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Car reviews - BMW - 3 Series - 320i sedan

Our Opinion

We like
A real icon - chunky Teutonic styling, solid build quality, excellent ergonomics, diminutive proportions
Room for improvement
2.0 'Six' needs a heavy right foot for sprightly performance parts and servicing can be costly

7 May 2003

COMPARED to its German counterparts Mercedes-Benz and Audi, BMW is a mere pup in the motor car industry. Its operations began in 1929 whereas the three-pointed star was there from day one and the company with the four rings as its symbol traces its history back to 1909.

Despite its relative youth in this league, BMW has established a reputation as being among the finest of car manufacturers and is a threat to Mercedes as a producer of beautifully engineered cars.

The 3 Series started life in 1975, succeeding the successful 2002 range.

The two-door sedan was introduced as a range of models, from the 316, 318 and 320/320i. Highlight of the series was an all- new compact, six-cylinder, 2.0-litre engine with belt-driven overhead camshaft.

The 3 Series was updated in 1983 with clever reshaping of the front and rear bodywork to achieve a more aerodynamic look, and the introduction of a four-door version.

The 320i four-door sedan was introduced in Australia in 1988 with the injected 2.0-litre, six-cylinder engine. Previous models had the four-cylinder, 2.0-litre engine.

The new six is free revving and silky smooth, thanks to a short- stroke oversquare design and multi-point fuel-injection.

Drive is to the rear wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox or four-speed automatic.

The suspension is independent all round by MacPherson struts and coil springs at the front and semi-trailing arms at the rear with coil springs.

Anti-roll bars are fitted front and rear. The steering is power- assisted rack and pinion and brakes are four-wheel discs, power- assisted.

The wheels are six inch wide by 14 inch diameter with 195/65 R15 tyres. Original fitment tyres were Michelin MXV.

The body design is a little outdated although cleverly styled to disguise its age and attractive because of its classic design.

The front features the traditional BMW "kidney" grille, four headlamps and an air dam with openings for brake-cooling air, which is prone to damage when crossing gutters into driveways.

Inside, there is plenty of fore and aft front leg room but the gearbox bulge intrudes into the footwells.

Rear seat room is cramped with the front seats adjusted fully to the rear. The seats are covered in cloth and provide good support.

The three-spoke steering wheel has a central BMW logo and instruments are well laid out with a large tacho and speedo in front of the driver and the heating and ventilation controls in an angled console to the left, featuring European-style dial controls and reversed indicator/light switch stalks.

Standard features include air-conditioning, central locking, power steering, power windows and a radio/cassette player.

The 320i is designed as a sporting sedan. Although a little sluggish off the line, it performs well in the mid range and the willing engine will rev out well at higher speeds - typical of the gearing of German cars which are designed to run at high speeds on the autobahns, where there are no speed limits.

The handling is neutral, the rear-wheel drive design giving good balance while the supple but firm ride is also excellent.

In service the BMW is reliable and has no typical faults.

Servicing is best carried out by a specialist in the make.

The dash layout features service lights indicating the timing of the next service and these require a special factory tool to reset after the service.

The camshaft drive belt must be changed at the specified intervals.

The BMW 320i is a quality sports sedan and will reward the discerning owner by providing a good deal of driving pleasure.

There is no questioning the calibre of BMW engineering and the 320i makes it available at an affordable price.

The BMW 320i has a true sports character and a feeling of quality - ideal for those looking for something a little special.

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