There are a few factors that will dictate whether the F30 320d turns out to be as much as a success as the E90, the least convincing of it in my point of view being its design. As BMW’s popular midsize sedan and for that matter, the natural target for in depth scrutiny by M3 fans, the new F30 looks less athletic than the 3 ever has. The rear looks safe and thus won’t be attracting any haters as it will fans, while the bonnet drops down drastically as it meets the front grille, giving more prominence to the top portion of the car, less for the streamlined and reshaped headlight design.
But I suppose the look will eventually grow on me, like it always have even since Bangle first presented the world to his divisive BMW work. What was instantly appealing was the cabin – it is a much more interesting place to be now, making the E90 look downright dull and out of date in comparison. It feels larger (the entire car is indeed bigger than before), and with slight fear of being accused to sound like an interior designer, I think a major cause is because the windows seem bigger still.
The car’s literature points that the dashboard is angled towards the driver (by 7 degrees); and by incorporating clever use of surfacing and lines over the instrument panel, the driver’s attention almost-magically converge to a single point behind the steering wheel and sets the vision to the road.
The centre tunnel exposes the consistently underspecified nature of this car – the iDrive, as convenient and delightful it is to use in contrast to the early years, lacks navigation. I know this engine (the same used in the corresponding E90 variant); it does 800km per tankful without trying, so as an economical cross country platform the (now locally assembled) 320d has very little competition. The lack of a GPS system thins this argument, even if the car is slightly less expensive than the previous generation 3 series. At least that’s what it shows in my records.
Still, it’s impossible for me to not like it. With a remarkable talent to sip just 6.1 litres of diesel following two hours of passionate throttle abuse, every pedal-to-the-firewall insanity laying down 380Nm to the rear Bridgestone Potenzas and with a new-found ride quality, it’s one of the cars that you find practical and diabolical. As far as comfort goes, the E90’s is good, for the front passengers at least; but the F30 is a great step forward, perhaps something of no coincidence since the C-class W204 injected some athleticism into the patented Mercedes wafting.
EfficientDynamics extends its function with the addition of Ecopro into the Driving Experience Control – it assists the driver to maintain an economy-optimised driving style. A no-fuss, smooth 8- speed auto gearbox also helps, although manual override is only available at the shifter itself.
Dynamically, the F30 320d feels a lot more accomplished, the more forgiving damping clearly letting the car settle more positively on the road rather than the previous rigid way of presenting itself over the road. With that, you can also get into a rhythm quicker, taking full advantage of that well balanced chassis.
The electric steering – chosen for the EfficientDynamics benefits – is a bit slow at turn-in at times but the rear end is very grippy. Front track has grown by 37mm, plus 10mm more at the rear so it explains the increased stability so very crucial when this car can cruise at 180kmh without complaints.
Actually, there is one overriding factor which makes the 320d rather appealing, and it’s a silly one too. In this age of electronic-for-everything, the asymmetrical centre tunnel is home to an underappreciated manual, hand-operated parking brake. Sometimes, life – especially the one on the road – can be that simple.
|Engine||Inline 4, 16v, 1995cc|
|Max power||135bhp @ 4000rpm|
|Max torque||380Nm @ 1750-2750rpm|
|Price||RM248,800 (OTR w/o insurance)|
+ Torque, range, interior, handling
– Diesel idle sound