I’m seeing a lot of talk about EfficientDynamics from BMW…
You are, because while we’ve read all about the technology – intelligent alternator control, glass mat battery, low-rolling-resistance runflats, regenerative braking (actually nothing of the sort, but still smart) – and have seen it put into practice with the remarkably abstemious 118d, BMW has even bolder aspirations. It wants one in every three cars sold to be fitted with the fuel-saving kit. Heck, even the new M3 has regenerative braking. So, can it make its transition into the volume end? Yes, it seems. BMW’s boast at launch was that it has no hybrid because it’s instead invested in cars we all buy. Well, we buy the 3-series most of all. And now, EfficientDynamics for the 3 is here.
What does it mean for my company 320d, then?
It means 59.1mpg and 128g/km of CO2. Yes, you read that right. For a 177bhp car that does 143mph and 62mph in 7.9 seconds to emit less CO2 than a 1.1-litre Fiat Panda is nothing short of astounding. And there are no lab-friendly, useless-in-the-real-world tricks either, simply remarkable efficiency from a bang up-to-date 2.0-litre diesel, complete with carcinogen-munching particulate filter. A big chunk of the 60,000 3-series sold per year are 320ds. The cumulative happiness for the environment that the 19 percent better fuel economy brings is going to be far greater than any hybrid.
But come on, a glass mat battery can’t be responsible for such economy, can it?
No, but an all-new diesel engine can. Already seen in the facelifted 1-Series, the N47 2.0-litre engine cures the diesel 3-series of its previous ill: quick, but raucous with it. With considerable extra refinement, the balancer-shaft-equipped unit revs smoothly, responds with much more linearity to the throttle and proves a far sweeter, more engaging thing to drive. It transforms the diesel 3; on incisive, supple, non-M Sport suspension, it’s probably the most satisfying real-world car BMW produces The fast-lane herds really are spoilt, particularly as they’ll also enjoy a lowest-possible 18 per cent Benefit In Kind company car tax band. And while the gearlever still vibrates at tickover, BMW even has a solution for this…
Ah yes, stop-start!
Or, in BMW parlance, Start-Stop. Whatever, it works with the, err, dynamic efficiency you’d expect: stop, and so does the engine once you’ve selected neutral (with none of the awful run-down shudder of before). As soon as you press the clutch, the engine’s turning over, and is ready to go when you hit first. Only the most racy of drivers will beat it, and while the engine’s far quieter at tickover, the extra peace (and smug ‘eco’ satisfaction) of it not running at all is pleasing.
I can’t imagine the boss will be too pleased his minions are saving all this cash on tax bills.
He needn’t fear, because the 520d also now features the 177bhp gem. A variant that accounts for nearly half of all 5-series sales, it’s a key car that previously was just a bit, well, underwhelming. Now, the stats are much more on the money: 144mph, 62mph in 8.3 seconds, 55mpg and 136g/km of CO2. Heavens, it produces less CO2 than the wife’s 1.2-litre Clio, and again secures an 18 per cent BIK rating. It's not quite as good as the 3-series, but it's still very good. Interestingly, it seems noisier and clatterier at lower engine speeds, and vibrates a little more at tickover, particularly through the seat. You’re aware of the need to stoke it more as the 258lb ft slug of low-down torque isn’t as useful as the power above 3000rpm. But a standard 5, on sensible wheels, is another BMW treat, with an absorbent ride and decent involvement through corners. More mature, yes, but still far sportier than an E-class, still more engaging than an A6.
And she stops and starts (or starts and stops)?
Ah, funny you should ask. Only if you go for the manual – BMW hasn’t worked out how to detect a driver’s desire to pull away, and thus restart the engine, with an auto yet. And as the majority of cars that BMW sells are four pots, only now is attention being fully switched to the development of Start-Stop six-cylinder cars. So those seeking the full lazy-arse businessman effect will have to make do with 50.4mpg and 149g/km of CO2 (but only an additional 0.1sec on the 62mph dash). It’ll cost them an extra one per cent in BIK, and £1475 for the six-speed ‘box itself. Still impressive.
This 2.0-litre engine got talent, then?
Yes. It’s even managed to transform that perennial underachiever, the X3 2.0d. Before, this was a real lazy pig to drive, engine hacking noisily away, car not doing a fat lot in response. So you wouldn’t expect much from the new one, particularly when you jump in and survey the dated dash, with its old-school dot-matrix digital displays, cumbersome climate control and previous-generation BMW column stalks. It even has a key, for goodness sake, rather than a fob and starter button. But starting it up via this quaint method is worth the effort. Again, yes, it’s a damn sight better. The 0-62mph in 8.9 seconds is but half a second behind a Merc ML 350 petrol, yet unlike that 24mpg behemoth, this returns 43.5mpg and pumps out just 172g/km of CO2 (20g/km less than Islington’s planet-saving SUV of choice, the ‘green’ Lexus RX400h). A 24 percent BIK rating also helps offset the tax hit of this £29,000 4x4 (over £31k if you want an M Sport). That’s a lot of money, mind: never mind the Freelander, you can get a base Discovery 3 for £2k less.
How is it on the roads that few will ever venture from?
The engine performs will all the refinement and vigour that was sorely lacking before. And our M Sport test car had the delicious handling to match. Steering may be loose and light at dead-ahead, but it’s extremely crisp and the agility of this SUV is fantastic – it’s genuinely good fun to punt along a back road, particularly as the engine’s greater and more instantaneous shove allows you to really exploit the xDrive 4x4 system for (you’d imagine) WRC on-power plantedness. Get the right surface and you can even exploit it into a tiny rear drift: excellent. The ride, however, is intolerable. It’s not harsh, per se – just quite astoundingly bouncy, in a super-frenetic, sitting-on-a-spinning-washing-machine way. It’s the sort of body dynamics you expect of a racing saloon, not a big SUV.
Who needs hybrid? BMW sells diesels that are almost as economical on paper, and probably less thirsty in real-world conditions. The 2.0-litre diesel barely costs any more than before, is a much nicer thing to use, and quite firmly gives BMW an economic case that’s simply impossible to argue with. EfficientDynamics hasn’t come cheap for the company, but the praise it deserves for it is immeasurable. And the sooner something like the M3, or a 7-series, has the full plethora of technology as well, the better.