BMW 318d and 320i: Launch Review

BMW saves cheapest, most frugal offerings to last in new 3 Series range
BMW 318d and 320i

Launch Review
Yarra Valley, Victoria

What we liked

>> Pricing!
>> Decent base packaging
>> Better styling

Not so much
>> No paddle-shift option for 318d
>> Take-or-leave Sport spec styling (pictured)

The F30 or sixth generation is probably the best value 3 Series range BMW has ever offered Down Under. Considering specification and power, the 2012 lineup trumps the E90's original entry price of around $53K for a manual 'bogger'. These last two additions to the new 3 Series range are the cheapest; they're also the most frugal with figures including a luxury car tax-deflecting 4.5L/100km for the 318d and 6.0L for the petrol 320i.

So the 3 Series range now starts at $56,400 for the diesel 318d and $57,600 for the 320i. For comparison, Audi's A4 starts at $52,900 and the ever-popular Mercedes-Benz C-Class at $58,600. Sticker price isn't so much the story here, however.

BMW's lineup of its global-use 'N20' 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engines, offered in various states of tune, is proving a worthy application leaving the 335i with its inline six-cylinder as the 'halo' model.

We recently drove the 320d -- equipped with the same unit the previous E90 version used -- and found little to fault. The 318d engine uses the same architecture but is rated at 105kW/320Nm versus 135kW/380Nm.

Same goes for the 328i and 320i engines' architecture. The former is rated at 180kW/350Nm and requires at least 6.3L/100km (for a combined cycle) while the 320i version is tuned for 135kW/270Nm. BMW is claiming class-leading "pace and efficiency" for the petrol model: 0-100km/h in 7.6sec and the aforementioned 6.0L/100km, in the Medium Luxury segment around $60K.

Both the 318d and 320i come standard with an eight-speed automatic transmission but that shouldn't raise complaints: the auto is one of the best in business in terms of operability and response. It is a major factor in the low fuel consumption figures; keen and smooth on its way to reach top gears for economy.

The 318d doesn't have paddle shift like the 320i but response is generally good enough not to need manual intervention, at least in the short term and over rural roads. In traffic the case may be different, however, so stay tuned for our seven-day road test.

Stepping up to the six-cylinder equipped 335i after the 320d was a telltale exercise. Back into two more four-cylinder options and we find another wieldy sedan with comfortable, responsive steering and handling. While the range-topping model impresses with its might, it seems nose-heavy in comparison and that extra weight is always noticeable.

The four-cylinder models make the most of BMW's adherence to an ideal front-to-rear weight distribution. We've now driven every four-cylinder F30 3 Series model and all of them possess segment-best ride and balance.

As mentioned in our road tests, the new 3 Series is larger and that's especially noticeable in the cabin, where space was tight in the previous generation. Rear passenger room is now decent, including good foot, knee and headroom and the rear seat (note, for two) is well-sized and comfortable.

Space up front is generous, with ample legroom and shoulder room between driver and co-pilot.

Dash styling has followed the same tack for years but has aged well, and is good for those familiar with the arrangement, and simple enough for the uninitiated.

Like the powered-up versions, the 318d and 320i can be ordered with BMW's new Modern, Luxury or Sport specification packages, adding $3100-5000 to the starting price depending on model. Owners get matching key fobs to suit...

Standard equipment-wise, the 320i is treated a little better than the 318d. BMW Australia's aim was to build "substantially more value into the standard specification of this new car" and with the 320i it's certainly delivered in terms of power and efficiency. In the case of the 318d, the local outfit hasn't had the model on its books before.

Both come with stop-start function (now standard range-wide) six-speaker audio system, Bluetooth, auto-dipping and heated side mirrors, auto headlight and rain wiper, cruise control with limiter, man-made 'leather' seats and two-zone climate control.

The 320i gets 17-inch alloys versus the 318d's 16-inch versions, and the paddle shift. BMW offered a couple non-upgraded models (no Modern, Sport or Luxury kit) to experience at the launch drive and even in basic form the cabin is well-appointed and attractive.

There's $4500 difference between this tester's current favourite, the new 320d, and the 318d and no gains in efficiency (both use 4.5L/100km). The 318d's unit employs common rail technology while the 320d uses a variable geometry turbine, and while the former betrays some lag it generally feels as strong as the 'cleverer' unit.

Pricing difference is largely due to the electric seats offered as standard on the 320d, according to BMW Australia. Adjusting the seats manually is not difficult and a good degree of variation is available. As mentioned, the 318d doesn't get paddle-shift and we'd suggest buyers will at least want the option.

The 320i's performance is strong and owners can expect efficient motoring. Its equipment level is excellent for an 'entry' model so we're curious to see how sales between the petrol options (320i and 328i) will split. BMW expects the new-generation 320i to make up the majority of 3 Series sales; as it did with the E90.

As for competitors, BMW Australia thinks it's a tough ask that the new 3 Series will close-up the gap between it and Benz's C-Class. But a smart shopper comparing output and efficiency figures will likely see more benefits by not following the crowd.

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Published : Thursday, 31 May 2012
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