What is it?
This is the facelifted BMW 3-series that’s here to take the fight back to the new Mercedes-Benz C-class and brace for fresh competition from the likes of the new Jaguar XE and India-bound next-gen Audi A4. Available solely in a 320d diesel guise for now, the updated Bimmer gets a new engine, mildly reworked suspension and subtle tweaks inside and out.
The tweaks may not seem understated on the car pictured here but that’s because this is the new top-end M Sport version. It features sportier front and rear bumpers, M badging on the flanks and is the only one available in this racy Estoril Blue paint shade. What is new and common to all versions of the updated 3-series are the headlights and tail-lights that are now both full-LED units. Look hard and you will also notice slightly restyled bumpers and new wheel designs on the 320d Prestige, Sport Line and Luxury Line versions.
There’s nothing vastly different in the 3-series’ cabin either. Enthusiasts will welcome the long overdue addition of paddle shifters (only available on the petrol 328i earlier), apart from which a sliding lid for the cupholders at the base of the centre console is the only bit that’s ‘all new’. BMW has focused its attention on improving material quality, and though the changes have made the cabin look marginally richer than before, it’s still not quite at C-class levels. M Sport trim variants get heads-up display, sports front seats, a sporty three-spoke steering wheel and enough faux carbon-fibre detailing to make you think you are sitting in something hardcore. Among the other features, a sunroof and hi-res 8.7-inch screen for the iDrive infotainment system are standard fit on the Sport Line, Luxury Line and M Sport versions, while the base Prestige model makes do with a smaller 6.5-inch screen. What's bothersome is that there’s no reverse camera but only rear parking sensors on the updated 3-series
As before, the 3-series remains among the most comfortable of its luxury sedan peers, so long as you are willing to crouch down to its low-set cabin. The M Sport’s shapely front seats offer generous support even on the most spirited of drives while the rear seats continue to impress with the space and comfort it offers.
What is it like to drive?
The facelifted 320d is the second recipient in India, after the X3, to get BMW’s latest 2.0-litre diesel engine. The new engine (Code: B47) is identical to the old one in displacement (1,995cc from four cylinders) but otherwise there’s little carried over from before. Peak power is up by 6bhp to 187bhp and peak torque is up by 2kgm to a meaty 40.7kgm.
BMW claims a 0-100kph time of 7.2 seconds for the new 320d which betters the old car’s time by just 0.2 seconds. In the real world too, performance levels are similar to the old car’s which, as anyone whose driven a 320d will tell you, is no bad thing. There’s a strong tug from low in the rev band, genuine punch in the mid-range and even an accessible top-end to exploit. The engine revs quite freely to 4,500rpm in full auto mode (or 5,000rpm in manual mode) and it’s easily among the most exciting four-cylinder diesel engines around. Where the new engine feels significantly better than the older one is in refinement. That sharp clatter at idle is significantly muffled here and it doesn’t get as vocal later on either. Still, the engine can sound a touch coarse when loaded, but is a lot nicer than before.
To complement the engine, BMW has revised the eight-speed gearbox’s ratios and this seems to have also smoothened responses in town. On all-out blasts, the gearbox continues to delight with rapid, timely shifts but we did notice a mild lag in downshifts in sudden transitions from part to full throttle. Nothing that manual intervention at the paddles or the joystick-like gear lever couldn’t fix.
The 3-series’ driving experience remains as invigorating as ever and has been made better still with tweaks to the suspension. Body movements are noticeably more controlled and the beautifully weighted steering feels that bit more precise. The 320d’s suspension absorbs the bumps and lumps well but our test car’s optional (and sexy) 20-inch wheels and low profile tyres could only do so much to filter sharp edges like expansion joints.
Should I buy one?
By merely looking at it, your friends or for that matter even your passengers may not be able to immediately tell this is the updated model. But from behind the wheel it feels just that – an improved 3-series. The new engine retains the zesty character of the old motor but brings with it crucial improvements in refinement and even everyday driveability. Handling is that wee bit sharper too and BMW claims the new 320d is more efficient as well. At the same time, the 320d holds on to its strengths of good ride quality, comfort and space. In all, the 3-series feels more rounded now and that should have anyone with the right money really interested in one.
Prices for the 320d start at Rs 35.9 lakh for the Prestige version and top off at Rs 44.5 lakh for the M Sport trim. The Sport Line and Luxury Line cars cost an identical Rs 41.5 lakh (All prices ex-showroom, Delhi). Spec-to-spec, the 320d is more expensive than the comparable Mercedes C220 CDI. Question is, is the revitalized Bimmer worth the higher asking price? Now that’s something we can only tell you when we get the two together. We just can’t wait to find out.