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BMW 3 Series through the generations

The history of the BMW 3 Series

BMW 3 Series through the generationsLaunched in 1975, the BMW 3 Series changed the shape of the compact executive sector. Since then, some 14 million units have been built, making it one of the best selling cars of all time.

The history of the BMW 3 Series

To mark the launch of the all-new seventh generation G20 3 Series at the 2018 Paris Motor Show, we take a look back at 43 years of the world’s best selling premium executive saloon.

The BMW 3 Series: this is your life.

BMW 2002The history of the BMW 3 Series

No history of the BMW 3 Series would be complete without first mentioning the BMW 2002. Introduced in the late 1960s, the 2002 laid the foundations for the 3 Series by forging a reputation for reliability and sharp dynamics. The BMW 3 Series couldn’t have asked for better parentage.

BMW 5 Series (E12)The history of the BMW 3 Series

The first 3 Series was designed to look like a smaller version of the BMW 5 Series, which had been launched three years earlier in 1972. Codenamed the E21, the first 5 Series would remain in production until 1984, by which time nearly 700,000 cars had been built.

1975: BMW 3 Series (E21)The history of the BMW 3 Series

Developed over a five-year period and at a cost of 35 million Deutschmarks, the BMW 3 Series – codenamed E21 – was unveiled in July 1975. It featured four different four-cylinder engines and was launched in the UK in October 1975. It was the smallest BMW ever developed and, at the time, the most comprehensively engineered.

Mercedes-Benz 190

Mercedes-Benz 190

The BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class would go on to become fierce rivals, but in launching the E21, BMW drew first blood. In fact, the Bavarians could afford not to offer a four-door version until 1983, by which time the Mercedes-Benz 190 (forerunner to the C-Class) was only just being unveiled.

1977: BMW 3 Series convertible

The history of the BMW 3 Series

In 1977, the first left-hand-drive BMW 3 Series convertible was launched in the form of the E21 Baur convertible. It harked back to the effortlessly pretty 2002 Baur convertible (as shown here).

BMW 323i of 1977The history of the BMW 3 Series

In the early days, prospective BMW owners could choose from the entry-level 316, the 318, the 320 and the range-topping 320i, with the ‘i’ denoting fuel injection. But in 1977, BMW unveiled a new range of six-cylinder engines for the 3 Series, the ultimate of which was the 323i, complete with a fuel-injected 2.3-litre engine.

Motorsport debut 1977 – BMW Junior TeamThe history of the BMW 3 Series

The 3 Series made its motorsport debut in 1977 when BMW Motorsport entered a BMW Junior Team in the 1977 German Championship. Although early days, BMW – and in particular the 3 Series – would go on to develop a strong relationship with the track.

1982: BMW 3 Series (E30)

The history of the BMW 3 Series

BMW sold 1.36 million E21s, making it a phenomenally successful car. But that’s nothing compared to the E30 3 Series of 1982. If ever a car put a company on the map, the E30 did for BMW. A stalwart of the 1980s, the E30 would shift 2.22 million units, helped in part by its Swiss Army Knife levels of versatility.

BMW 3 Series: optional extrasThe history of the BMW 3 Series

As it developed, the E30 would offer a bewildering array of options and accessories. Who else could offer a front-engined, rear-wheel-drive compact saloon powered by anything from a lowly diesel engine to a high-powered M3 version? The E30 would also cement BMW’s relationship for being – how should we put it – a tad miserly with the spec sheet. A competitive screen price may have lured the punters in to the showroom, but they soon found that many extras would need to be paid for.

BMW 3 Series: four-door arrivesThe history of the BMW 3 Series

In 1983, BMW launched the first four-door version of the 3 Series, a version that would be critical to the model’s long-term success. The B-pillar was pushed eight inches forward to make room for the extra door.

BMW 325i

The history of the BMW 3 Series

The 3 Series gained a new flagship in September 1985 with the launch of the new 325i. Thanks to its 2.5-litre engine, the 325i offered performance levels comparable to the likes of the Volkswagen Scirocco, Toyota Supra and Porsche 944, but in a more conservative and practical body.

BMW 324dThe history of the BMW 3 Series

At the opposite end of the spectrum was the 324d, the first diesel-powered BMW 3 Series. A turbocharged version – the 324td – would arrive two years later.

BMW E30 TouringThe history of the BMW 3 Series

The original 3 Series Touring – or estate – wasn’t developed by BMW at all. Well, not as such. It was the work of Max Reisbock, a BMW engineer, who found the saloon version wasn’t practical enough for his growing family. So he bought a wrecked 323i and converted the car himself. BMW liked the design so much, a factory version was built with only minimal changes to Max’s original design.

BMW E30 M3The history of the BMW 3 Series

The E30 M3 is quite simply one of the greatest performance cars of all time. Launched at the 1985 Frankfurt Motor Show, the first M3s would be unleashed in a cloud of tyre smoke a year later. An output of 200hp may not seem like a great deal in an age when a hot hatch won’t get out of bed for less, but the M3 had rear-wheel drive and 50:50 weight distribution on its side.

BMW E30 M3 Touring CarThe history of the BMW 3 Series

Of course, the E30 M3 road car was developed for homologation purposes, allowing BMW Motorsport to go racing. And go racing it did, competing with great success in the British, French, Italian and German Touring Car Championships, as well as at the Nürburgring 24-Hour. BMW needed to build 5,000 road cars. It actually built nearly 18,000. Enough said.

