The new 3-series is here and it’s got a lot to live up for because in recent times people often tend more towards comfort and luxury than driving pleasure. So does the 320d xDrive still provide “Freude am Fahren”?

When BMW launches a new 3 Series, it’s always very exciting because the car has become such an icon for its fanbase that the expectations are high. Just like any other manufacturer, BMW wants to increase sales which means adding more selling features for the masses. So how does the 320d xDrive cater to both enthusiasts and the mass?

Total makeover

The new 320d has received a massive overhaul on the outside with a new design language. The most notable change at the front you’ll see is the renewed double LED lights with the small indent at the bottom. Another notable design change is the T-shaped air intakes. Very distinctive changes whilst still retaining the true BMW angel eyes (with optional laser light) and kidneys.

Moving along to the side of the car, just behind the front wheels is a slight indent that gives a subtle yet sporty impression of an air extractor sitting there.
A change that hit some controversy is what’s called the Hoffmeister kink. If you’re not aware of what it is, have a look here. Essentially BMW reinterpreted the way the kink curves and it triggered a select crowd of BMW fans. It doesn’t really bother me that much because design language needs to change all the time. Otherwise, you could just not bother making a new design in the first place.

Towards the back, you’ll find the same T-shaped vents just above the twin tailpipes. One of the few cars in this market that still has actual exhaust pipes! Hats off to you BMW.
Another part of the back that gets a reshape is the taillights. They get a similar slim L-shape like the ones we’ve seen on the new X4.

That continues inside as well…

For years people have been complaining that BMW interiors have looked the same for so long.
Well, that’s changed with the introduction of a fully digital instrument cluster. The old round dials have gone for hexagon-shaped dials with the rev counter running anticlockwise. In the center, there’s room enough to fit the navigation. It would be nice if you could use this space for more than just navigation as well but it does come in very handy.

The seats are also very comfortable and have nice enough side supports through the corners. The new infotainment system is such a step up compared to the previous generation.
It’s visually so much more attractive and responsive thanks to the integration of touch screen. Don’t like making your screen greasy from your fingers? Then BMW still offers the good old rotational knob with a touch screen on top. So much better than the mouse pad inside a different German manufacturer’s cars.

Comfort am Fahren?

So this is a very tricky subject since BMW’s slogan has always been to provide sheer driving pleasure. But the market has shifted nowadays and to keep selling new cars, most people don’t look for a thrilling ride but more towards comfort. So BMW has to take on the challenge of creating a car that is both thrilling as well as a joy to take on long trips every day of the week.

Well, whilst the car increases in length and width. It still retains its characteristic BMW 50/50 weight distribution and depending on your configuration, the car is 55 kg lighter than the previous generation. Sounds promising!

In comfort setting the 320d xDrive feels… hardly noticeable really. Its engine is very quiet and there’s plenty of torque low down to push you gently forward. That and the 8-speed is a masterpiece in quick shifts and is virtually unnoticeable. And, even though it holds 190 hp and 400 Nm’s, you can get fuel consumption as low as 4,5L/100 km on long journeys.

Freude am Fahren?

Push up to the sport mode and the 320d livens up. Suddenly that quiet engine is gone as the 8-speed kicks down a few gears, ready to hit the gas pedal. Thanks to the 400 Nm’s of torque, the car packs quite the punch. Essentially because the gearbox also kicks things up a notch by shifting more aggressively pushing the car even faster forward.
Pulling through corners is also no problem. Whilst the xDrive might not be RWD, it still feels quite like it, only ever interfering when the back starts slipping away. And with this setup, it has so much grip. It’ll be very interesting to see how the upcoming M3 will improve on this since it’s already so good and balanced.

These dogs also walked past and I asked them what they thought of the new 3 Series and after an exciting “Woof” they wanted to pose next to the car. The new 3 Series: Dog Approved

The judgment

Seeing as the new 3 series received so much criticism I had an expectation that the car would leave me generally numb. I’m happy that the 320d proved me wrong. It’s not on the same infotainment level as say Mercedes but it’s damn close. Dynamically though, it still retains the “Freude am Fahren” and at the end of the day, the combination of this docile sheep character with fun at the push of a button was something that showed me BMW hasn’t lost it.

Through the lens

Since my gear was stolen last year I’ve lost a lens that’s been one of my all-time favorites. So I knew I had to get one again whenever I could.
A quick browse on eBay and a few clicks later and I was back in possession of a Helios 44-2. It’s far from an expensive lens but it comes from a time period where optical imperfections actually created lenses that give character.
You wouldn’t find a lens like this made anymore by big companies because it has too many light leaks or flares too much. Certain people will like it, others will hate it. Older is not necessarily better like some people would love to tell ya.
And so the market has moved to cater to a much broader public with a product that has fewer “faults” and will overall be better. Now let that sink in for a moment.