BMW is renowned for its engines and the latest 2-litre turbo diesels in the mid-life refreshed 3-Series saloon and estate deliver an amazing mix of performance and economy. There£€™s a choice of power outputs: 114bhp, 148bhp or the 161 bhp of the 320d ED Sport saloon tested here with the £1,690 extra eight-speed automatic transmission.
It£€™s a quick car. Top speed is 143mph and it will sprint from rest to 62mph in 7.6 seconds without you feeling the gear changes. Yet you should get near 50mpg on a run.
The 320d is a great car too when you reach the twisty stuff thanks to its 50:50 front to rear weight distribution and rear wheel drive handling balance. But for the best BMW experience you need to add the adaptive suspension (£750) to the £30,985 price list.
You get a more comfortable ride on rough roads and, less thumping through potholes, but on fun roads it will hunker down like a sports car at the press of a button. The BMW feels quicker than the Jaguar XE 2.0 Sport driven recently and part of that is down to that fast responding automatic gearbox which gives you quicker performance than the manual gearbox.
The engine is way quieter than the Mercedes C220 Bluetech but you do notice some wind noise. BMW says steering precision has been improved but I thought it had lost something though tyres can change this. There was a vague feeling about the straight ahead and word has it things have been changed because Americans don£€™t like having to make small steering corrections.
I would avoid the variable speed steering (£290) which weights up oddly and is confusing. BMW£€™s drive performance control allows further choice between comfort, sport and eco pro settings which alter the steering weight and accelerator response. In eco pro the car saves fuel/energy by cutting out unnecessary equipment so the compressor is disconnected if you are not using the air conditioning etc.
And the electromechanical power steering only uses electrical power when the steering is turned. BMW claims there is a bigger difference between the £€˜comfort£€™ and £€˜sport£€™ mode settings than before; but it was not possible to verify on the limited driving BMW makes available these days. Styling changes for the sixth generation of the 3-Series are minor with different headlights and tail lights.
At the back, the new lights are full-LED units so the brake lights respond faster. The 320i and 320d models and upwards have twin exhausts. On Sport models, the bumper, air intakes and grille slats are high gloss black and window frames and door mirrors matt black or body colour. The new 3-Series is larger which benefits rear seat passengers though foot room is poor for a centre passenger because of the transmission tunnel.
Boot volume is 480 litres, the same as an Audi A4 or Mercedes C-Class but bigger than the Jaguar XE. General cabin quality has been improved and the three-spoke leather rimmed steering wheel is lovely to use. The pedals are still slightly offset but after a while you don£€™t notice. All 3-Series models have satellite navigation, air-conditioning, 6.5in colour screen, Bluetooth phone connectivity, drive performance control, rear parking sensors, digital radio, a USB connection and trip computer.
Sport versions get dual zone air-conditioning, automatic lights and wipers, extra chrome trim and sports front seats. The options list includes LED headlights £710, reversing camera £330, instrument head-up display £825, folding electric tow bar £850, electric glass sunroof £895 and split, folding rear seats £325.
Verdict Still the best compact sporting executive car