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BMW 3-Series Saloon 320d EfficientDynamics Saloon road test report

320d EfficientDynamics Saloon

BMW’s ubiquitous 3 Series has been around now for an impressive 35 years. First launched as a 2-door saloon in 1975, the current, fifth-generation models launched in ’06 have been treated to some mid-term revisions, along with one new model that sets new standards for performance, CO2 emissions and fuel consumption.

Road Test Reports Says5 star rating
A front-facing image of the BMW 3-Series Saloon

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Performance Performance - 5 stars

The 320d EfficientDynamics Saloon is powered by a new 2-litre 4-cyl single-turbo diesel with auto start/stop that makes a respectable 163bhp along with a useful 280lb/ft of torque. That’s 21bhp less than the ‘normal’ 320d, but those 163 horses still yield a claimed 0-62mph time of 8 seconds dead along with an equally impressive 142mph top speed. Having thumped along some empty A roads and engaged in a few fairly spirited overtaking manoeuvres I can confirm it’s certainly no slouch, but with unusually tall gearing one needs to pay a little more attention to revs and the six manual gears ratios than normal. That said, there’s no other car this frugal or clean that even comes close.

Ride & Handling Ride & Handling - 4 stars

In common with other current 3 Series, the EfficientDynamics 320d is rear wheel driven, has a perfect 50:50 front/rear weight distribution and a host of light alloy suspension components, all of which help it to live up to the 3 Series’ long held and much coveted reputation as a particularly fine driving machine. This model’s body also sits 15mm lower which would also benefit handling (although in this case it was done more for improved aerodynamics and the resultant reduction in consumption). This 320d also rides on special low-drag 16-inch alloys shod with low rolling resistance Michelins.

Build Quality & Reliability Build Quality & Reliability - 5 stars

As a brand, BMW came 9th out of 29 in the 2009 JD Power UK Ownership Satisfaction Study, while at the end of 2009 another reliability survey (undertaken by Fleet News and financial consultants Grant Thornton) into nearly 900,000 cars operated by the country’s biggest 50 leasing companies found that the BMW model range was the most reliable in Britain – for the second year in a row. This survey also revealed that the 3 Series was the second most reliable model (three Hondas and two BMWs filled the top five places). Following my brief encounter with an immaculately prepared press demonstrator, I can’t even nitpick.

Safety & Security Safety & Security - 5 stars

With a passenger safety cell, six airbags (including hip and thorax bags) and Dynamic Stability Control (which comprises: ABS, ASC, CBC, DBC, and DTC), anti-whiplash front head restraints, Isofix child seat attachments and even heated windscreen washer jets, its little surprise that the 320d ‘ED’ has the full five stars from Euro NCAP. It also comes with a first aid kit, a tool kit, front and rear foglights, a tyre defect indicator, Park Distance Control and remote central locking with a Thatcham 1 alarm and engine immobiliser.

Space & Practicality Space & Practicality - 3 stars

The 3 Series never has been the roomiest of saloons (there’s always the 5 or the 7 Series…) as there’s not a surplus of legroom in the rear, but if you’re seated in the front you should remain perfectly comfortable for hours at a time. Time aboard will be enhanced by clever cupholders, a 6-speaker audio system with an MP3-compatible CD player, an aux input for MP3 players and a trip computer. Boot space is quoted at 460-litres with a max permissible load of 520kg, (including occupants). For a compact saloon the 3 Series fares well, but it probably wouldn’t suit a large family.

Ownership & Value Ownership & Value - 5 stars

This may be a 140mph car, but remarkably its official figures are: 56.5mpg (urban), 68.9mpg (combined) and 78.5mpg (extra urban). However, my 320d’s own computer and an actual fuel check showed that mpg in the low-to-mid 50s is more likely in the real world, but that’s still very impressive. CO2 is rated at just 109g/km, which means Band B, or a zero VED charge, as well as, for fleet users, a low 13% BIK rate. At £27,245 otr (plus any optional extras) the EfficientDynamics 320d is a little over £6,000 more than a top spec Prius, but, as stated above, there’s no other car this frugal or clean that even comes close in terms of performance and driving dynamics.