BMW 3 Series and the rise of the yuppiesThe history of the BMW 3 Series

Yuppies: young, upwardly mobile professionals. In the 1980s, no aspirational and wealthy Londoner would be seen without a mobile telephone, big hair and an appropriate set of wheels. For many, the BMW 3 Series was the vehicle of choice. Sales rocketed, but the 3 Series would develop an unfortunate image that would take years to shake off.

BMW Z1The history of the BMW 3 Series

The E30 3 Series also spawned one of the most striking sports cars of the era: the delightful BMW Z1. It used the E30’s platform and the 2.5-litre engine from the 325i, plus it and featured a pair of trick doors, which ‘disappeared’ into the door sills. It was the first BMW Z car.

1990: BMW E36 3 SeriesThe history of the BMW 3 Series

As the 1980s gave way to the 1990s, BMW launched the third generation 3 Series, otherwise known as the E36. It was a case of out with the old and in with the new as the E36 shared virtually nothing with its predecessor. Noticeably bigger than before, the new 3 Series also featured a pair of double headlights, now sat behind glass covers.

BMW Z3The history of the BMW 3 Series

Like the E30 before it, the E36 spawned a sports car of its own, this time in the form of the BMW Z3. This was the first BMW to be built in the United States and it was propelled into the public eye by its appearance in the 1995 film, Goldeneye.

BMW 318tds

The history of the BMW 3 Series

Although far less glamorous than James Bond or a two-seat roadster, the BMW 318tds of 1994 represents another milestone in the model’s history. It was the first four-cylinder diesel engine to be fitted to a BMW 3 Series.

BMW E36 M3The history of the BMW 3 Series

But we don’t want to give you a four-cylinder diesel. Not when you can have a firecracker of a BMW M3. The E36 is rarely ranked alongside the best of the M3s, but the M3 Coupe remains a thing of beauty. And the 3.0-litre straight-six engine represented a new era for the badge. Saloon and convertible versions would follow and BMW would shift over 71,000 units, making it hugely successful.

1993: BMW 3 Series CompactThe history of the BMW 3 Series

The purists weren’t impressed with the BMW 3 Series Compact of 1993, but there’s no doubting the business case for it. Essentially it was a smaller, hatchback version of the E36 and it helped BMW reach an entirely new audience. Think of it as a forerunner to the current 1 Series.

1998: BMW E46 3 Series

The history of the BMW 3 Series

Fast forward to 1998 and the launch of the fourth generation (E46) BMW 3 Series. From a sales perspective, the new 3 Series picked up where the old car left off, breaking the three million units mark for the first time. In total, 3.27 million E46s were built.

BMW E46 M3

The history of the BMW 3 Series

If the E36 M3 was a little soft for some people, the E46 M3 was a welcome return to form. Its 3.2-litre six-cylinder engine would propel the M3 to a top speed of 150mph, sprinting past 62mph in just 5.2 seconds. It was good. Like, really good. But it will forever live in the shadow of the ultimate E46 M3…

BMW E46 M3 CSLThe history of the BMW 3 Series

The legendary E46 M3 CSL. By shedding 110kg of weight and upping the power, BMW created a performance icon. The 0-62mph time now slipped under the five-second mark. The M3 CSL was quite simply one of the most driver-focused cars of its day. If you get the chance, you must drive one.

BMW 320Cd Convertible

The history of the BMW 3 Series

For those who prefer boulevard cruising to kissing the apex, this is perhaps more suitable. The BMW 320Cd Convertible of 2004 was the first open-top BMW to feature a diesel engine. Yes, we know, we’d prefer a CSL, too.

2005: BMW E90 3 Series

The history of the BMW 3 Series

We’re getting rather close to the modern era now with the E90 3 Series of 2005. Barely 13 years old, the E90 is still a familiar sight on Britain’s roads, especially on motorways and in office car parks. The World Car of the Year judges clearly liked it, as it won the award in 2006. To confuse matters, the E90 was a saloon, E91 a Touring, E92 a coupe and E93 a convertible. Remember the days when BMW codenames and models were simple?

BMW E90 / E92 M3

The history of the BMW 3 Series

Breaking with tradition, the M3 now featured a V8 engine. Talk about the end of an era. Sadly, despite the 4.0-litre V8 engine, the new M3 weighed in at 1,655kg, so it was hardly the featherlight CSL of yesteryear. Still, it did spawn some tasty special editions, including the last-of-the-line M3 Coupe. It’s rather orange.

2012: BMW F30 3 SeriesThe history of the BMW 3 Series

And so to the current era and the outgoing sixth generation BMW 3 Series. Codenamed the F30, the 3 Series was unveiled in 2011 and launched in 2012. You’ll probably remember it from the 2012 London Olympics, where it was the most widely used support vehicle.

BMW F30 M3The history of the BMW 3 Series

Right, bear with us on this, because you can no longer buy an M3 Coupe. But you can still buy an M3. Just only in four-door guise. If you want an M4 Coupe, you’ll need to buy the M4. Got that? In both cases, the V8 has been ditched, with BMW now favouring the 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged six-cylinder unit. It’s a welcome return to form for the iconic badge.

