|Power may be up by just 22bhp over a standard 320i, but the way the screaming four-pot delivers is very different|
So, assuming I’m amongst likeminded friends here, may I introduce the strictly limited edition 320si, BMW’s latest homologation special, 400 of which will be coming to the UK from a total production run limited to 2500 cars – just enough to satisfy WTCC homologation rules.
Sitting low on its springs, the unique and beautiful forged 18in rims tucked-up in its arches, the E90 3-series has never looked so good. At £25,000 it’s no wonder all 400 UK-bound 320sis have already found buyers.
Yep, £25,000. Sounds good for a hardcore WTCC refugee, doesn’t it? Open the bonnet and it looks good value, too. Mounted low in the engine bay and topped by a gorgeous carbonfibre cylinder-head cover (saving 10kg and lowering the centre of gravity) sits a hand-built 2-litre ‘four’.
The cylinder head itself is cast alongside the F1 heads at Landshut; the engine is then hand-finished at Hams Hall, near Coventry. With bigger valves, unique alloy cylinder liners, different bore and stroke, a higher compression ratio and a higher rev limit, it’s safe to say that it’s thoroughly revised.
The result, however, isn’t even close to 100bhp per litre, which is a little disappointing. 170bhp at 7000rpm and 147lb ft at 4250rpm is hardly the stuff of which legends are made, especially in a car that weighs 1425kg. BMW claims a top speed of 140mph (which speaks well of the Three’s aerodynamics) and a 0-62mph sprint of 8.1sec – numbers that wouldn’t worry an RX-8 owner, let alone get M3 drivers glancing nervously in their mirrors.
It’s a homologation car, then, but not as we know it. But that’s not to say it should be written off as simply a marketing exercise. Power may be up by just 22bhp over a standard 320i, but the way the screaming four-pot delivers is very different. It still feels smooth and torquey at low revs, but there’s a vigour over and above 5500rpm that isn’t present in a normal 320i. The noise is fantastic, too, a tight metallic timbre that’s bursting with aggression.
Tap into the high-rev fireworks and the 320si punches harder than its 170bhp power figure would suggest, although it’s still a car in which you meticulously maintain momentum rather than rely on the engine’s grunt to cover your mistakes. And that’s really the joy of it. Without huge torque to create traction issues, the chassis feels beautifully balanced (it’s the same set-up as a 320i with the optional M Sport suspension). Turn-in is very quick and totally assured – you can actually feel the lower centre of gravity – and even when you’re carrying as much speed as you dare there’s virtually no understeer. If the corner is long enough to keep the tyres loaded, the si gradually makes the transition into very mild oversteer. Not enough to need correction, more of a rear-led four-wheel drift.
I love the way the 320si allows you to compress every corner into a seamless and efficient action. Turn in, feel the nose bite instantly, then jump on the power – no waiting for the car to settle or fearing the tail might snap away. Stay disciplined and use the si’s grip and poise and it’s a really addictive car to drive. The feeling that you’re squeezing every last drop from engine and chassis is genuinely thrilling.
It’s not perfect. Like all modern BMWs it has a peculiarly bouncy ride on tough surfaces, but the 320si is much more fun than I’d expected. The brakes are strong and feelsome, the gearbox easy and precise, the steering a shade heavy at low speeds but quick and accurate as the pace picks up. It may not go down as one of the great homologation specials, but it’s no disgrace to describe it with those two hallowed words.