THE eagerly awaited 2012 BMW 3 Series 320d sedan is now available in Thailand in three trims: Sport Line, Modern Line and Luxury Line, allowing customers to select a style and adapt it to their individual preferences. Each choice offers subtle differences in interior and exterior appointments, while all three lines are powered by a diesel engine assembled locally at a factory in Rayong. Petrol engine models will follow later.
Courtesy of Millennium Auto Co. Ltd., The BigChilli was the first media organization in Thailand to road test the new 3 Series (Modern Line). I had full use of the car for several days, and I have to say up front that it exceeds all expectations.
BMW 320d Modern Price B2,899,000
Engine type/cylinders /valves In-line/4/4
Injection type/charging type Diesel engine with 3rd generation Common-rail direct injection, Twin Power Turbo technology (Variable Geometry Turbo Technology)
Acceleration 0-100 km/h (sec) 7.6
Top speed (km/h) 230
Average consumption (km/l) 22.7
New 3 Series models were unveiled to the media by Mr. Matthias Pfalz, President of BMW Group Thailand, at a press conference in February, and the Thai public had the opportunity to view and examine the cars the following month at the 33rd Bangkok International Motor Show 2012.
According to BMW dealers, orders for the car started coming in immediately after its debut, which is no surprise. This is the sixth generation of the BMW 3 Series sedan, and it’s the world’s best-selling premium car. Around 12 million have been bought around the world since the first generation was introduced in 1975.
Going through various test drive reviews published in Europe and the United States, where the cars went on sale earlier, most were unsparing in their praise of the car, although a few complained about the automatic start/stop function – a complaint I found legitimate.
Normally I try not to describe too many technical details and specifications of test cars in order not to bore readers, but some of the innovative features of the 320d Modern deserve special mention. These include the high-output BMW TwinPower Turbo four-cylinder diesel engine that gives cutting-edge performance at 184hp and 380Nm (280 lb-ft) of torque, but reduces fuel consumption to only 22.7 km/litre. The state-of-the-art engine with composite aluminum crankcase sets a standard as one of the world’s cleanest and most economical diesel engines.
The 8-speed automatic gearbox boasts extremely fast shift and reaction times and direct downshift capability. In fact, BMW is the first carmaker to offer an 8-speed automatic gearbox in the premium mid-size segment.
The car’s larger dimensions (length 93mm; wheelbase 50mm) mean rear passengers enjoy extra legroom and headroom compared to the car’s predecessor. And there is more space overall with the wide variety of storage compartments. The large pockets in the front doors, whose lines and surfaces open up towards the instrument panel, now have space for drinks containers up to one liter. Two large drinks holders are now integrated in the centre console in front of the gearshift lever. The boot capacity is 480 litres, 20 more than the last model.
Another thing that sets the 320d apart is its Driving Experience Control (DEC) switch. You can choose between ECO PRO, COMFORT and SPORT modes. Each of these predefined set-ups activates different settings for the relevant powertrain and suspension components. In SPORT mode, for example, throttle response is even faster and the steering becomes even more direct.
The new ECO PRO mode, meanwhile, supports an extra-efficient and economy-conscious driving style by changing the accelerator mapping so that the same pedal travel delivers less power than in the standard mode. The ECO PRO mode allows average fuel consumption to be reduced by up to 20%, with a corresponding increase in driving range.
As for the DEC, the driver is able to vary the overall character of the car depending on the driving situation or to suit personal preference. By using the DEC switch, the driver can customize the accelerator response and the power steering characteristics, engine response and Dynamic Stability Control thresholds.
From the outside the 320d looks a lot like a scaled-down 5 Series crossed with its own 3 Series top-selling predecessor. The interior is superbly finished and equipped with everything you could ask for, including iDrive, a feature that integrates a large number of functions with switches located at a central point.
Although the 320d has grown in all dimensions compared to its predecessor, it retains a perfect balance of sportiness and elegance. And this still compact sedan delivers in performance as well, accelerating from 0 to 100 km/h in just 7.6 seconds and capable of a top speed of 230 km/h. In terms of handling, acceleration, braking and balance in sharp turns, the car leaves nothing to be desired.
The average fuel consumption registered in the EU test cycle of 22.7 km/litre and CO2 emissions of 117 g/km is a remarkable improvement on previous 3 Series models with no reduction in power. And speaking of power, you can even tap into more of the car’s potential by opting to shift gears manually.
One innovation which fascinated many people who saw the car during our test period was its automatic boot lid. This can be opened without the use of a key or your hands. As long as you’re in possession of the car’s Comfort Access Control unit, all you have to do is stand behind the car, move your foot underneath the centre of the rear bumper, and the boot automatically unlocks and springs open. This might sound gimmicky, but it is very practical and something to be appreciated, especially when your hands are full.
BMW ConnectedDrive allows passengers to display emails via the operating system iDrive. Incoming emails are shown on the on-board monitor and can also be read out using the optional Text to Speech function. Furthermore, the telephone function allows contacts lists, including image files, to be transferred from mobile phones into the car’s information system via a bluetooth interface. The BMW Connected app also allows driver and passengers to access features such as web radio, Facebook and Twitter via integrated Apple devices. Personal playlists stored on external audio devices can be accessed using iDrive.
The steering wheel is very light and responsive, something Nina Hastings from the BigChilli appreciated when she took her turn behind it. Her overall verdict was: “The Germans have done it again. The car is beautiful both outside and inside and everything in the cabin is well thought and practical.”
Indeed, all instruments surrounding the driver inside the cabin are well positioned and easy to reach. This is really the superb organization the Germans are known for.
The orange lighting of the instrument panel is pleasant, and the sound of the horn is distinctive. Other noticeable features are the up-scaled interior, with contrasting materials and trims; the multi-function screen mounted in the centre of the dashboard; and USB port, aux-in connector and smart phone docking provided under a sliding centre-armrest lid. The exterior mirrors with turning lights look very flashy and elegant.
Stop the Stop/Start
As impressed with the 320d as I was overall, as mentioned previously I agree with reviewers who have knocked its start/stop feature. It may be a great idea on paper, but in practice it is a nuisance. For example, when stopping at a traffic light the engine is automatically shut down to save fuel and cut pollution. It restarts automatically when the driver releases the brake pedal. However, every time the car restarts it shakes a little. If you have to stop every few meters while driving on congested Bangkok roads, this shaking becomes quite annoying. Also, the engine sometimes doesn’t shut down at stops. According to the manual, it depends on various conditions, but it can leave the driver not knowing what to expect. Fortunately the function can be turned off via a button above the ignition.
I also found the suspension a bit hard while driving on deteriorating bumpy Bangkok roads.
When driving in SPORT mode, the suspension gets even stiffer and so does the steering wheel, which as Nina mentioned is otherwise pretty light. After a while I switched back to COMFORT mode because it does exactly what it says.
Finally, a lot of force is required to shut the door.
Despite these few complaints, though, I will summarize this road test as “Sheer Driving Pleasure,” which is of course the BMW slogan.
(Visit thebigchilli.com to see more photos of the car and read the views of a senior sales representative from Millennium Auto, the largest of five BMW dealers in Bangkok).
The BigChilli would like to thank Otto Duffner for allowing us to take photos of the car at his Bei Otto German Restaurant on Sukhumvit Soi 20