BMW F32 4 SeriesThe history of the BMW 3 Series

The four-door 3 Series is no more. If you want one, you’ll have to buy a new BMW 4 Series instead…

BMW 3 Series Gran TurismoThe history of the BMW 3 Series

Or, if you fancy something slightly different, you can opt for the BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo. It’s more practical than a 3 Series Touring and offers more rear legroom than a 5 Series. And yes, despite us telling you otherwise, it is a BMW 3 Series with four doors…

BMW 3 Series ActiveHybrid 3The history of the BMW 3 Series

The BMW 3 Series ActiveHybrid 3 was a thoroughly modern interpretation of the classic 3 Series recipe, featuring as it did, a hybrid powertrain. That said, at £42,000 it was very expensive and you’d probably be far better off with a cheaper, diesel-engined 3 Series. The more recent BMW 3 Series iPerformance is no longer available to order.

BMW X3

The history of the BMW 3 Series

Alternatively you could opt for the incredibly popular BMW X3. These things offer rock-solid residual values and further proof that the 3 Series platform remains as versatile as ever.

BMW 3 Series: British Touring Car Championship

The history of the BMW 3 Series

A change in focus here, because racing cars will always be more exciting than SUVs and crossovers. The BMW 3 Series has enjoyed great success in the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC), especially in the 1980s and 1990s. Frank Sytner, Will Hoy, Tim Harvey, Joachim Winkelhock and Colin Turkington all drove to the Championship at the wheel of a 3 Series. And Steve Soper (seen here) was a track legend.

BMW 3 Series: German and World Touring Car Championship

The history of the BMW 3 Series

The BMW 3 Series was also successful in both the German and World Touring Car Championships. Indeed, the Briton, Andy Priaulx, performed heroics at the wheel of a BMW 320, winning the World Touring Car Championship in 2005, 2006 and 2007. He also won the European Touring Car Championship in 2004.

BMW 3 Series: European Car of the Year?The history of the BMW 3 Series

Strangely, for all its success, the BMW 3 Series has never won the European Car of the Year trophy. The closest it came was a second place in 1976, when it was sandwiched between the Simca 1307-1308 and Renault 30 TS.

BMW 3 Series: production figuresThe history of the BMW 3 Series

But neither of those cars have had quite the same level of success. In fact, the BMW 3 Series is the most successful premium car of all time, shifting 14 million units in 43 years. That’s more than the Vauxhall Corsa. BMW deserves credit for managing to balance exclusivity and popularity. Must be all that practice with the acclaimed 50:50 weight distribution…

2019: BMW 3 Series (G20)

2019 BMW 3 Series G20

The new 2019 BMW 3 Series was unveiled at the 2018 Paris Motor Show, before going on sale early next year in Europe. The new car is 10mm lower than its predecessor, as much as 55kg lighter and features the most powerful 4-cylinder engine ever fitted in a BMW production model. The automotive world is holding its breath to get behind the wheel…

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BMW M340I xDrive budget M3

New BMW M340i revealed: meet the budget M3

BMW M340I xDrive budget M3

After revealing the all-new 3 Series at the recent Paris Motor Show, BMW will launch its low-calorie M3, the M340i xDrive, at the LA Auto Show later this month.

The budget M car is back with the four-wheel-drive M340i. The most muscle-bound new 3 Series to date will top the range before the full-fat M3 arrives in 2020.

The new ‘G20’ 3 Series was launched at the Paris Motor Show in September 2018, although only a couple of model variants were shown at the time.

More power than the outgoing M2

The big news with the new M340i is that its twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six produces more power than 2016’s M2.

With a rorty 374hp under the bonnet, it’s up 48hp on the previous pumped-up 3 Series. Put through BMW’s rear-biased xDrive system, 368lb ft of torque will catapult it to 62mph in 4.4 seconds – within heel-nibbling distance of the outgoing M4.

Expect a more readily accessible 155mph (limited) top speed, too.

BMW M340I xDrive budget M3

Eight-speed auto ‘box

BMW is also continuing its mission to phase out the dual-clutch DCT transmission.

The new M340i uses an eight-speed Steptronic sports automatic, with shorter-ratio lower gears for better acceleration, plus a launch control function. The car also comes as standard with the M Sport differential.

Lower suspension, variable steering

The M340i rides on M Sport suspension, lowered by 10mm. Active M suspension with adaptive dampers is optional.

In terms of stopping power, BMW is proud of the sporty setup on the M340i, which features a short pedal travel, four-piston calipers and 348/345mm front/rear brake discs.

What we’re dubious about is the Variant Sport Steering, which is said to ‘support agile cornering with outstanding feedback as well as spontaneous and precise response’. Variable steering systems have caused conjecture in recent years due to inconsistency and a ‘woolly’ feel. Can BMW get it right?

BMW M340I xDrive budget M3

M badges galore

Naturally, any M car, be it the full ticket or not, has to have the form factor. As such, the M340i comes with the requisite M Sport body kit and 18-inch alloy wheels. Larger 19-inch wheels are an option, as are sportier exhaust trims for the M Sport exhaust and other M Performance body accoutrements.

The new conjoined kidney grilles feature a mild gold colouration (as do the wheels) and a new pattern inside, while the exhaust pipes are broad and trapezoidal. Of course, expect more M badges than there are moving parts, both inside and out, to let everyone know what you’re driving.

Pack all this together and the new M340i xDrive looks like it stacks up as a more sensible alternative to a fully-paid-up M car. Power, performance and looks match some of the best, if not the raw badge appeal. We’re in no doubt it’ll drive very nearly as crisply, too.

