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BMW 3 SERIES – THE HALLMARK OF QUALITY By Brian Foley

BMW is the hallmark of quality, the epitome of German automotive engineering excellence, as appreciated and indeed even revered by devoted BMW owners, aficionados and dedicated enthusiasts. For drivers who enjoy driving, BMW is synonymous with sporty performance and handling. For motorists who are not technically minded but are big into designer labels, BMW ownership whether real or aspirational is top drawer. Throw in ‘snob value’ and BMW appeal is pretty widespread.

The BMW range is quite comprehensive, from the 1 Series small saloon and hatchback models to the highly rated 5 Series, luxurious 7 Series, and SUVs. They come with petrol and diesel engine options, plus a number of high performance versions as defined by the M prefix. Top build quality and the highest standards of fittings and furnishings covers the entire model range, with absolutely nothing compromised in entry level and/or cut-price specials.

Latest BMW is the 3 Series, the 6th Generation of the mid-size model whose DNA dates back to the legendary 2002 performance saloon. The new 3 Series is slightly longer, lighter yet stronger than before, and is essentially an evolution of the long established and much respected compact saloon rather than a radical design departure, There is also a consolidation of style without any new intrusive elements or gimmicks.

Unlike the vast majority of to-day’s front-wheel-drive cars, BMW stick to the traditional or indeed conventional front engine/rear drive design configuration. This endows the 3 Series with really sporty handling. Oversteer can be induced by applying lots of throttle on greasy roads, especially in the lower gears and on roundabouts, hairpin type bends and accelerating at an angle. Good fun, but not to be recommended of course! Big drawback is poor rear wheel traction in very slippery conditions, as compared to the better forward traction and control afforded by FWD.

Relaxing long distance driving at a sporty pace is the forte of the 3 Series, which applies equally to both petrol and diesel models. Overall refinement and passanger comfort are excellent. During a recent lengthy test drive in a 320D SE a relaxed passenger laconically remarked “you’d know you were in a BMW”.

All engines are twin turbos, 2.0 litre/4-cylinder petrol and 3.0 litre/6-cylinder petrol; and the ultra smooth 2.0 litre/4-cylinder diesel. Having test driven two diesel SE models, the 316d and 320d, I would personally opt for the 316d for everyday driving and would probably go for the 320d if I had a lot of long distance driving to do. I would also opt for the new 8-speed automatic transmission in preference to the 6-speed manual, and let BMW do the driving without all that manual gear changing and de-clutching pedal work. Both models have typical BMW sporty performance, allied to effortless cruising and excellent fuel economy. For a diesel, the 320d is a flyer, top speed over 140mph (on German autobahns only), 0 to 100km/h in around 7.5 seconds -

New BMW Series prices start from the mid-thirties to plus forty grand, depending on model type, specification, wheels, extras etc. Like a fine wine, BMW ownership is a different world to your supermarket vin ordinaire and prices can fairly rocket when the various optional equipment packages are taken into account. Buyers of the new 3 Series with the dosh to splash can choose all kinds of everything, from the latest sound and communication systems, to park assist, variable sports steering etc. Coming in time for winter 2012/3 is xDrive which regulates optimum power to the rear wheels to cope with any adverse conditions.

In the BMW context, the old saying “you pay for what you get” applies to all models. For those whose priority is additional luggage/baggage space, the new BMW 3 Series Touring is a practical estate alternative, due around September.