Fleet News

BMW 320d SE

BMW

Review

PERHAPS I am in a minority, both in the FNN office and in the wider world of the company car parc, in my initial lack of enthusiasm for the BMW 3-series.

I think my minority report was based on the fantastic job the German manufacturer has done in raising expectations of how good its products are.

Therefore, when I first experienced the 3-series – the previous model – I was expecting a gold-plated dashboard with Sienna Miller in the passenger seat.

As it was, I had set my expectations higher than it was possible for anyone to deliver, so what hope did the latest 3-series have when it joined our test fleet?

First impressions were worrying, with the same pedal layout designed for press-on driving, with a clutch set too close to the brake pedal for my liking, meaning I had to twist my leg to change gear.

Weighty, if direct, steering which I found too heavy on the last generation model remained, as did an overly-firm ride.

So why did I choose to run the 3-series when our test fleet offers such delights as the Mercedes-Benz S-class and a newly-delivered Jaguar XJ6.

Well, when the deputy editor and motoring editor both look on in bewilderment at your bonkers view on Germany’s finest, a reappraisal is long overdue. And I am glad I did, because as the miles pass, what I had initially seen as negatives became positives.

After all, if you are used to cheap suits, then a tailor-made alternative is bound to feel a bit odd at first. So, after more than 1,000 miles, the driving position feels perfect and I haven’t had a twinge or ache yet on long journeys.

The steering remains heavy at slow speeds, but at anything above parking speeds it is fine and having explored its impeccable handling on country roads, it makes complete sense.

I forgive the firm ride, because the result is sure-footed handling at any speed, which combined with an incredibly flexible engine gives the car an insatiable appetite for high mileages.

However, while the driving position now makes complete sense, flaws remain, even if they are few and far between.

The BMW Professional radio feels unnecessarily cheap, as it doesn’t even give the name of the radio station you are listening to, just the frequency. And the two stalks for the indicators and cruise control are too similar, so several times I have flashed the lights when I just wanted to increase speed. German logic seems to have failed at this point.

But considering the point at which the 3-series started in my estimation, the Bavarian motor worked incredibly hard to achieve its current position, which is as a firm favourite of mine. I won’t be giving up the keys in a hurry, and I didn’t expect to be saying that a few weeks ago.

Factfile:

Model: BMW 320d SE
Price (OTR): £24,390 (£27,185 as tested)
Mileage: 8,680
CO2 emissions (g/km): 153
Company car tax bill (2005/6): 40% tax-payer £137 a month
Insurance group: 14
Combined mpg: 49.6
Test mpg: 40
CAP Monitor residual value: £11,100/46%
Expenditure to date: £5.50 (half a litre of oil)
Typical contract hire rate: £471
Figures based on three-years / 60,000-miles

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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