BMW 320d long-term test review: testing its worth on a road trip to France
The 320d is a wonderful mile-eating companion
Editor’s saloon is an amiable companion on a trip to Amiens
Last year I cashed in an editor’s perk and accompanied/chaperoned/stalked Andrew Frankel on a drive to Geneva in a McLaren 650S. All this served to do, however, was to give me the bug for cross continent thrashes.
So I set out to scratch that itch again one blue-skied weekend with a much shorter road trip in the 320d to the town of Amiens in northern France.
Granted, it is only 100 miles each way from Calais, but my itch was indeed scratched. Few things are quite as satisfying as a deserted French Autoroute and I made swift progress (okay, perhaps not quite as swift as we did in that McLaren on a German Autobahn…).
Road noise from the tyres aside, the 320d made for a wonderful mile-eating companion. The leather seats were supportive, the diesel engine was quiet and frugal (the trip meter indicated 47.6mpg, and the car didn’t even use three quarters of tank of fuel), and the ride was comfortable. There is not much more you could ask for on such a journey.
Amiens is a place I’ve driven past a few times, but never stopped to see. The pretty town is in the Somme region and is dominated by a gothic cathedral. It’s also known for antiques shops, so I bought a big chest. It was too big to fit through the opening of the 320d’s boot (perhaps I should have opted for the Touring), but it did fit perfectly across the back seats, which had the added bonus of leaving the boot empty for a pitstop at the ‘booze cruise’ shops on the return trip through Calais.
On the subject of crossing the Channel, I’m still haunted by nicking an alloy in the McLaren as I got on the EuroTunnel shuttle en route to Geneva. Think fingernails running down a blackboard, and you’re not far off. I can offer no excuse.
There’s less chance of dinging a wheel in the 320d, because a press of the parking sensor button on the centre tunnel switches the view on the infotainment screen to a top-down one of the car. This fine and useful piece of technology helped spare my blushes this time.
This picture shows a view I’ve seen twice in the past couple of days. I’ve had to check the offside rear tyre after a recurring tyre pressure warning. Slow puncture? Dodgy valve? Before heading to Kwik Fit, I inflated the tyre to BMW’s suggested higher pressure for carrying heavier loads and the alarm hasn’t come on since. I suspect the fault is in the sensor itself.
One of the key things we wanted to find out with this all-wheel-drive 3 Series was how well it could play the role of everyday winter hack.
Last month the lightest sprinkling of snow, which turned into a ‘get the de-icer out’ cold snap, allowed us to put it to the test.
The best way to describe the car is sure-footed; BMW has subtly altered the 3 Series formula to take the edge off the handling in favour of a more rounded package. With a smooth, torquey diesel, an automatic gearbox, all-wheel drive, leather seats and a thick-rimmed steering wheel, BMW has created a near-peerless all-round cruiser that’s hard to fault as an everyday proposition – even if the top level of dynamic sparkle is lacking.
Reader Gavin Hall, a serial 3 Series owner who is currently driving a 320d xDrive Touring, contacted me to describe his car as “safe, efficient and reliable”, but admitted he wouldn’t get out of bed on a Sunday morning just to drive it for pleasure.
He’s right: this isn’t the 3 Series for a Sunday driver, rather one you’re happy to use from Monday to Friday, once the de-icer has done its work.
A flaw in the xDrive’s otherwise impressive everyday usability: the turning circle is dire. And it’s something I have to deal with three times a day: twice negotiating our oh-so-tight multi-storey car park in Twickenham and the other at the end of the cul-de-sac I live down. It’s not just me, either. Reader and 320d xDrive driver Gavin Hall has got in touch with the same observation.
The BMW i8 I usually report on in this space has been temporarily snaffled by my office-based colleagues, as well it should be: when something that brave, innovative and different comes to stay, it’s important that as many of us as possible have the chance to understand what it can and can’t do.
Which means the 320d of deputy ed Mark Tisshaw has been holidaying at my place in the Welsh borders these past few weeks. I am a huge fan of the oil-burning 3 Series and have been since the mid-1990s, when a 325tds was first to prove that the words ‘fun’ and ‘diesel’ no longer need sit as strangers in the same sentence. And for the breadth of their performance and fuel consumption envelopes, successive generations of 320d have been the best of the lot. Even now, I’d say the 320d remains the most capable real-world small saloon out there.
But not once in all those years have I thought one might be improved still further by the fitment of four-wheel drive. And after a few weeks in this xDrive-equipped 320d, I still don’t. Maybe I’d be grateful for it come the winter, but less so than I’d be for a set of tyres appropriate to the conditions. Indeed, the most obvious day-today effects of the four-wheel drive system are that it uses 10% more fuel and nudges it into a higher tax band.
I’ve never bought in to four-wheel drive as a safety system, because while cars so equipped are far better at gaining speed in poor conditions, they are no better at all at losing it. Just out of professional curiosity, I did throw it through some tight turns and was impressed by the way it kept its nose into the apex under power, but that hardly justifies the additional outlay and running costs.
So although I continue to live in a slight state of awe at just what a package the common or garden 320d continues to represent, it would be the cheaper, lighter, more frugal and tax-efficient standard rear-wheeldrive car I’d choose every time.
BMW 320D XDRIVE M SPORT
Price £32,910 Price as tested £42,270 Economy 45.1mpg Faults None Expenses None Last seen 21.9.16
Source: Autocar Online