The first option is a no-cost one – Sport Line package. Available on 318i, 320i, 320d, 330i and 330e, the Sport Line pack is the equivalent of adding red braces to a suit. High-gloss black exterior trim, and the same gloss black on the dashboard (with Coral Red highlights), combine with red detailing on the car key, instruments and the stitching on the sports steering wheel. Sport Line also brings sports front seats with extra bolstering – to hold you in place better around corners.
Step past the three-cylinder 318i and spend more for a four-cylinder 320i and you get the more powerful and refined engine and the choice of sedan or wagon (Touring) body styles.
You also gain powered front seat adjustment, with memory on the driver’s seat (so that you can restore immediately your settings after a companion has driven the car). There is Adaptive M suspension, which lets you adjust how the car rides over the road – choosing to maximise comfort, or to sacrifice some comfort for sharper handling. And you get a Lights Package that brings LED interior courtesy and reading lights, ambient lighting that illuminates the cabin softly at night, and puddle lights that show you what’s under the doors when you open them.
The sedan-only 320d brings you the fuel-sipping diesel engine, and the same equipment as the 320i.
Spend more again for a 330i (sedan or wagon) and you get the more powerful of the two four-cylinder petrol engines. Wheel diameter increases to 19 inches and the rear tyres get wider, adding a little extra grip but achieving more in looks. The 330i has leather upholstery (less costly models have man-made Sensatec trim). You can unlock the car without removing the proximity key from your pocket or bag. And you get the 8.8-inch colour screen with a more versatile satellite navigation system, which includes a DVD drive, 3D map view, and 20GB of music storage space.
For not much more than a 330i you could have instead the 330e, which brings you the petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain based on the 320i’s engine. Equipment matches the 330i’s, except that the 330e does not have the driver-adjustable adaptive suspension.
A Luxury Line package is a no-cost option on the 330i and the 330e. It includes wood-veneer interior panels and a bunch of exterior and interior chrome highlights. (Luxury Line is also a no-cost option on the six-cylinder 340i. It is available at extra cost on the 318i, 320i and 320d, where it also brings you leather upholstery.)
Spending considerably more on a 340i brings you the turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine and a container load of extra gear. There is a leather-trimmed instrument panel, a powered blind for the rear window, roller blinds for the rear side windows, extended smartphone connectivity, and a superb 16-speaker Harman/Kardon surround-sound system. The power-adjusted front seats gain an adjustment for lumbar (lower back) support, and heaters. Adaptive LED headlights dip automatically for oncoming drivers, and shine into corners when you turn the wheel. Variable Sport Steering adjusts how directly the front wheels respond to the steering wheel.
You also get Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go function. This includes automatic braking that can initiate a full emergency stop at city and highway speeds (up to 210km/h), if it detects an obstacle. It also slows you to the speed of a vehicle ahead, and returns to your set speed when the road is clear. And it can control the car in stop-start traffic, braking and accelerating to maintain your place.
(This more sophisticated, radar-based auto braking system is available as an extra-cost option on the 320i, 320d, 330i and 330e.)
And you get Connected Drive Freedom, which brings concierge services (any-time call-centre assistance for destinations and points of interest, which are then auto-programmed to your vehicle).
The 340i offers an M Sport package as a no-cost add-on. That means front seats that hold you in place better, an excellent M Sport steering wheel, a firmer Adaptive M suspension tune for sharper handling, and a range of interior and exterior window-dressing that includes an M Sport bodykit.
The M3 is all about performance and road presence. So it gets its own, lightweight (designed to improve cornering) 19-inch wheels, even wider tyres, and broader bodywork with touches such as four exhaust tips to make sure it doesn’t get ignored. And that thunderous twin-turbo driveline, of course. The M3 Competition lifts the performance profile a further notch, with bigger and wider tyres, stiffer suspension, a marginally more spartan interior, and yet more power.
Generally speaking, each model upgrade involves more performance rather than more trinkets. That said, the range of options is complex enough to be confusing. Make sure you ask a salesperson plenty of questions and be absolutely sure you’re getting what you want, rather than merely what he or she wants to sell you from stock on the floor.