that much; one glance left to sister title CAR’s M3 model certainly overshadows our 320d’s performance and dynamic promises. After all, our BMW makes do with a four-cylinder diesel engine and less than half the horsepower of their car. We’ll be enjoying twice though.

At its peak our car promises 181bhp and 380Nm, giving it an on-paper 0-62mph time of 7.2 seconds and a theoretical top speed of 143mph. In truth it actually feels a little more sprightly than that on the road.

320d speedo

That 2-litre diesel engine has just been heavily revised for the 5 Series, and the new version will make its way into the 3 shortly, removing the slight gruffness evident in our car at lower revs. But it always feels strong, especially in the mid-range where it seemingly accelerates with a strong constant vigour that belies its capacity.

Part of the reason performance in our 320d feels so effortless has to be down to the eight-speed sport-auto gearbox. The well-spread ratios mean you’re mostly sat in the middle of whatever sweet-spot suitable for your road speed, and genuinely brisk acceleration is but a flex of your right foot away.

BMW 320d auto

Each gear is slotted home smoothly, efficiently and quickly, and only occasionally does the box clunk home when used in Sport or Sport + mode. If you want faster changes the manual paddles behind the steering wheel are they way to go – otherwise it’s perfectly acceptable in normal Comfort mode.

But what really sets our car apart isn’t its straight-line performance, instead it’s how our 320d – sitting on 19-inch wheels wrapped with performance–orientated Bridgestone rubber – deals with corners that impresses. In general there’s plenty of grip, though enthusiastic junction exits and barrelling down into roundabouts prove surprisingly entertaining.

BMW 320d steering wheel

There’s plenty of feedback through the meaty steering too and alongside the 3 Series’ near ideal weight-balance you can place the car perfectly accurately into a bend. It really is a joy to do so, and on a favourite ribbon of blacktop you quickly forget the car you’re piloting is effectively a well-specced rep-mobile.

The Sports seats fitted to our M Sport car help enormously, with adjustable side bolsters for better lateral support. They’re imperiously comfortable on a longer trip too.

And we’d urge anyone thinking of purchasing a 3 Series to add the optional adaptive dampers, as while you might not notice them once you have them, spec a car without and its leaden responses will soon have you rueing your decision.

BMW 320d M Sport seats

The way VJP flows over lumps, bumps and ruts – either at speed or a low-velocity crawl – is incredible. Smooth, comfortable and without any hint of fluster you’d swear it wasn’t wearing 19-inch wheels and traditionally thumpy run-flat rubber. I’m not sure I’ve ever run a car that so perfectly nails the balance between comfort and response.

And that’s the crux of the matter here. There are clearly more dynamically responsive cars than our 320d – CAR’s M3 for a start – but I’d be hard-pushed to think of another car that manages to mix such deftly balanced ride and handling alongside effortless real-world pace and pleasing economy. It might be a common sight, but as Blur once said, I (now) want to live like common people.

 

Mileage: 6,880miles                          Economy: 46.4mpg