UK Car Road Test

BMW 320 SE TURBO D 2004

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Cost New 23700    Residual @ 3 years 56%
Produced from  Sep 1 2001 to Current

If you owned a 150bhp 3 series BM you would think of it as a sporting little number, right?

If it gave you 30mpg average you would think yourself lucky, would you not?

If it averaged over 40 mpg and could stretch out to 60mpg you would think someone was pulling your proverbial, would you not?

Yet here it is -  modern oneupmanship for your driveway with a distinct distaste for the garage forecourt.  

Worst bits first - sad British Racing Green colour and the street cred defeating badge


The 3 series BMW is a good looking car although the colour choice on this one could have been better.  The trade mark twin grilles are there and as attractive as ever. The car is distinctive from the front with its hooded light set up and with the super small fogs set discretely in the frontal air dam. Lots of white glass also gives a good effect.

Having seen the shapes that BMW are pushing with the later model, I think that this generation of 3 could well be the best looking ever and remain so for a good long time. Despite the image, the lines are really quite soft and somewhat at odds with the 3 series's hard driving image.  The big alloys are tastefully restrained too.

Build quality is exemplary with perfect shut lines and gaps. The doors feel heavy and solid and shut with a positivity that assures you that the hinges will not drop for many a year.  

For many, the 3 remains the pinnacle of car design and a lot of this is down to those smooth sophisticated looks, nothing ageingly radical or ground breaking, just the best  of current thinking and good taste.

Inside, BMW's usual stark blacks and greys have softened with a slight patina. Still, not the daft jazzy patterns that afflict many other motors though. It makes the interior feel much more airy and less gloomy than older versions.

The trim and dash design has stayed fairly stable and looks just as you would expect if you steeped out of any other 3 series and BMW have done well, in my eyes, not to follow down the Mini Cooper overkill lines. As a result, the interior remains almost classical in its elegant simplicity.  

Other than the rather fussy steering wheel, the switches and dials remain simple, uncluttered and elegant.

Interior space, especially the rear, continues to grow with each successive version, though at the expense of an ever growing body.

Apart from the slightly messy-looking steering wheel, the interior remains an attractive and sporting proposition. The short, stubby shifter remains in place and positively encourages maximum use, falling neatly to hand with just a short reach from there to the offset handbrake for a quick handbrake turn. 

 

Whilst the price differentials between BMWs and lesser cars have remained fairly steady (there is always a premium on quality), at least they are no longer embarrassingly equipped with poverty level specification. Granted, this is SE spec but much of the equipment is now in the standard model.

The equipment is also decent standard too, so there is no mini fan that masquerading as air con that's hard to notice when its on and its combined into the digital climate control for precise cabin settings; no more cold/ colder/coldest, warm/hotter/hottest.  

Not many owners make use of this. In-flight meal tray?

 

Comfort Features
Adjustable Steering Column
Adjustable Steering Column
Centre Arm Rest Front
Centre Arm Rest Front
Cloth Trim
Cloth Trim
Drivers seat Lumbar Support
Drivers seat Lumbar Support
Front Door Bins
Front Door Bins
Head Rests (front & rear)
Head Rests (front & rear)
Height Adjustable Drivers Seat
Height Adjustable Drivers Seat
Height Adjustable Seat Belts
Height Adjustable Seat Belts
Pollen Filter
Pollen Filter
Time Clock
Time Clock
General Features
12 V Accessory Power Point
12 V Accessory Power Point
Colour Coded Bumpers
Colour Coded Bumpers
Colour Coded Mirrors
Colour Coded Mirrors
Digital Odometer
Digital Odometer
Exterior Side Mouldings
Exterior Side Mouldings
Heated Rear Window
Heated Rear Window
On Board Computer
On Board Computer
Tinted Windows
Tinted Windows
Luxury Features
Air Conditioning
Air Conditioning
Cigarette Lighter
Cigarette Lighter
Climate Control
Climate Control
Cruise Control
Cruise Control
Electric Mirrors
Electric Mirrors
Electric Windows (front & rear)
Electric Windows (front & rear)
Heated Mirrors
Heated Mirrors
Illuminated Passenger Vanity Mirror
Illuminated Passenger Vanity Mirror
Leather Steering Wheel
Leather Steering Wheel
Radio CD Player
Radio CD Player
Trip Counter
Trip Counter

It's not a cheap car and whilst not noticeably short on equipment, most of the money has been wisely spent on a huge technical specification in the chassis and engine departments.

