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Car reviews - BMW - 3 Series - 320d sedan

Our Opinion

We like
No diesel is as balanced for performance, economy and refinement relative affordability the complete compact sedan
Room for improvement
No wagon offered for the moment expensive BMW options very little else

29 Jun 2006

RIVALRY does not come any fiercer than ‘England versus Germany’.

Yet even some of the generally more parochial members of the British motoring press have agreed that today’s BMW 320d is not only the pick of the impressive E90 3 Series crop, but also right up there with the best cars in the world.

This is more amazing when you consider that England’s Rover virtually invented the class now known as the ‘3 Series’ segment with the 1963 P6, and that BMW swallowed up and then unceremoniously spat out its dying "English patient" for just ten pounds in 2000.

Forgiven and forgotten? Not bloody likely – but even the most one-eyed Anglophile cannot fail to see the towering brilliance of the BMW 320d.

It is the ‘Full Monty’, although ‘The Third Man’ – a regular ‘best film ever’ contender – might be the more apt analogy for this particular 3 Series.

This model’s greatness is even more marked when you consider how high our expectations were before the 320d’s Australian launch last week.

Of course a day’s drive in pleasant country surrounds cannot reveal the true depth and character of a car, but the fundamentals do usually become apparent quite quickly.

Few can deny BMW’s progress with its 30-year-old icon, especially in areas of dynamic finesse, interior packaging, real-world safety and overall refinement.

Prior to the diesel’s debut, the 320i might even have been the pick of the current E90 crop – and that’s a first for a base-variant BMW model.

Now that the 320d is here, however, trying to find fault beyond the usual BMW bugbears of high prices and expensive options is proving to be very elusive.

Obviously, if you already have issue with the latest model’s styling, optional i-Drive controller, and some of the noticeably cheaper interior plastics, then this 3 Series is like any other E90.

Nonetheless, the moment the very quiet and refined 2.0-litre turbo-diesel is fired up, how can you not be impressed?

For starters, it revs freely and sounds sufficiently sporty to suit the brand’s character.

Plant the foot, and the 330Nm of torque – just 35Nm shy of the outgoing M3's output – melds with the E90’s sharply honed chassis for exquisitely fluid handling and superb roadholding agility.

Suddenly there is enough performance to explore parts of the 3 Series' dynamic envelope previously denied to the ‘paupers’ who couldn’t afford to spend upwards of $100,000 on a new one.

Suddenly, there is a relatively affordable BMW sedan that isn’t struggling to keep up with garden-variety Falcons and Commodores.

Suddenly, you are no longer left with the feeling that you have compromised on a lesser model just because you have spent your hard-earned in the lower end of the BMW 3 Series range.

In fact, now, with the 320d, you can drive the car on its door handles, sprint away from everyday repmobiles and revel in the fact that you are probably driving the best 3 Series sedan available without you having blown your budget or copping the resale plunge models like the 330i inevitably eventually undertake.

This is the best-of-all-worlds prestige motoring that is in step with the environmental and escalating petrol prices of today.

The 320d retains the basic 320i’s brilliant balance and harmony, without the weightiness that the six-cylinder models suffer from.

Better still, on the standard Bridgestone Turanza 205/55 R16 runflat wheel and tyre package, the 320d’s ride is pleasantly firm, so your very own bottom line is also protected from a pounding.

Note that we are almost 600 words into a diesel drive yarn and we haven’t even touched on fuel consumption – this is because experiencing this diesel isn’t just about seeking out better economy.

Absolutely caned, the able 320d was showing 7.1L/100km in ‘D’ mode, and then crept up to 7.3 when the slick and responsive ‘DS’ sport and Tiptronic-style sequential shifts were used.

BMW 320i levels of handling, safety, technology, resale and quality, underpinned by uncharacteristically high performance for the money, exceptional refinement and truly outstanding fuel consumption, can only mean one thing: the 320d sedan left us mightily impressed.

Our only real gripe is this: snatching defeat from world domination-style victory for the diesel is BMW’s decision not to offer the 320d as a wagon in this country.

What’s going on, BMW? Is having a world-beating all-rounder too much for us Australians to experience? Or has the sweet smell of victory been absent from Germany for too long now? We believe a 320d wagon would be a free kick in an open goal.

Lexus’ recent IS 250 has challenged BMW to offer a model as equally impressive.

The 320d hurtles the 3 Series, and Germany, back into the lead.

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