Our new 320d SE is the latest car to head down Rick Stein’s way and while it suggests that I really ought to go somewhere else on holiday every now and again, it proves a useful way of subjecting cars to all sorts of conditions, from motorways to winding country roads to bombarding seagulls.
The A14, M6, M5 and A30 provide the high speed roads, while the rather grandly-named Atlantic Highway provides some twists and turns through the countryside. And as the 320d had been delivered the day I went, it was dropped in at the deep end, but it proved what I’d been suspicious of since I went on the international launch in January: this might be the best car in the world.
The 320d, like all truly great drivers’ cars, has a sweet spot. It will trundle about happily enough, but find yourself on a stretch of winding Cornish road not populated by those big mobile Tupperware boxes being towed by oblivious holidaymakers and it will come alive.
Start to push the 320d and the steering just lightens slightly, then you start to feel the tyres working beneath, through the seat and your hands. The whole car seems to rise up on its toes, ready for the challenge ahead, all four corners sending you perfectly defined messages.
But don’t assume that just because it is great through a corner it has a stiff set-up. In fact it is beautifully damped, and although the ride is firm, it smothers any harshness and cruises silently on a motorway.
And it was doing 42mpg straight out of the box with the diesel engine pulling quietly but insistently. So it is quick, it handles beautifully, has good fuel economy, low emissions and excellent residual values.
It also has no iDrive system, which is a £1,585 option. Pretty much every BMW I‘ve driven for the past couple of years has had iDrive, but with the 320d I can’t work out what I’m missing apart from the obvious sat-nav. The radio and CD works fine without iDrive, the climate control works fine without it, and the dashboard has a more elegant sweep without that unsightly plastic tent bolted on to the binnacle.
The 320d proved so popular that even the seagulls took a liking to it. A friend – hardly the most salty of seadogs – reckoned their poo-based bombardment was more to do with its sea-coloured paint than its flame surfacing lines. He theorised that they mistook it for water from above.
So what are its faults? There’s not a lot of room in the back, but then there never was and never will be, and from the C-pillar back I think the design looks like a far-Eastern copy of a 3-series.
We’ve got a lot more miles to do yet before a conclusion can be reached, but the 320d does everything in such a consummate way that, when you examine relative costs, it does more for its money than nearly anything else on the market and I can’t see our early opinion changing.
In fact, I’ll fling aside all journalistic cynicism and just say it: the BMW 320d is the best car in the world.
What we expect
THE BMW 3-series has been one of the most popular company cars for years, and we expect more of the same with the new car. It has always retained strong residual values despite selling in huge numbers, and the new car should do the same. But it has to be a great driver’s car as well as a working tool, and in diesel form should return excellent fuel economy and good performance.
The manufacturer’s view
‘THE BMW 320d saloon is a key model and although 2005 will not be a full sales year, great things are still expected of the 320d and the 3-series range as a whole. When focusing on the 320d with its predicted class-leading residual values of 50% after three years, it is easy to see why the order bank for this model swelled prior to launch.’
Bernard Bradley, general manager corporate sales, BMW
Equipment and options
Total options £2,795
Standard price (OTR) £24,390
Price as tested £27,185
Model: BMW 320d SE
Price (OTR): £24,390 (£27,185 as tested)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 153
Company car tax bill (2005/6) 40% tax-payer: £1,647
Insurance group: 14
Combined mpg: 49.6
Test mpg: 41.7
CAP Monitor residual value: £11,300/47%
Expenditure to date: Nil
Typical contract hire rate: £480
Figures based on three-years/60,000-miles