I can still remember rocking up at the Geneva Motor Show in 2008, knowing that the Irish Government was about to implement its new CO2-based motor tax and VRT system. And it was when I saw the BMW stand that I began to feel a touch sorry for most other car makers. Why? Because, alongside each of the achingly desirable cars on its stand, BMW had posted the CO2 emissions for each model. And they were low – staggeringly low. The raw ‘want-one-now’ appeal of the BMW badge was already well established in the public mind, but by adding frugality and tax efficiency to the mix, BMW was setting itself up for serious success.
And so it has proved. Even in the dull depths of recession, BMW continues to post record profits and sales, both here and around the world. This BMW 320d EfficientDynamics is the perfect example of how the Munich car maker is managing to so deftly balance the right-brain, left-brain sides of its appeal.
That the 3 Series is desirable, I think we can pretty much take as read. Famously, about a decade ago, the sought after 3 passed out the supposedly more common Ford Mondeo in the UK in sales terms, and, while it hasn’t quite managed that here yet, BMW 320d is still the most searched for used car term on internet car sales sites. That too is hardly a surprise. The 320d has become an Acme of what a compact, sporty premium car should be. Fun to drive, briskly quick yet as frugal and as low in emissions as it is possible to be. The EfficientDynamics badge on this model indicates that it has the potential to be the most frugal 3 Series yet, adding some clever aerodynamic tweaks, some extra electronic devilment and ultra-low-rolling resistance tyres into the mix to eke out every last drop of diesel to its fullest potential.
BMW claims average fuel economy of 4.1-litres per 100km for this car, which equates to 68mpg. Rather stunningly, given all the recent publicity about car makers artificially inflating their fuel economy figures, you should be able to get that from the car, or at least very nearly. Over a week of high, varied mileage, we managed to get 4.5-litres per 100km overall, which is pretty remarkable. Even more so, the only other car we’ve driven this year that managed the same figure over the same routes was a Renault Clio diesel.
Co2 emissions of 109g/km mean you’ll pay just €180 a year in motor tax, but, if there is a downside, it’s in the refinement department. That engine, such a paragon of efficiency, is just too noisy, and rivals from Audi and Mercedes show it the way home when it comes to quietness. That said, 163hp means it’s no slouch in a straight line and if you have the selectable driving mode switched over to Sport (which seems to make little or no dent in the economy) then the 320d ED feels every bit the classic, exciting BMW sports saloon.
With a 50:50 weight distribution and hefty weighting to the steering, you’re never in doubt that you’re in charge of a true German thoroughbred, but it must be said that the ultra-efficient low resistance tyres do take a slight edge off the handling. A standard BMW 320d may be €400 more expensive, but on the right tyres it would probably prove slightly more fun to drive too. Still, the ride quality is little short of amazing – it rolls and flexes with the road surface in a way that you just wouldn’t have credited a car fitted with sporty suspension and stiff-walled runflat tyres.
The cabin also sticks to traditional BMW lines. It’s dark in colour and simple in layout, and as ever is focused around the driver. The seats are wonderfully comfy, space in the back and boot is good and you’ve got to love the crisp, clear elegance of the main instruments – still a benchmark when most rival efforts look over-styled and cheap. The only criticism is that it can still feel a bit plain and unadorned in here, unless you fancy a long and expensive descent of the options list.
So what we have here is a desirable premium German saloon that drives, rides and performs as if it were born to be King of the Autobahn, yet which carries with it the fuel economy and tax rating of a small French hatchback. Yes, at €43,000 as tested it’s hardly a bargain,