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First UK Drive: BMW 3 Series (320d M Sport)

BMW’s latest 3 Series impresses at every level, finds Jonathan Musk, but with stiff competition does it remain top of the class?

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SECTOR Compact Executive   PRICE £35,520   FUEL 65.7mpg*   CO2 112g/km**

Consider this: BMW predicts the new 3 Series’ most popular model will be the 320d.  Clearly, there’s plenty of business legs left in diesel yet then, and driving the Bavarian brand’s latest iteration, it’s easy to understand why.

The 3 Series has cemented itself as the brand’s most sold model, with a heritage reaching back beyond the first car’s 1975 introduction. Since then, sales have gone from strength to strength and the new car is no different with the brand expecting to shift around 26,000 units in its first year on sale.

What’s new? Plenty: over the previous generation even base-spec SE gets standard adaptive LED lighting, reversing camera, reverse assist, 3-zone climate control, acoustic front glass, folding mirrors, 17-inch alloys, a leather steering wheel and an 8.8-inch infotainment screen that alone would have cost more than £1,000 on the old car. It’s a significant improvement, though don’t let that fool you into believing higher specification trims won’t be popular, with M Sport expected to take 50-60% of sales. It’s a shame, however, that modern luxuries Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are still absent from the standard fare.

Pioneering new options for the brand include the ‘hey BMW’ personal assistant that can be used to operate various vehicle functions, from setting the sat nav to changing the cabin temperature. Though the system uses the same Nuance software as Mercedes-Benz, there are a few subtle differences in the BMW that make it slightly more intuitive.

The revised interior has literally opened up the car to allow for greater driver’s shoulder and elbow room, rear legroom and a larger boot, as well as split 40:20:40 rear seats as standard. It’s also more refined with acoustic front glass working its magic, accompanied by foam-filled A-pillars (something BMW first introduced on mid 90’s E38 7 Series and E39 5 Series).

The new car is available to order now with either the 320d (with or without xDrive), the 330i, 318d, 320i and 330d. These will be followed up by the new 330e plug-in hybrid and M340i in July. Of this selection, the 320d and 330e will make up most of the sales.

The 320d punches well above its weight in every regard. It’s smooth, lively and frugal, yet provides enough power to propel the car to 62mph in 7.1 seconds, and  despite puffing out low CO2 of 112g/km.

With more pulling power than before, a 50:50 weight distribution and stiffer chassis, handling dynamics match the performance too. Steering feels taught and precise, yet is light enough not to be tiring. Sport suspension is, however, a touch firm for UK roads.

It’s a genuine struggle to find fault with the 3 Series, other than a few costly optional extras that are beginning to be standard on its competitors. Nevertheless, even in SE guise, it offers far more than the outgoing model and plenty of novel tech. Coupled with an excellent diesel engine and forthcoming fleet-friendly plug-in hybrid too, it’s the current class favourite.

*WLTP, **NEDC Correlated

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Jonathan Musk

Jonathan turned to motoring journalism in 2013 having founded, edited and produced Autovolt - one of the UK's leading electric car publications. He has also written and produced books on both Ferrari and Hispano-Suiza, while working as an international graphic designer for the past 15 years. As the automotive industry moves towards electrification, Jonathan brings a near-unrivalled knowledge of EVs and hybrids to Fleet World Group.