BMW’s birthday car offers epic options

No 1: BMW’s status is deserved because much of its model range is class leading



What exactly is it? The entry-level version of the National Business Review’s Supreme Car of the Year for 2012, the BMW 3 Series, with an additional equipment package to celebrate 30 years of the Munich brand in New Zealand.

Powertrain: 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four producing 135kW/270Nm. Eight-speed automatic transmission, rear-drive. Combined fuel consumption 6.0 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 7.6 seconds.

Anything interesting in the equipment list? The Edition 30 gains bi-xenon/adaptive headlights with high-beam assist, business navigation system, reversing camera, brushed aluminium interior trim, high-gloss black grille, rear spoiler, head-up display and 18-inch alloy wheels. What it does not have is a model badge: the “320i” graphic has been deleted from the boot lid.

Price: $75,900

And so we begin, by looking ever-so-slightly backward.

To the National Business Review’s Supreme Car of the Year for 2012, the BMW 3 Series. The Three has been a regular visitor to our company carpark to date and a welcome one.

A car does not receive this publication’s top automotive prize without being uniformly excellent, and this new BMW proved itself a highly accomplished machine in a number of different variants.

But we start 2013 at a risky place: the bottom of the 3 Series range, the 320i. It’s rare for a carmaker to tick every box with every model variant and history has taught us that even when you’re talking about the world’s best compact-executive car, it’s not always satisfying to drive a bargain.

That was certainly the case with the previous-generation 3 Series. It was a superb car in its time, save the entry-level 320i. The powertrain, in particular, did not do the BMW badge justice.

The car looked and felt underwhelming and I think that was why it was not widely circulated to the motoring press.

But times have changed. The first car in my garage for 2013 is the new BMW 320i.

Late edition

There is ostensibly a simple reason why the 320i has suddenly appeared on test. BMW New Zealand celebrates its 30th year as a factory distributor in 2013 and has put together a special equipment package for three models to mark the occasion.

From this month, you can have a 116i, 320i or 320d in so-called Edition 30 form, with a long list of extra equipment and little increase to the retail price.

All very interesting and you can read what gets added to the shopping list below. But that Edition 30 badge had nothing to do with my eagerness to obtain the keys of this particular 3 Series. Being the most humble of the breed, I really wanted to know whether the 320i was any good.

Hard to be humble

Part of the answer can be found on paper, before you get near the car. Component sharing is the way forward for premium carmakers, even if it brings with it the desire to complicate the model names and occasionally confuse buyers in the interests of maintaining marketing hierarchy.

The point I’m getting to is that in years gone by there was a world of difference between, say, a BMW 320i and a 328i. These days, the 320i and 328i are powered by the same basic powertrain; one with higher outputs than the other, naturally, but the same engine and transmission, nonetheless.

With consumer expectation about comfort/safety equipment being what it is, overall you’d be hard pressed to call the 320i the poor cousin. Quite the opposite when you add in that Edition 30 package.

That’s all on paper. On the road, the 320i is every bit as accomplished as you might expect. As you might know already, the focus is very much on four-cylinder engines with the sixth-generation 3 Series, so a lot of work has gone into producing a powerplant that serves up just the right combination of muscle and zing (bear with me on these technical terms).

The 3 Series is still arguably the best combination of BMW core values in a single package: slightly brash but superbly functional, treading that delicate line between genuinely green credentials and handling that elevates the car to proper sporting status.

I drove the 320i 700km in a weekend and never once thought it short of power, such was the momentum the car is capable of carrying through difficult corners. Fuel economy was astonishingly good for a petrol-turbo engine, under seven litres per 100km. I never once felt I had to drive gently to achieve that, either.

All the time, my passengers were blissfully unaware of the enthusiasm displayed in the driver’s seat, such was the car’s smooth power delivery and relaxed gait.

I consider the Edition 30 package a good thing, but perhaps not for the reasons you might think. BMW gets the fundamentals absolutely right with the 3 Series but the epic options list offered for this (and every other) model from the Munich maker does seem to distract from the fact that you are buying one of the best all-round cars in the world, regardless of how many electronic toys are attached.

Ticking the Edition 30 box means you can simply take a big gift pack away without agonising over the tiny details and get on with enjoying the car. And the 320i’s talents are just as obvious as any other 3 Series, which is really what you need to know about this model.

Souped-up sales

BMW New Zealand has another reason to celebrate this year. It finished 2012 as the top-selling luxury brand in the country, ending a five-year reign by Audi. BMW finished the year with 1646 sales, just ahead of Audi at 1540. Mercedes-Benz sat well back on 1094 passenger-car registrations.

So, between the top two, there really wasn’t much in it. Car company people will tell you that being No 1 isn’t the most important thing in the world – at least the ones that come in second do. BMW has been saying it for years. But trust me, their people really, really care.

From a commentator’s point of view, BMW’s current status is well deserved because much of its model range is clearly class-leading. Even when you’re talking about entry-level compact-executive cars.

4 · Got a question about this story? Leave it in Comments & Questions below.

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4 Comments & Questions

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With all these options it still has far less kit than a humble Ford Focus Titanium, which has adaptive cruise control and self-parking, to name just two things missing from the BMW.

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I want a 335i :-)

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How come that one could buy a brand-new BMW from a dealership in Remura Rd just off Broadway in the late 50s /early 60s?
BMWs have been available here in NZ for well over 40 years at least.

Merv B.

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Having had my E36 for nearly five years I tend to think of a BMW as an over-priced Toyota. Admittedly it is a Jap import, but is still a 100,000km car. Compared to our Camry, some peripherals are twice the price and half the lifetime.

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