 

 

First off, it's only got four cylinders which is a real pity because 6 cylinders are  the trademark badge of honour  for all you propeller heads out there.

Get over it because diesel works much better at larger swept volumes and the slight perceived lack of smoothness is offset by being one of the best diesels that money can buy on the market. The Germans invented the diesel and after a long time giving best to the French, the Germans have got their act back together and are back on top of the oil burning tree.

Service Interval Insurance Group Safety Rating Smog Rating
15000 14 Not Available Band (A)
Engine BHP CC Fuel Inj.
Turbo Diesel 4 Cylinder 150 1995 No
Cyl Camshafts Valves/cyl Compressor
4 Single 2 Turbo Charger
Top Speed 0 to 60 BHP per Tonne
131mph 9.3seconds 110
MPG@Urban MPG@Cruise MPG@Speed Fuel Type
35.8mpg 62.8mpg 49.6mpg Diesel
Kerb Weight Tow Weight Length Width Height
1385kg 1250kg 447cm 193cm 141cm
Boot Seats/up Boot Seats/Down Seats
440 Litres 0 Litres 5

Any lack of acceleration perceived in the figures is more a reflection of how much more weighty the 3 has become over time. Parking the 320 alongside next door's 20 year old 318 shows just how much the BMW has grown and how it's now curvy rather than boxy; the old car looks kind of Swedish now in its fading but reliable glory.

 

The engine is remarkably similar to the VW unit in performance terms though it feels smoother and with a stronger bottom end. It certainly gives the traction a hefty workout through the mid range, often overwhelming the tyres on wide throttle openings.

Mid range is certainly nothing if not impressive and, unlike some diesels, it doesn't feel unduly constrained in its ability to rev out at the top end of its range. 

As with many diesels, the mid range makes mincemeat of  roads where speeds constantly change, storming back around the speedo with little apparent effort or discomfort. It's hard to actually discern a point where the turbo starts working as the power rises to a smooth crescendo.

Excellent economy is available but who could restrain themselves quite so much when the rewards provided by the rampant motor and fluent chassis are so many?

The gearbox and clutch combine to make a sweet unit that is a joy to use and gears swap with a positive, mechanical,  accurate feel. The box perhaps encourages you to overuse it and perhaps not get the best on the engine but at least it's fun doing so.

Brakes are oh so positive, stopping smoothly and quickly with a light prod or dramatically with a heavy prod; on good roads the ABS virtually never intrudes, showing the excellent grip level of the tyres. The ABS provides excellent brain-out security when the surface is greasy or uneven.

Steer/Susp/Tech Features
Active Roll Control System
Active Roll Control System
Alloy Wheels
Alloy Wheels
Automatic Stability Control
Automatic Stability Control
Catalytic Converter
Catalytic Converter
Disc Brakes Front & Rear
Disc Brakes Front & Rear
External Temperature Gauge Fitted
External Temperature Gauge Fitted
Front Fog lamps fitted
Front Fog lamps fitted
Halogen Head Lights
Halogen Head Lights
Height Adjustable Headlight Aim
Height Adjustable Headlight Aim
Independent Suspension
Independent Suspension
Intermittent Wash Wipe
Intermittent Wash Wipe
Power Assisted Steering
Power Assisted Steering
Rev Counter
Rev Counter
Service Level Indicator
Service Level Indicator
Traction Control
Traction Control

BMW's marketing department makes much of the driving experience; the sporty rear wheel drive chassis remains a focal point of BMW's campaigns long after many of us should have bored of it.

In reality the experience is a touch softer and less direct than previous models but as all other makes are pretty much  softening the experience too, it's the difference between them and the BMW that is important and, compared to most others in this class, it provides a sporting chassis truly beyond comparision. Certainly there are the 4x4 animals out there that will run rings around it but they are overt sporting carriages and don't match the cornering prowess with such a cosseting family ride. 

