In the summer we tested BMW’s eco-diesel in the baby 1-series, and pretty good it was too. But what happens when you slip a mean-sounding 114bhp under the snout of the bigger 3-series? Is £35 annual tax sufficient recompense? And is the 316d really capable of 62.8mpg?
Okay, the economy thing first. How good is the new BMW 316d in real life?
Hands up, we didn’t crack that headline 62.8mpg figure. In a week of mixed driving – commuting the slow way, commuting the quicker way, a bit of round-town pottering and a 300-mile motorway journey – we managed 50.3mpg. I confess I was hoping for more, but let’s get some perspective. I got 43mpg after a similar week in a Vauxhall Insignia 2.0CDTi, not quite 40mpg in a Merc E220CDI, and 49mpg in the identically engined BMW 116d. In fact, the 316d matched exactly the VW Polo 1.6TDI I ran a couple of months ago. And that can’t be bad for a family saloon.
Is the 316d really just a 1.6?
No, of course it isn’t. As is often the case with today’s Beemers, that badge on the back tells a fib. This one shares its 2.0-litre block with the 318d and the 320d. It’s simply been tweaked towards economy rather than outright power, and it’s accompanied by BMW’s sensible start/stop and brake energy regen eco measures.
Sure, you miss out on the thwack of the 320d, but 192lb ft is pretty healthy and the piddly-sounding 114bhp doesn’t feel as denuded as you might expect.
Strangely, there's an even greener Three: the 320d Efficient Dynamics has lowered suspension, a dual-mass flywheel and a full-fat 161bhp and 265lb ft – yet it manages 109g/km and a claimed 68.9mpg. The drawback? It costs £26,680. The 316d, as the badge suggests, is your budget option.
Just how slow is it, then?
It doesn’t feel slow at all because there’s sufficient low-rev diesel punch; it’s just less visceral here than in its bigger brothers. Overtaking can take a little planning because you can’t simply rely on a huge wedge of torque, and it’s run out of steam by 4000rpm, but cruising is comfortable and relaxed. The gearing is ultra-high though – try an indicated 40mph per 1000rpm in top. That means you’ll sometimes find yourself slotting back to fifth and even fourth if you need to regain speed rapidly on the motorway.
Still, it’s an easygoing, likeable drive, but with a character that both encourages and benefits smoothness rather than outright hooliganism.
How about the rest of the new BMW 316d?
It’s the usual deal: distinctive inside and out with a slick finish to match. The start/stop thing works unobtrusively and there’s reasonable standard equipment: alloys, air-con, CD and electric windows are the highlights.
Dynamically it’s as good as ever, with quick, accurate steering, brilliant poise and a mostly supple ride: no other eco-car is this much fun. The 316d isn't fault-free, though. Road noise can intrude on some surfaces, and there’s more wind noise here than in an Audi A4 or a Merc C-class. And the Three is beginning to date, despite last year’s facelift: it’s just too familiar now, even if it looks more interesting than an A4.
When we heard about the economy special 3-series in the office, we all though: ‘Great, a Three for less than £20k!’ How wrong we were. The 316d is really a fleet special, offering a cheap tax disc and an attractive BIK income tax proposition, as well as the promise of good fuel economy. But you won’t feel short-changed as you ply the nation’s highways.