David MottonSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Tow cars’ written by David Motton
Those numbers give some idea of the importance of the new 3 Series to the brand. If the sixth generation fails to find favour with buyers, the whole company catches a cold.
After driving both the 320d diesel and the 328i petrol, I don’t think BMW will have a dose of the sniffles anytime soon. The new car is roomier, more economical and better to drive than its predecessor. It also has the makings of a very fine towcar.
The old model was great fun, but the new car is more rewarding. On winding, near-empty Spanish mountain roads, the car showed impeccable balance. The cars I drove were fitted with the adaptive M Sport chassis (a £750 option). By pressing the Drive Performance Control button you can adjust the suspension to suit the road and your mood. In Comfort there’s some vertical movement over dips and crests, but select Sport mode and the car is superbly controlled. Plenty of pure sports cars don’t handle roller-coaster roads as surely as the 3 Series.
On cars without the adaptive chassis, the Drive Performance Control button alters the throttle response and steering weight. As well as Sport, Sport + and Comfort modes, the Eco Pro setting promises improved fuel economy through different throttle mapping and reducing the energy consumption of the climate control and other components.
Whatever the Drive Performance Control setting, the new 3 Series is more comfortable to travel in and easier to live with. Ride comfort is much improved over the old model, which could be too firm over bad surfaces, especially at low speeds. The new car feels much more forgiving of imperfect tarmac.
The new 3 is quieter, too. There’s very little road or engine noise, although wind noise is noticeable at speed.
Most buyers will go for diesel power. The 320d manual I drove pulls cleanly from low revs and really starts to shift from 1500rpm. BMW claims a 0-62mph time of 7.5 seconds, which feels about right. It can sound a little strained at the top of the rev range, but with 280lb.ft of torque, there’s rarely any need to go there. With a kerbweight of 1495kg, tourers weighing 1271kg are an 85% match – the 320d should more than cope with a van of this weight.
If the car lives up to the official figures, economy is remarkable. Expect around 61.4mpg. The EfficientDynamics version sips diesel even more slowly, returning 68.9mpg.
Petrol power may be a less obvious choice for towing, but the 328i auto would be more than up to the job. In place of the six-cylinder petrol fitted to the old 325i, the 328i has a new four-cylinder turbocharged engine. It doesn’t rest quite as easy on the ears as the old six, but performance and fuel economy both take a significant step forward. The sprint from 0-62mph should need just 6.1 seconds. With much stronger pull from low revs than the old engine, towing any sensible match will be easy. A kerbweight of 1530kg for the automatic version gives an 85% match figure of 1301kg.
The eight-speed sport automatic gearbox (a £1660 option) is superb. You need to listen for a change in engine note to notice a gearchange – it’s that smooth. But it’s also quick to respond when driving quickly, and paddles behind the steering wheel allow the driver to change gear without taking their hands from the wheel.
Whichever engine is chosen, the sixth-generation 3 Series is more practical than its predecessor. The cabin is noticeably roomier, especially for rear-seat passengers, and the greater glass area means you feel less hemmed in. The boot now offers 480 litres of luggage space, a 20-litre improvement.
Prices start from £24,880. That’s competitive with prestige rivals like the Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. However, it’s easy to push the price up by several thousand pounds if you get over-excited looking through the long list of options. Some items, like parking sensors and heated seats, are standard fit on a number of family cars with lower price tags but less upmarket badges.
Aside from a little wind noise at speed and the odd niggling omission in the standard spec sheet, there’s little of substance to criticise. The old 3 Series was a class-leading car, even at the end of its life. The new 3 Series develops its strengths and addresses most of its weaknesses.
I’ve already bent BMW's ear for a car to tow with. Hopefully we’ll be hitching up with the new 3 Series this spring.