5 0 5
Plus & Minus
Technologically advanced interior, strong four cylinder engine, M Sport goodies as standard
Average rear seat space, overly thick steering wheel, Android Auto still unavailable
The Wheels Verdict: Mercedes-Benz has long held the high ground in the premium sedan sales race but BMW is back with a real fighter in the G20 3 Series. Packing more tech, more equipment and taking a leaf from its driver’s car roots, the segment just got a whole lot more competitive.
What is the BMW 320i?
The BMW 320i is the entry-level specification of 3 Series from BMW that doesn’t actually feel ‘entry-level’ at all. The sheer level of kit you get from the base model and the amount of tech you can equip it with means it rivals its more expensive 330i stablemate while retaining the same2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine, albeit in a slightly detuned specification.
Why are we testing it?
The 3 Series is already a well-known Wheels Car of the Year competitor but we wanted to see how it would fare in the real world. Sure, the 320i doesn’t stock the same firepower as the M-fettled M340i nor does it have the same kick as the higher-grade 330i, but in its base guise the 320i just might be the unsung hero of the 3 Series range for everyday activity.
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BMW 3 Series review
The new 3 Series has been on Australian roads for a year now and has been well regarded at launch, in Wheels tests and even at 2020 Car of the Year – despite not making it past the first stage.
But one model that has so far eluded us is the base specification 320i. Despite there being a decently sizable jump of $6000 to go from a 320i to 330i, the 320i’s $65,900 base price includes a comfortable amount of kit, and you can option your way up to a 330i specification anyway.
It does only make do with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine in 135kW/300Nm tune, which sounds tame on paper but in practice feels perky enough for the everyday schlep and provides a surprisingly satisfying engine burble when you creep up through the rev range. The BMW 320i can sprint to 100km/h in 7.2 seconds – nothing to scoff at.
BMW fans will be pleased to hear that the M Sport package is now included as standard, bringing cool equipment like an M Aerodynamics kit, M Sport brakes and suspension, sportier steering wheel and black headliner to the base model. In addition to the sporty M-specific parts, the 320i also receives advanced driver assist features, parking assistant, LED headlights and a wireless phone charger as standard.
Compared to its predecessor which was really starting to wear old, the G20 3 Series is a far nicer place to be and presents much more vibrant and tech-filled than before. The new dual-screen infotainment system that incorporates the instrument cluster is smartly laid out and the graphics are nice to look at, and the new iDrive 7 software is simple to use. Voice commands are a bit of a hit-and-miss affair, however. Best stick to the tried-and-true rotary dial controller or the touchscreen.
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Up front you’re treated to a fantastic low seating position, the seats are comfortable and supportive and everything feels well-rounded ergonomically. The digital instrument cluster, while it displays more information than ever, isn’t quite as legible as the easy-glance mechanical dials of old.
Moving rearward, the second row seats are comfortable for taller people but may get tiresome on longer drives. Best mitigated by taking a break or being shorter. The boot fits 480 litres of air (on par with its German rivals) and the rear seats fold in a 40/20/40 format.
On the road is where you come to realise that despite being an entry-level variant, the 320i is arguably one of the strongest variants in the G20 3 Series range. BMW has an innate ability to work wonders with a four-cylinder, which feels strong and torquey even in its 135kW/300Nm tune. The eight-speed gearbox also should take some credit for being extremely smooth and obedient, always calculating the most appropriate ratio for a given situation.
One thing we’re not so hot on is the overly thick steering wheel, but the steering feel itself is nice and weighty and you can easily feel your way through road surfaces. It sticks flat through bends while remaining pleasantly supple over smaller imperfections, only really becoming unstuck over larger speedbumps which can throw the rear end around.
Many suggested this 3 Series was to become the return to form for a brand that once was held in high regard in terms of driver engagement and if BMW can deliver such a comprehensive package at a base-level, stepping up to a higher model isn’t exactly necessary.
Audi A4 35 TFSI; Lexus IS300; Mercedes-Benz C200
BMW 320i PRICE AND SPECS
Model: BMW 320i
Engine: 1998cc in-line 4, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 135kW @ 5000rpm
Max torque: 300Nm @ 1350-4000rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Economy: 6.3L/100km (claimed)
On sale: Now