European market launches take place in July. Now all that remains is to wait and see how far on they’ve pushed the M3 to keep enough breathing room between the two models.

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New 2019 BMW 3 Series prototype Nurburgring test

New 2019 BMW 3 Series breaks cover at the Nürburgring

New 2019 BMW 3 Series prototype Nurburgring testThe new BMW 3 Series will be revealed at the Paris Motor Show this October – but BMW has given us a first look at the car during final testing at the Nürburgring circuit.

It’s not yet ready to fully reveal the seventh-generation 3 Series – hence the camouflage – but these images do give plenty of hints about how the new baby brother to the latest, highly-acclaimed 5 Series will look.

Typically for BMW, it’s actually more interested in telling us how much better the new car will drive compared to today’s model – and all the tech that’s gone into (hopefully) restoring its place as the ultimate compact-exec driving machine.

New 2019 BMW 3 Series prototype Nurburgring test

Derived from the same architecture as the 5 Series and 7 Series (it’s called CLAR, or ‘cluster architecture’), BMW says the new 3 Series’ centre of gravity is 10mm lower than today’s model, total weight is up to 55kg less, and it retains the current car’s 50:50 weight distribution.

The track widths – the distance between the wheels – are greater, benefitting steering precision, stability and agility, and BMW has engineered the suspension hardware to take a wider range of wheel cambers, helping it perfect the setup of all models from the most basic to the most potent.

There’s a significant increase in the rigidity of both the body itself, and the suspension attachment points. This is particularly good for steering precision, says BMW, but there’s also an added benefit to overall refinement.

Shocks that rock

New 2019 BMW 3 Series prototype Nurburgring test

BMW has revealed it’s fitting clever new dampers to the 3 Series – a high-tech setup that will come as standard, rather than sitting on the options list. They’re ‘passive’ items, rather than pricier ‘active’ units, which use clever progressive technology. Essentially, that means they can be more supple at lower speeds, yet better controlled during faster driving.

The firm calls them ‘lift-related dampers’, and they’re described as all-new technology. BMW’s head of driving dynamics, Peter Langen, said the firm is using them “as an active set-up element so as to create supreme driving properties in all conditions.

“With short spring travel, a sensitive damping response ensures comfortable vibration compensation. When the car passes over large bumps, the body movements are controlled by increased damping forces.” In other words, soft when you want them, firm when you need them.

New 2019 BMW 3 Series prototype Nurburgring test

Because they’re so smart, BMW says it’s been able to make the M sport suspension even stiffer and sportier. Lower by 10mm, M Sport 3 Series will run on 18-inch alloys, carrying mixed tyres – wider at the rear than the front.

Springs are stiffer, anti-roll bars are firmer, bearings are more rigid and BMW’s even added additional body struts into these versions. With 20 percent firmer damping, there’s now going to be a clear difference in feel between standard 3 Series and M Sport variants.

BMW is only offering M Sport models with Variable Sports Steering, the variable ratio system that, like the dampers, is quick when you want it to be, more relaxed when you don’t. It’s promising more precision to smaller inputs, without feeling nervous, so it should seem crisper and more responsive even when cruising on the motorway.

New 2019 BMW 3 Series prototype Nurburgring test

We don’t yet know what the interior looks like, and there’s not much detail on engines yet either. However, BMW does say the four-cylinder turbo petrol range is five percent more efficient, yet more powerful than ever. Expect more than 250hp from the 2.0-litre 330i, then, with ultra-clean exhaust emissions guaranteed by an exhaust particulate filter.

There’ll be a range of diesels, too. These are unlikely to change all that much from today’s motors, as BMW only renewed its diesel engine range a few years ago.

Video: 2019 BMW 3 Series prototype

The new 3 Series is more “geared towards enhanced sporty flair” than ever, says BMW. Bold words – and its Nürburgring proving sessions are the first very public statement of this.

Here’s hoping the final production measures up when we see it and drive it for the first time later this year.

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BMW 320d ED Plus long-term test intro

BMW 320d ED Plus (2015) long-term review

BMW 320d ED Plus long-term test intro

BMW 320d ED Plus long-term review: part four

Economy again, but this one was a surprise. Because I really wasn’t trying, honest. It was mainly through boredom driving through a 50mph zone on the M5 motorway that saw me flicking through the BMW’s trip computer. I stopped at the average mpg display, surprised: it was showing 77mpg.

77mpg! Honestly, I wasn’t trying. But if I can accidentally do that, I thought, what happens if I continue this relaxed driving? So, when the roadworks cleared, I cruised for the next 10 miles. Not going overly slowly, but sticking to around 55-60mph, ducking in and out of the trucks, smoothing progress as much as I could.

At Strensham services, I took stock. Total journey was just under 50 miles. I’d been in economy mode for, ooh, about 20% of that. Overall mpg? Check this out.
BMW 320d ED 82.8mpg

Yes, 82.8mpg. Way above this 320d ED Plus auto’s official figure of 68.9mpg – and far in excess of the usual 10% correction figure we generally advise people take off their fuel computer figure to allow for tolerances and speedo error.

With no special tricks and no hard-to-use techniques, I smashed the government figure on a sunny M5 early one Friday morning. Which has now got me thinking – if I can do that partly without trying, what can it hit if I really do go into economy mode?