The BMW has a balance that is hard to beat and gives it a natural advantage through the corners. The diesel lump adds weight to the front  end that perhaps means it's not quite as sharp as perhaps the petrol version. Unlike many motors, the steering does not immediately give the impression that it's tied to a big heavy lump set up front. The power assist is perfectly weighted to give easy parking but sharpening up on the move to provide steady feedback. 

The traction control helps to damp down torque reactions through the back end which, given the natural reaction to rear drivers to a large torque spike (usually  spinning around in circles),  is most probably a good thing. Belting away from the lights, the traction control cuts in easily and rather gruffly so that you are in no doubt that it's helping out. This and its regularity at least persuades you that turning it off is not really a good idea.

The Beemer also has active roll control and I've no idea what that is or how it works but it seems to maintain a calm attitude to cornering and doesn't roll overly. It's not as in-your-face as the sensations set up by a C5 or Activa Xantia which, frankly, feel a bit odd but seems to work as the BMW does not roll as much as you would expect, given that its ride is fairly excellent.

BMW always seem to hit the balance point smack on with pretty much all their products and the 3 is no exception; its ride handling balance is truly excellent, some ride better, some perhaps handle sharper, but few ride and handle so well at the same time.

 

 

Diddy spots

 Complex wheel ? bag well hidden!

No car is un-nickable but BMW at least make an effort to make it difficult. 

Excellent, tough locks offer a good level of deterrent although nothing will stop a brick through the window.  Should that occur, the BMW will still be hard to start and drive off. Its security is reflected in a conservative insurance group for such a high powered, good looking, expensive motor with such a desirable reputation. 

Safety/Security Features
Alarm
Alarm
Antilock Braking System
Antilock Braking System
Child Locks
Child Locks
Deadlocks
Deadlocks
Engine Immobiliser
Engine Immobiliser
Front Side Air Bags
Front Side Air Bags
Front Twin Airbags
Front Twin Airbags
High level brake Light
High level brake Light
Locking Fuel Cap
Locking Fuel Cap
Pre Tensioned front Seat Belts
Pre Tensioned front Seat Belts
Remote Central Locking
Remote Central Locking
Side Impact Protection
Side Impact Protection
Three Rear 3 Point Seat Belts
Three Rear 3 Point Seat Belts
Visible Identification Number
Visible Identification Number

 

Behind the blazing blue lights  and the lure of the propeller blade lies a car that is now really quite practical. It's not as spacious as a Vectra class car but seems much larger then the step down. Like many Germans it sits between two size classes but is priced at the top end of the bigger.

The boot is a reasonable, rather than voluminous, size and is trimmed as if you will be carrying fussy passengers in there rather than blind shopping.

 

As we said earlier, the construction quality is still absolutely top notch. Many other marques are improving rapidly but the BMW still has an air of engineering excellence that few can match. 

As a driving experience, the BMW still impresses despite the advances made by all the opposition or wannabe opposition. Whilst it's very soft when measured against so-called driving machines like the Impreza and such like, remember that that is not where it's targeted. This is an executive saloon with good ride, good manner and good economy and yet it gives the driver access to cat-like responses not normally associated with this sector.

Sitting in the BMW and grasping the chubby wheel with the stubby gear stick falling neatly to hand just in front of the handbrake, firm brake pedal perfectly flanked by the responsive accelerator and  firm but deliciously precise clutch, you know you are sitting in something just a little bit special. The seats look normal but are firm and sporty, giving plenty of support  laterally, vertically and horizontally.  The wheel, like everything else, feels perfectly placed for maximum exploitation. The positions are adjustable but adjustable for the vagaries of human size and to enhance the position as opposed to finding the one just-about-comfortable spot  

My pet hate - economy gauge - all but useless

Why would you NOT buy this car?

Well, the price is the only downside I can see. At close on 25 big ones new, you get a big choice of some very tasty machines indeed.

Apart from this, I can really see little against it.


 

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UK Car Road Test BMW 320 SE TURBO D 2004

UK Car Road Test Keywords: Saloon Sports Auto Diesel320 SE TURBO D