The BMW range gas received a short in the arm with the local launch of the 320i model which is bound to prove popular especially in M Sport spec. We tested it to see if its lost anything to the higher spec models.
First of all the design is exactly the same to the bigger 330i model and in M-Sport (R45 000 addition) and white colour, it certainly drew admiring glances. Some even thought it was the bigger 5 Series model. The standard LED headlamps come with LED daytime lights that differ slightly to the optional Adaptive LED lights but generally, its not really worth the upgrade. In M-Sport design, the front gains more aggressive air intakes and sportier bumper design. The side seas the wheels grow in size to 18-inch with M aerodynamic side sills. The test unit came with the must have sun roof (R14 300 option). The rear seas the 320i now have the same twin tailpipes as the 330i and if you remove the 320i badge, no one (but your conscious) will know its the lesser model. The new 3 series has been around for more than a year now and the fact that it still garners attention, bodes well for the design staying relevant for the foreseeable future.
Inside, the 320i retains the high quality albeit not inspiring to look at design with the infotainment screen taking pride of place mid dash. The optional R18 200 leather goes well with the M-Sport seats, steering. Our test unit came with the optional Harman Kardon sound (R11 400) which I rate as one of the best I have heard and certainly worth the pricey investment. Interior space is good with better space for rear passengers than the previous generation. 5 people seat in comfort with multi airbags and Isofix connectors ensuring 5-star family safety. The digital speedometer now comes standard and when we first saw it when new, it wasn’t pleasing to the eye but now we have gotten accustomed to it.
The engine powering the 320i model is the same size unit as that found in the 330i but will less turbo boost meaning it gives 135kW/300Nm from the 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo motor. Performance is claimed at 7.1 seconds 0-100km/h topping at 235km/h. I managed a stopwatch timed 0-100km/h of 7.5 seconds but didn’t get to try the top speed. We averaged 8.5l/100km, 2.2l above the claimed 6.3l/100km but even then, its a good figure. If put on Eco (multi mode drive) buyers can get close to the claimed figures but this blunts performance. Power is sent to the rear wheels via an 8 speed auto transmission and it proved a very good combination with the lesser power engine (I am not sure why one would go for the 330i). The ride is quite albeit slightly hard (M suspension) but with the 18-inch wheels, its noticeably better than our time with the 19-inch models previously tested. Handling is one of the strengths at BMW and the 320i certainly keeps the legacy alive with excellent dynamics when pushed.
Priced at R742 236 for the M Sport 320i, its direct rivals are the C200 from Mercedes and Audi A4 40TFSI. Spec for spec the Mercedes C200 with AMG line comes to R752 900 whilst the A4 TFSI with S line, LED lights and 18-inch wheels comes in at R628 907. The C Class is the most powerful at 150kW/300Nm compared to 320i at 135kW/300Nm and Audi 40 TFSI at 140kW/400Nm (100Nm more on Audi when compared to rivals). Bear in mind though that the updated A4 is still coming and maybe the significant price advantage over the BMW and Mercedes wont be maintained. Overall though, the 320i is the newest model of the three and proved more of a complete package.