I’d say it’s one to put to the test over the next few weeks, but that’s perhaps enough for economy for now, don’t you think? Think I’ve deserved a press of the Sport button and a few back-road blasts – cue an early morning charge down to the Goodwood for the 74th Members’ Meeting this coming weekend…

BMW 320d ED Donington


BMW 320d ED Plus long-term review: part three

‘So how’s the fuel economy of your BMW 320d ED Plus going,’ people sometimes ask me (OK, perhaps they don’t say the ‘ED Plus’ mouthful bit…), perhaps knowing I’m a bit of an mpg geek and love the challenge of hypermiling. Oh, pretty good, I cooly say…

BMW 320d ED Plus long-term review

It’s better than pretty good. It’s exceptional. Take one day last week: I cruised down to the office with the trip computer zeroed and, 100 miles of motorway later, I clicked on the magic number: 72mpg. Better than official combined, that, even if the likely optimism of the computer wouldn’t quite have achieved this.

BMW 320d ED Plus long-term review

A few weeks later, I checked again. Another reset, another cruise down the M6 and M1. Result? A glittering 77.1mpg – and, even allowing for the likely few percent optimism of the computer, this was more than likely better than average. See – it can be done!

I wasn’t suffering for it either. The climate control was on. I wasn’t driving ultra-slowly. I wasn’t fit to burst by the end of the trip. Simply driving gently and enjoying all that’s nice about this rear-drive saloon that can also do 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds and quickly raise a smile on a back road. Why wouldn’t you?

Is the 320d ED all about economy then?

BMW 320d ED Plus long-term review

I had a few days in a Ford Focus recently. Great car, although I’m not sure how ‘eco’ the Ecoboost engine is – 70mpg means I’m disappointed by 40mpg, particularly when it should be doing 60+mpg.

Anyhoo, the Focus is a great car, with a chassis oozing ability and composure. I enjoyed it a lot.

Then got back in the BMW and re-appreciated its feel-good driving position, tight steering, well-balanced chassis and, most of all, the sophisticated absorbency of the optional adaptive dampers.

Like the Focus, it’s firm – but there’s also compliance and cushioning there, with highly sophisticated body control that’s beyond what passive dampers could achieve, particularly on roads with complex surfaces.

It’s something you appreciate day-to-day too, not just when you’re going quickly: in many ways, rubbish city centre roads are as challenging as empty Welsh B-roads when it comes to body control and ride quality.

Wondering whether to tick the box on the configurator? Wonder no more: do it. You’ll feel the benefits each and every time you turn a wheel.


BMW 320d ED Plus long-term review: part two

7,000 miles in and the ‘eco special’ BMW 320d ED Plus is going just fine. Not that I’ve covered all of those miles since taking delivery: I actually drove this car back from the launch in Spain before it was even assigned to me.

Then another MR team member drove it to Frankfurt (another thousand-odd miles). Yes, it’s been a busy machine alright.

Now it’s settling down into a life on the M6, M1, M40, M25 and many other fine British motorways and A-roads. Doing what so many 3 Series do: 125-mile trips to the office and to meetings before turning round and doing exactly the same back home again.

Such use means you get to know cars intimately. This is the first time I’ve had a 3 Series as a long-termer, but I’ve been driving them for years, most commonly in fleet car dream spec.

As it’s partly the improvements that BMW’s made for the 2016 model year that we’re testing, I thought I’d ring the ways it’s been improved over before.

How is the 2015 BMW 320d ED Plus better than old ones?

BMW 320d LT part 2

The most obvious improvement is engine refinement. This new modular 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel (codename B47) is a significant improvement over the old N47 unit here.

Before, you knew you were in a diesel with a BMW 2.0-litre. They were a bit more gruff, vocal and gravelly than you’d perhaps expect in a premium car. Not anymore with this smooth, quiet-free-spinning unit.

Noise levels are down significantly and it’s now an engine you’ll happily rev or hold a gear in using the eight-speed auto’s paddleshifters. Before, you usually preferred the torquey shove and lower noise levels of an upshift.

In fact, the only time it’s oddly vocal is with cold starts – near-freezing temperatures and below. There, for a few minutes, there’s a sometimes eye-opening amount of clatter from the top end: a metallic rattle like an old British sportscar with worn tappets. I don’t worry too much – with a bit of heat, it soon quietens down.

BMW 320d ED Plus long-term review

Other improvements include the now full LED HID lights, which replace the old Xenon option. They’re a virtual must-have: supremely bright and crisp, it really is like driving along with your own daylight in front of you.

They’re lower power too, so don’t need headlight washers, thus saving the washer bottle level in winter…

Handling is that bit crisper thanks to tweaked settings and hardware, which I don’t get to enjoy all that much on my usual commute, but which makes traffic diversions that bit more fun.

Oh, and on that, iDrive’s RTTI traffic avoidance system is brilliant. Quick to act, it’s sent me on some genius diversions to ensure my ETA is barely affected no matter how ‘red’ the traffic on my normal route. It’s virtually invaluable.

How’s fuel economy fairing?

BMW 320d LT part 2

I say 60mpg: in honesty, rushing about on all these diversion routes means it’s dropped. Call it a regular tank-to-tank 56-57mpg. Hardly a disaster, albeit some way off the claimed 70.6mpg still.

The weather hasn’t helped: lots of rain doesn’t help eco driving. I’m also aware of the occasional chatter of the brake drying function (it touches brake pads to discs every 15 seconds or so, to clear off the water and make the brakes act faster in the wet). Wonder if this has a slight effect on economy?