Performance Performance - 5 stars

The 320d EfficientDynamics is powered by the 1,995cc four-cylinder diesel engine found elsewhere in the 3 Series range (316d, 318d). Here, the power output has been tweaked, with the engine now producing 163bhp at 3,250-4,200rpm (as opposed to the 184bhp of the standard 320d, which is also still available), but the same 280lb-ft of torque at 1,900rpm. The reduction in power has resulted in half a second being added to the 0-62mph time, but at 8.0 seconds, it still shifts pretty well: a top speed of 142mph is also more than fast enough for most owners. So how has BMW managed to pull off this bit of technical alchemy? Well here comes the science bit: a dual-mass flywheel reduces the engine vibration, allowing the gear ratios to be lengthened. What this means is that you can cruise at 80mph on the motorway in sixth gear (there’s a slick and positive manual ‘box), but still only be using 2,000rpm, so the engine is operating at peak efficiency even at this high speed. But despite the engine’s focus on efficiency, and the changes reducing the performance marginally, when driving you don’t notice any real difference to the standard 320d. It’s still a refined oilburner that pulls the car along smoothly and applies the power without any lag.

Ride & Handling Ride & Handling - 5 stars

The clever thing about BMW’s EfficientDynamics programme is that despite slashing CO2 emissions and increasing fuel consumption, the company’s trademark handling has in no way been compromised. So it is with this super-efficient 3 Series variant. As soon as you start driving the 320d EfficientDynamics, you know you’re in a 3: the steering has the usual sharpness and accuracy, inspiring great confidence when taking corners and bends at pace, and the car is perfectly balanced at all times (helped by its 50:50 weight distribution). Of course the payoff for the handling qualities of the stiff chassis is that the ride is a little firmer than that of some of its rivals, but not to the extent that it ever becomes uncomfortable. This variant also has 16-inch wheels fitted as standard, so there’s just enough compliancy to ensure that the car’s occupants aren’t ever unsettled.

Build Quality & Reliability Build Quality & Reliability - 5 stars

Everything about BMW models exudes quality, from the sturdy look and feel of the exteriors to the attention to detail and build quality inside the cabin. This car is, unsurprisingly, no different. It might be relatively basically specced, but there’s still the usual high-quality materials in place, with soft-touch plastics on the dashboard and doors, and cloth upholstery that feels hard-wearing. In terms of reliability, BMW shows well in customer satisfaction surveys, appearing in ninth place in the most recent JD Power manufacturers’ league table: the 3 Series is also placed 20th in the table of 100 most reliable models. The current 3 Series has been around since 2006, so mechanical reliability is tried and tested, and there should be no surprises for buyers of this new version. The dual-mass flywheel is new, but there’s no reason to suspect that it will be anything other than as well engineered as the rest of the powerplant.

Safety & Security Safety & Security - 5 stars

As befits an important model from a major manufacturer, the BMW 3 Series has been tested by Euro NCAP. It has been awarded the full five stars, with five stars for adult occupant protection, four stars for child occupant protection and one star for pedestrian protection. Safety equipment includes six airbags (twin front, side and curtain airbags); a dynamic stability control (DSC) system that includes anti-lock brakes (ABS), automatic stability control (ASC), cornering brake control (CBC), dynamic brake control (DBC) and dynamic traction control (DTC); anti-whiplash head restraints on the front seats; Isofix child seat anchor points; rear parking sensors; and dynamic brake lights. For security, there’s a Thatcham 1 category alarm with remote control and immobiliser.

Space & Practicality Space & Practicality - 4 stars

In common with the saloons in the rest of the 3 Series range, the 320d EfficientDynamics is perfectly spacious and usable. The front has plenty of head-, shoulder- and legroom for both driver and passenger: there’s also an excellent driving position, with a steering wheel adjusting for rake and reach, plus seats that manually adjust fully. The rear is also big enough for adults, with enough kneeroom for most, but taller passengers might find the headroom a little on the restrictive side. Bootspace of 460 litres is decent enough, but slightly less than competitors such as the Audi A4 (480 litres) and Mercedes-Benz C-Class (475). There’s not a huge amount of equipment fitted as standard, partly for weight-saving reasons and partly because the demands of the fleet market (which will be a major contributor to sales). However, there’s a multi-function steering wheel, trip computer, air con and radio/CD (with MP3 playback capability). There’s also the option of adding the likes of Bluetooth, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers and automatic lights, and some very comfortable sports seats.

Ownership & Value Ownership & Value - 4 stars

The only reason the 320d EfficientDynamics doesn’t get the full five stars in this category is that with an on-the-road price of £27,245, it’s a bit on the pricey side. Our test car also had a few extras, adding another £2,550. It’s an excellent car, but £30K is a still a lot of money – especially in the fleet market. However, if you’re buying one for business purposes, it has a 100% tax write-down in the first year and is valued at 13% for Benefit In Kind (BIK), which makes it a very attractive proposition (if you can afford the initial purchase price). The key figure that allows it to qualify for those benefits, and just £20 a year in road tax, is its emissions of just 109g/km, a hugely impressive achievement for a premium executive saloon. The efficiency extends to the official fuel consumption of 68.9mpg, another impressive figure: even in real-world driving, 60+mpg should be achievable.

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