herald

Saturday 16 December 2017

... It may be pretty, but how does it fare against the mighty Audi A4

YES, this could very well be the best 3 Series ever made.

Not only is this compact executive bigger, quicker, safer and more fuel efficient -- it is, above all ... a much better drive.

Now, BMW have copped a lot of flack over the design of the new 3 Series which, to be fair, doesn't look that radically different from behind.

The snout however, tells a different tale and speaks volumes about the car that will make up one fifth of global sales.

Its aggressive, squat stance gives her much more presence than its predecessor, but is so similar to the new 5 Series that I fear many ordinary customers will not be able to tell the difference.

On the inside though, the designers have been much bolder. Build quality, as expected, is second to none and the cabin gets an even more up-market feel to it. The cockpit which surrounds the pilot at a 7 degree angle is completely driver-focussed with every switch, knob and toggle at your fingertips.

The flowing dash is finished in high gloss Piano Black trim which is tastefully complimented by a contrasting colour like red (in Sport model) which will match the general interior and key fob.

Most significantly though is the level of standard kit including leather multi-function steering wheel, iDrive with 6.5 inch colour screen, Bluetooth, Cruise Control, and Drive Performance Control.

The latter allows the driver to select up to four driving modes -- Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+.

The on-board computer makes subtle changes to the steering, suspension and throttle to suit the road and save fuel.

And efficiency is the name of the game and BMW are streets ahead of everybody else.

So much so that seven -- yes SEVEN versions of the new 3 Series -- will be in Tax Band A, meaning emissions of under 120g/km and road tax of €160 per year.

An astounding achievement considering the list includes, for the first time, automatics. And what a sweet auto this is.

The eight-speed unit is now greener than the six-speed manuals and the 318D has seen CO2 levels reduced by a band-busting 22g/km.

The 320D Sport, which is packing a 184bhp in the Twinpower Turbo diesel, hits 0-100kph in 7.5 seconds. The ride and handling are superb and while the sports suspension was firm it wasn't choppy. She cornered like it was on rails and the feedback from the steering was just sublime.

Even the uber frugal 320D EfficientDynamics with 163bhp, economy of 69mpg and emissions of 109g/km had me hooked, but I kept hankering back to the auto which unfortunately comes at a premium of over €2,300.

But the biggest chink in its armour is the A4, which has the edge for quality in the lower end cabins, features several Tax Band A engines and out guns the BMW on price, coming in at €33,570 -- although that gain is lost is on extras like Drive Select, €275, Colour Driver Information System, €163, and Cruise Control, €372.

Anyway it's at the lower end of the spectrum where this scrap will be bloodiest and we've yet to drive the 316D (116bhp) or the 318D (143bhp).

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