Gavin Green on 2012's fine new F30 BMW 3-series

Published: 21 February 2012

Just back from Spain, where I’ve been driving the new 3-series saloon on those magical winding roads of Andalusia. As expected, it is a terrific car.

The new one is a step-on from its predecessor, especially in cabin quality, handling and looks (leaner, sleeker, less multi-angle Bangled). The agility and balance of the new 3 – I drove both 320d and 328i – are outstanding. Ride suppleness is also excellent.

My only disappointment is the engines. The 320d has more clatter and chatter than I’d expected, although it is outstanding in other areas. Especially its delicious – both driver and tax friendly – meld of power and fuel parsimony: 62.8mpg (combined cycle) meets 118g/km CO2 meets 7.6 sec 0-62mph meets 143mph top speed. Those are automatic transmission figures. That makes them even more extraordinary.

Honestly, with internal combustion engines this efficient (and with city stop-start) you really wonder what is the point of pricey hybrids. As hybrid sales collapsed last year in America – the world’s biggest hybrid market – car buyers are clearly wondering about the point of them too. (European hybrid sales, of course, are still risibly low.)

The 328i: not quite the ultimate driving machine

The 328i also has a brilliant mix of speed and fuel sipping. On full turbocharged song this is an inspiring sports saloon. Trouble is, I’m used to those delicious straight-six-cylinder normally aspirated engines that have powered 328s (and 323s and 325s) over many generations; their smoothness; their snarl; and most important, their throttle response. I’m sorry, but this 2.0-litre four – despite impressive performance figures and brilliant economy – just doesn’t deliver the same mechanical driving enjoyment. It’s the mid-bend throttle response – where you steer the car as much with the accelerator as the steering wheel. It’s that instant crack! of power that’s just a toe twitch away. It’s that glorious yowling when the revs swing high.

That straight-six engine was all the reason you ever needed to buy a BMW.

Of course, I know why BMW is deserting its six-cylinder roots in favour of smaller turbo fours. Those spoilsports who dictate low-carbon motoring demand it.

Just what does the name 328i mean…

Oh, and one more nitpick. The badges. I know why BMW uses the 328i moniker. It’s historic. It has heritage. It summons up visions of lissom post-war sportsters and great sports saloons. M3 aside, it’s probably the most iconic badge you can get for a 3-series.

But it’s a lie. As any schoolboy knows, 328i means 3-series 2.8 litres fuel injection. Not 3-series 2.0 litres. I’m sorry, this just won’t do. But lo and behold, the deception doesn’t end there. The 335i model – with satisfying straight-six power but sadly not available for sampling in Spain – has a 3.0-litre engine. Not 3.5. Of course, BMW plays the same trick with the 5-series. It’s played them with the 3-series before.

And BMW isn’t the only one.

Over at archrival Mercedes, we find the C-class 200 CDI (diesel) has 2.2 litres. Not the 2.0 implied by the badge. The 220 CDI, indeed, has 2.2 litres (or 2143cc, but that’s close enough). But the 250 CDI has the same 2.2 litres (eh?). The 350 CDI has only 3.0 litres. The petrol powered 250 has 1.8 litres.

Higher up in the Mercedes range, the S500 – another iconic badge – actually has 4.7 litres not 5.0. The S600L has 5.5 litres not 6.0, as the badge historically implies.

It is all very confusing.

All I can say is that I hope the German engineers developing the engines are better at mathematics than the German marketers who develop the badges.


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By Gavin Green

Contributor-in-chief, former editor, anti-weight campaigner, voice of experience