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Saturday, 26 November 2011

New BMW 3-series review, test drive

It’s encouraging that the sixth-generation BMW 3-series, despite its very obvious eco credentials and its numerous technical innovations, is still just a good-looking saloon that drives rather beautifully at heart.
At first, the new saloon may seem like business as usual – with a slick and elegant new style that looks both familiar yet more thrusting. But beneath its new suit, the F30 3-series is dazzlingly different and superior to the car it replaces in every single area you can imagine. It’s more comfortable and more dynamically capable than before.
The new range will include the entry-level 2-litre petrol (320i) and the efficient 2-litre diesel (320d). We drove the 320d in the UK, which was only available in Sport trim with the new paddle-shift gearbox and top-spec chassis and steering systems fitted (optional adaptive dampers and sport-spec servotronic steering). BMW also arranged for us to drive a 328i, a 242bhp version of the 2-litre petrol, although it is not clear if this engine will make it to India.
The first thing you become aware of when driving the new 3-series is that there’s an incredible lack of inertia when on the move. However, it feels quite amazingly light on its feet and this can make it seem ever so slightly insubstantial as a result.
It may not be as fast on paper – with a 0-100kph time of 7.6sec as compared to 5.9sec for the 328i – but unless you’re really going for it in the 328i, the 320d feels the brawnier of the two on the road. The steering felt lighter and fingertip easy on the petrol variant compared to the diesel. The accelerator felt so delicate underfoot, the gearbox so smooth in its machinations, you almost feel like a passenger in the car as it wafts gracefully from one destination to the next. 
Select Sport and it instantly feels even more alive, not just beneath your backside and feet, but at the tips of your fingers as well. And if you’re feeling truly in the mood, there’s a Sport+ setting available in this model as well, which brings even crisper responses from the steering, gearbox and throttle, and turns the traction control to a more exciting setting for good measure.
Compared to the petrol variant, the diesel saloon has more punch in the low- to mid-range, emits just as unentertaining a noise and for all other intents and purposes feels similar. The same fantastic range of chassis setups, light but lovely steering, superb optional eight-speed gearbox; ability to switch from smooth motorway cruiser to crisp B-road bruiser, and pretty much anything in between, all at the flick of a button. 
So should you buy one? If Superman drove a car, in fact, he’d probably drive a new BMW 320d. And the rest of us would be more than happy with any other member of the range. Because be in no doubt, a new world leader has arrived – and it may take a while for the others to catch up.
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