BMW regards the 3 Series as the spine of its range. And now it has added a couple of extra vertebrae in the form of new diesel engines to give added strength to its backbone best-seller. One of them is the most powerful engine yet seen wearing the Bavarian badge. We sent Sue Baker to check them out
There is plenty about the current state of this country to push up your blood pressure. Let’s start with stealth taxes, the congestion charge, revenue-greedy speed cameras, and the six-figure salary John Prescott still draws at our expense.
That’s before we even start on the unreasonably high price of diesel compared with what they pay anywhere else in Europe. Then pitch in a sea of red tail-lights ahead on the M25 when you’re trying to get somewhere for a morning appointment, and you’re ripe for a full blown bad mood that could easily last all day. And then suddenly it all starts to get much better. Some humorous little tale nudges into the news bulletin on the car radio to banish Prescott and cameras from mind.
The traffic starts flowing again. The sun comes out, and instantly sharpens the warm colours of autumn that are enriching the scenery. Destination in sight, and the awaiting coffee still hot. That lumpy tapestry of experience was my morning on the way to drive two new diesel additions to BMW’s 3-Series range. Then I did, and magically all seemed right with the world. These two diesels are both three-litre units, both turbocharged, and both terrific. The one that powers the 325d Saloon (and will also be offered in the 3 Series Touring) has a single turbocharger. The other, in the 335d Coupe (and also available in the Saloon and Touring), has a twin-turbo that makes it the most powerful diesel engine ever seen in a BMW sold in the UK, and pushes up the power to a stonking 286 bhp.
So let’s start with the 335d, because if ever a car could lift your spirits and brighten your day, this is it. And what we have here a three-litre, straightsix- cylinder, common rail diesel with piezo injectors and two different-sized turbochargers that work in sequence. The first turbo comes in at low engine speeds to produce 95 per cent of the available torque at just 1,500 rpm. Maximum torque, a massive 437lb ft (580Nm), is delivered at 1,750 rpm. The second and larger turbocharger becomes active as the engine continues up through the higher rev range to 4,400 rpm, and boosts it to a peak horsepower of 286 bhp. In the Coupe, the 335d does 0-62 in 6.1 seconds. With this engine, the Saloon and Touring clock at 6.2 and 6.3 seconds respectively.
So it’s already in supercar territory, before you look at the top speed. If you had a private test track, or one of the few remaining stretches of unrestricted German autobahn at your disposal, you could see 155 mph registering on the speedo. Dramatic though those figures are, they do not tell the full story of how emphatically good the 335d feels on the road. It is rapid, responsive, smooth and superbly refined. It feels energising to drive, and a heck of a lot of car for its £35,475 price tag. I tried hard to detect something to criticise about the car’s road behaviour, but sorry, I failed to find anything much worthy of a gripe. Those two turbos work in harmony to deliver a smooth flow of torque over an unusually wide rev band. If there is the merest suspicion of turbo lag anywhere in the sequence of first one and then the other turbo coming into play, I couldn’t detect it.
The steering has ample power assistance but still contrives to feel nicely weighted, and so is meaty not floaty when you’re on the move at a rapid pace. The brakes are solidly reassuring, not snatchy, pitch-you-on-your-nose stuff. The suspension is firm, as it needs to be for this level of performance, but tolerably so, you couldn’t consider it harsh. So what’s the bad news? I’m pushed to find any. According to BMW, the 335d’s running costs are “class-leadingly low”. It isn’t even particularly thirsty, with a combined fuel figure nudging 38 mpg. OK – I’m scratching now – it’s a bit of a scramble climbing into the back of the two-door Coupe, and the front seatbelts reel out from a long way back behind the large side doors. But BMW resolved what could be an irksome stretch by installing Mercedes-style automatic arms that reel forward to hand you the belt webbing just behind your shoulder. The standard transmission is a six-speed Tiptronic-style auto. You can operate it either via the gear lever or via chunky little paddles on the steering wheel, and the changes come pretty much where you’d anticipate them.
And so to the 325d Saloon, with its single turbocharger boosting the three-litre engine. In common with all BMW’s six-cylinder diesels, it now has an aluminium crankcase to cut overall engine weight by a significant 20 kg. The turbo is a new variable vane design with reprofiled blades made from temperature resistant blades capable of withstanding up to 1,050 deg C. The result of this technology upgrade is lots of low-down grunt and a strong delivery of power right up through the rev range. It has a vibrant feel on the road, and you are never left in any doubt that there is plenty on tap for a swift overtaking manoeuvre. It’s a good engine in a stiff chassis, 25 per cent tauter than the previous generation 3 Series Saloon. It translates into a poise and purpose across country that is hard to beat. Handling is exemplary, the ride is civilised and the engine has an agreeably sporty rumble. There is something about any BMW, with its rearwheel- drive and evenly-balanced 50-50 weight distribution, that makes it a superlative driving machine.
The joy of this one is that the figures balance too, with acceleration to 60 in 7.4 seconds, a boast-worthy (even if you’ll never use it) top speed of 146 mph, but fuel economy at 44.1 mpg average that is modest enough to avoid credit card meltdown.
On sale: Now// Price from; 3 Series Saloon £22,340 (318d) 3 Series Coupe £25,665 (320Cd SE)
- Price: £27,310
- Engine: 2993cc, 6-cyl, 24 valves, turbo
- Max Power: 197PS at 3750rpm
- Max Torque: 295lb ft
- Combined Consumption: 44.1mpg
- CO2 Emissions (taxband): 171g/km (E)
- 0-62mph: 7.4secs
- Max speed: 146mph
Brake force display
Cruise control with brake function
DSC with brake drying, fade compensation, pretensioning and Soft Stop
Front and rear foglights
ISOFIX anchorages for two child seats
Rain sensor with automatic headlight activation
Remote control alarm
Thatcham category 1 immobiliser
Run-flat tyres with puncture warning system
First aid kit
BMW Business radio with single CD player,MP3 compatibility
17 inch light alloys
Automatic air conditioning
Auto-dimming rear view mirror
Electric front and rear windows
Multi-function leather steering wheel
Lots of power and performance with good economy in a civilised saloon at a fair price
Annoying indicators, and all other drivers want to take you on. Back seat tight for tall passengers