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BMW 3-series review - still the best compact executive car?
The BMW 3-series – which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary and is now into its sixth incarnation – remains the most entertaining drivers’ car in its segment, yet it’s not quite as focused and sharp as preceding generations. And the dynamics become even more run-of-the-mill if you specify a model with xDrive, which ups the grip levels at the expense of feeling involved in the process of going quickly.
Like so many Threes that have gone before it, the current car looks better as a Touring than as a saloon, while the, er… distinctive looks of the Gran Turismo (GT) model make it very hard to recommend, despite the extra interior room and boot space it provides.
Steer clear of xDrive, because it’s very like quattro on an Audi – in that it makes the car it’s fitted to very quick in all conditions, but the drive at all four corners renders the chassis inert; and surely you’re buying into the BMW badge because it’s the "ultimate driving machine". Sadly, some models are xDrive only in the UK – such as the 309bhp 335d. Oh, what we’d give for a rear-drive version of it for our roads…
Here at evo, we are – perhaps understandably – not big fans of the GT. While it’s not quite as bulbous to behold as the 5 Series GT, it’s still no looker, thanks to X4-meets-3 Series styling that leads to a flabby profile. It is a more practical car than even the Touring, with a boot that’s up to 100 litres bigger than the estate’s, and it has a longer wheelbase too.
But it also rides higher, which pushes up the centre of gravity and detrimentally affects the whole character of the 3 Series. That there’s a narrower choice of drivetrains and it costs considerably more model-for-model than either the saloon (between £2300 and £2600) or Touring (£1000-1155) means we really can’t see the point of the GT.
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> Performance and 0-60mph time - Some very quick cars even sub-M3, and performance is broadly strong across the range. Three- and six-pots sound pretty good, too.
> Engine and gearbox - Petrols of three, four and six cylinders and four- and six-pot diesels, manual and automatic, and rear- or all-wheel drive. A vast range available.
> Ride and handling - Not quite the finely-honed tool it once was, but the tradeoff is a better ride than any 3-series has had for years. Still top of the class, too.
> MPG and running costs - Over 70mpg is possible (in theory) with the Efficient Dynamics diesel; others are still respectably frugal.
> Prices, specs and rivals - Range starts at just over £25,000 and runs to double that with the M3. A4 and C-class are close rivals, Jag's XE possibly even closer.
> Interior and tech - Driving position is spot-on and while the 3's cabin isn't a design classic, it's well-made and logically arranged. Kit levels are good too.
> Design - Growing on us. M Sport models look particularly sharp, even more so with LED headlamps, and the Touring still has fantastic proportions.