With the new year and hopefully more normal commutes to the office, I’ll see if order can be restored. If I can’t nudge into the 70mpgs over a representative week’s commuting, I’ll be disappointed.


BMW 320d ED Plus long-term review: introduction

BMW 320d ED Plus long-term test intro

The BMW 3 Series celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2015 with a mid-life facelift to face off talented new rivals from Audi and Jaguar. Real world highlight of the range is the even more economical BMW 320d ED Plus model, but does reality differ from on-paper perceptions? We’ve six months to find out…

The BMW 3 Series’ 2015 facelift is all but impossible to distinguish on paper. Trust us though, YA 15 OMP really is the latest generation 3 Series, complete with fancy new headlights, more sculpted front bumper and, er, chrome bits for the electric window switches.


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BMW didn’t need to do much though. It was already the class leader. The Jaguar XE couldn’t beat it, the new Audi A4 hasn’t beat it; the 3 Series has it sewn up. With the mid-life revision, BMW has honed it, taken the edge off the ride, sharpened the handling and perfected something already superb.

It’s also made it greener, although it’s also made the range more complex. The 318i is a 1.5-litre three-cylinder; the 330i is now a 245hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder – and the diesels, well, if you’re a company car driver, we suggest speccing carefully, so myriad are the price options and CO2 configurations…

What model are we running?

Our long-termer is the greenest model you can buy, if not its ultimate fuel-saving guise: the 320d ED Plus. You can get this in sub-100g/km CO2 guise, but only if you choose an auto and only if you take the airstream-like 16-inch wheels (with eco rubber). We had the auto, but not the slippery wheels: a no-cost option are the prettier rims on our long-termer, with sportier tyres. Given the meagre 5g/km penalty, it’s the right choice.

Then it gets slightly confusing. As well as the 320d ED Plus, you can also now get a 320d ED Sport, which emits 108g/km CO2 and averages 68.9mpg (the same as our ‘Plus’). But you can also get a 320d Sport, which emits… 111g/km and averages 67.3mpg.

A 320d ED Sport is £32,285; a 320d Sport is 31,385. And with the regular car you get 190hp instead of 163hp, and a half-second faster 0-62mph time… if you’re going green, surely you’d stick with the £30,485 320d ED Plus? Or, get 190hp and still-decent economy AND a sub-£30k price tag with the £29,785 320d SE upon which the 320d ED Plus is based?

Or, by now, have you lost the will to live and wish we’d just get on with it? OK…

Why are we running it?

BMW 320d ED Plus long-term test intro

We want to find out how economical a BMW 320d is in the real world. BMW sells tens of thousands, on the promise of low tax and high economy, seemingly not at the expense of performance or rear-wheel drive engagement. Sounds like black magic but is it actually a blatant lie?

My journeys are usually high mileage, invariably varied and very representative of the use many other 320d encounter. So if I can get good economy, then hopefully you can too. Upwards of 10,000 miles’ driving should be enough to put it to the test…

We also want to see if living with a BMW is still premium and classy enough. BMW sells umpteen more 3 Series than Ford does Mondeo, yet it’s the Ford that’s perceived as the volume car and the BMW as the exclusive premium machine. Does reality still compare?

Long-term test spec

BMW 320d ED Plus long-term test intro

Press cars contain lots of equipment to help writers tell readers what the various options are like. Which is how our £30,485 long-term test car turns into one costing £40,780.

Must-haves are the eight-speed Sport automatic transmission (£1,690), BMW Professional sat nav (£900 – yes, nav is standard on all new BMWs now, but only the Pro system gives the online features we’re going to test so fully), Adaptive M Sport suspension (£750) and interior comfort package (£695 – it adds split-fold rear seats, more stowage cubbies and the lovely Extended Interior Light Package).

Nice-to-haves is the Visibility package (£850) that includes BMW’s brilliant LED headlights, Enhanced Bluetooth telephone (£350) and Internet (£95 – bargain). Indulgences we love? Anthracite headlining (£215), Head-up Display (£825) and speed limit display (£220); the rest is fancy but not essential (and surely some o fit should be standard – £330 reverse assist camera, anyone?).

What else is out there?

Audi has recently released the all-new A4, and what an impressive car it is. Extremely refined, the interior’s a step-on in terms of quality, appearance and roominess, while the tech it packs in is top-notch: some people will choose the A4 simply for the fact it gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard.

Jaguar’s XE vies with the 3 Series for driver’s choice in this class. An excellent first effort at a rear-wheel drive ‘baby Jag’, the XE is ultimately let down by its slightly disappointing interior and not-yet-there engine refinement and infotainment tech. Updates are coming, though…

The Mercedes-Benz C-Class is a very popular choice. It’s a little spec sensitive; choose the wrong one and it can seems surprisingly average and uncouth for a supposed premium compact exec. But ticking boxes like the bargain-price air suspension restore the class you’d expect from a car that looks not unlike an S-Class.

Other choices? Lexus’ hybrid IS 300h is a bit leftfield but pretty effective, certainly much more so than the so-disappointing Infiniti Q50. Coming in 2016 is the Alfa Giulia, which Italy promises will be a 3 Series beater (although we’ve heard that before) and, who knows, we may eventually get a new Volvo S60 to bring some of the XC90’s excellence to this sector.

Specs

Car: BMW 320d ED Plus

CO2: 104g/km

Fuel economy: 68.9mpg

Power: 163hp

Torque: 280lb-ft

0-62mph: 7.9secs

Top speed: 140mph

List price: £32,220 (320d ED Plus auto)

Price as tested: £40,780

Now configure your BMW 320d ED Plus on bmw.co.uk

BMW 3 Series LCI 2015

BMW 3 Series facelift review: 2015 first drive

BMW responds to the Jaguar XE’s challenge with a revised 3 Series. It’s subtle, but only because it was already superb…

BMW 3 Series LCI 2015How do you enhance a car that, until recently, was the clear class-leader? If you’re BMW, you don’t mess with a winning formula, but simply tweak and hone the bits that weren’t quite so perfect with the aim of reclaiming your class leadership crown. So, watch out Jaguar XE: the 2015 BMW 3 Series facelift is here.

You’re hardly going to notice at first, until we start to see lots more of them on the road. Only then will the crisp new headlights, more sculptural front bumper and high-tech LED rear lights become clear (and start to make the old car look surprisingly dated). Initially, the most standout part will be some of the new colours.

BMW hasn’t cut corners though. For one, it’s installed an all-new engine range, that now opens with a British-built 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol that’s also seen in the MINI Cooper (and, for added kudos, the BMW i8). Now all-turbo, the engine range is packed out with new modular EfficientDynamics motors, that share a 500cc cylinder capacity and are crowned by the 326hp 340i BMW laid on for the launch event.

It’s sweated the suspension tune, lowered RWD saloons by 10mm for a sportier centre of gravity, honed both six-speed manual and eight-speed automatic gearboxes (the former now self-blips on downshifts) and carried out umpteen other tiny tweaks that an engineer told me will never make the headline briefing sheet but combine to make the revised 3 microscopically bit-by-bit better than ever.

On sale now with prices starting from £24,975, deliveries of the facelifted 3 Series range start in September, giving the Jaguar XE just enough time to assert its position as leader of the compact executive sector before BMW renews its challenge. Is the 2015 3 Series up to the job, though?

On the road: 2015 BMW 3 Series facelift

BMW 3 Series LCI 2015

 

BMW only had the top-spec 340i for us to drive on the launch event. Producing 326hp, its 3.0-litre straight-six turbo certainly doesn’t want for power, particularly when combined with the optional eight-speed automatic transmission (at 5.1 seconds to 62mph, it’s faster from a standstill than the six-speed manual). This all-new engine has a bounty of pulling power that’s ever-ready to start surging and, at higher revs, it sounds nicely classical.

It also has real immediacy. Turbo delay has been near-minimised and both the linearity and control with which you can deliver the drive is very impressive. It means you can ‘drive it on the throttle’, precisely trimming lines through corners with your right foot, something not really possible with the softer response of older turbo cars.

Here’s where you can start to have fun with the rear-drive 340i. Sat forward in the car, sensing the perfect weight distribution, the car feels very confident and incisive, giving you the confidence to press on and exploit it. You might even turn the traction control off; ace predictability won’t bite you if you do. It’s too comfortable to be an M car but it’s not far off in terms of driver satisfaction.

This is something you have to dig into, though. It’s not immediately apparent how engaging the 3 Series is. In top-spec guise, with the brilliant (optional) Adaptive Dynamics suspension dampers working so well, some of the surface-level charisma you get in a Jaguar XE is missing. The ride is excellent and it’s extremely stable and comfortable at speed, but you do worry BMW’s gone a bit Mercedes Benz-like.

Maybe regular cars will wear their hearts on their sleeves more. It’s certainly worth being patient with the 340i though, because the ability and rewards it has during full-attack driving are worth it.

Oh, and you’ll note we’ve not talked about the steering. That’s because test cars were fitted with BMW’s £290 Variable Steering, which changes the ratio to match your speed so you don’t have to shuffle the wheel, and does all sorts of other tricks. A £290 bargain? Not a bit of it. The artificial, inconsistent feel, darty initial response and feeling of it magnetically stiffening in corners would have us with our heads in our hands if we didn’t know how decent the standard system is. Avoid.

On the inside: 2015 BMW 3 Series facelift

BMW 3 Series LCI 2015

The interior looks no different to the old car, so will be very familiar to many. Even the excellent iDrive system will be taken for granted: the surprise will be finding it’s now standard, rather than optional – unless, that is, you’ve driven a rival car and been surprised at how insuperior their systems are.

You still sit forward and, on the electric chairs of the 340i, too high. Two rear adults still just have enough space in the rear, but best not try to get three in there. You’ll still get even slim, tall Coke bottles stuck in the door pockets, but BMW’s chuffed with the sliding cubby it’s integrated into the centre console; good for throwing the keyless-go keyfob into, with smartphones having their own slot on top.

But while it’s all familiar, it is also more appealing than before, because BMW has poured over the details and given it a lift in perceived quality. The dash is less plasticky and spongy-look than before, the plastics less low-rent and shiny. There’s more piano black and chrome detailing. There’s enough options flexibility to trim a good proportion of the 25,000 a year BMW sells here in a bespoke fashion.

Mercedes aces it for design impact still, and we’re sure the new Audi A4 will lead the way for quality and sophistication. BMW’s still level pegging with the similarly driver-focused Jaguar XE though, and has addressed grumbles quality wasn’t what it was with this F30 model ably.

Running costs: 2015 BMW 3 Series facelift

BMW 3 Series LCI 2015

The new engines are all so efficient, BMW’s given them all EfficientDynamics branding. The greenest, now sub-100g/km CO2 (like the Jaguar XE), is called EfficientDynamics Plus. Its 2.0-litre diesel engine can average an impressive 74.3mpg.

This 340i, with 326hp, isn’t quite as green, but it can still return 41.5mpg if you’re sensible and pay extra for the automatic transmission. Leave it as a manual and you’ll get just 36.7mpg. Counterintuitive, we know: CO2 confirms this with 159g/km for the auto, a hefty 179g/km for the manual.

The subtle refresh should keep a check on residuals and BMW’s standardisation of sat nav means no headaches when choosing one as a company car. Just be aware that retained values can soften as a car ages, and when the new Audi A4 arrives later this year, the BMW will be the oldest car in its sector.

It’s unlikely to make too much of a difference to this well-liked, in-demand premium car, though. It will still surprise you in how well running costs stack up alongside mainstream cars such as the Ford Mondeo…

Verdict: 2015 BMW 3 Series facelift

BMW 3 Series LCI 2015

BMW hasn’t revolutionised the 3 Series because it didn’t need to. Until the Jaguar XE came along, it led the class. The surprise battle of the British Jag thus led BMW to hone and perfect the 3 Series, rather than reinvent it.

It’s an approach that’s worked. We can’t say whether the 3 Series is the firm class-leader again – we’ll have to wait to drive UK-relevant models later in the year for that (which is why we’re hedging our bets with a four-star score) – but we can say it’s an already excellent car that’s been yet further improved.

The new battle with the Jaguar XE continues…

Specification: 2015 BMW 340i

Engine: 3.0-litre straight-six turbo petrol

Prices from: £38,125 (auto: £39,505)

Power: 326hp

Torque: 332lb ft

0-62mph: 5.1 – 5.2 seconds

Top speed: 155mph

Fuel economy: 36.7 – 41.5mpg

CO2 emissions: 159 – 179g/kmg/km

2015 BMW 3-Series facelift LCI

2015 BMW 3 Series facelift: on sale July, prices from £24,975

2015 BMW 3-Series facelift LCIBMW has revealed a subtle but focused facelift for the 3 Series saloon and Touring, in an early response to the surprise challenge of Jaguar’s all-new XE.

Prices for the new 2015 3 Series start from £24,195 for the 318i SE, and £27,435 for the 316d SE. Ordering opens this month for deliveries from September.

The new 2015 3 Series range has restyled front and rear lights, all-new engines and more on-board technology: BMW also confirmed a Plug-in Hybrid 330e will go on sale in 2016 – blending 252hp, 134.5mpg and 49g/km CO2.

More significant is the new, improved BMW 320d EfficientDynamics Plus: this matches the green new Jaguar XE diesel by averaging 72.4mpg and emitting 99g/km CO2.

It is the first-ever 3 Series to emit less than 100g/km CO2.

Speaking at the launch of the new car, BMW’s head of 3 Series project Dr. Stephan Neuyebauer said the target was to remain the benchmark in the sector, by tweaking dynamics, design, performance and efficiency.

“The 3 Series is now sportier than ever,” he said.”It epitomises the heart of BMW more than any other car we sell.”

2015 BMW 3 Series: visual changes

2015 BMW 3-Series facelift LCI

BMW has revised the headlights of the 2015 3 Series, offering optional full LED headlights for the first time (they replace the old Xenon lights). On all cars, the ‘eyes’ are further apart – and cars without LED lights have two LED daytime driving lights ‘linking’ the lights together.

A new front bumper has more sculptural air intakes and there’s a new bumper at the rear too – plus full LED lights for all, with more distinctive night-time lighting pattern.

2015 BMW 3-Series facelift LCI

All cars also get new exhausts, with BMW designating engine power by exhaust pipe shape:

  • 340i: individual 80mm pipes on both sides
  • 320i, 320d and up: dual 70mm tailpipes
  • Entry-level cars: single 75mm tailpipe

There’s a new range of alloy wheels and a choice of 16 exterior colours: new ones include Mediterranean Blue, Platinum Silver and Jatoba. Love the Estoril Blue metallic? Best buy an M Sport: this colour remains reserved for those models only.

2015 BMW 3 Series: interior

2015 BMW 3-Series facelift LCI

Inside, BMW’s upped the quality of the solid but slightly dour interior of the current 3 Series with more chrome highlights and gloss surfaces.

There’s chrome on the electric windows switches, for example, and the air vent controllers – and in Luxury, Sport and M Sport models, the swish trim on the dash now stretches back into all four doors.

Cupholders in the centre console have been redesigned and there’s a new stowage area in front of them – ideal for smartphones, says BMW. Unlike before, this now has a sliding lid.

2015 BMW 3 Series: Life Cycle Impulse

The 2015 3 Series facelift – or, in BMW-speak, ‘Life Cycle Impulse’, or LCI – arrives in showrooms from September, with sales beginning in July: prices will be revealed at a later date, says the firm.

It will be based around an almost entirely new engine range, from the new BMW modular engine family. Significantly, this means there’s a new three-cylinder 1.5-litre 318i, a hot new 340i and the aforementioned super-green 320d ED.

The line-up is as follows:

318i: 136hp

320i: 184hp

330i: 252hp

340i: 326hp

316d: 116hp

318d: 150hp

320d: 190hp

320d ED: 163hp

330d: 258hp

335d: 313hp