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New 3-Series is automatic choice for the eco-savvy

THEY said it couldn't be done but someone in BMW obviously didn't read the script.

Yes, it's the one thing that has dominated motor engineering for the last four years -- emissions and automatic transmission.

You see, no car manufacturer has broken the green glass ceiling of getting an auto box into the coveted Tax Band A -- until now.

To be fair it comes as no surprise that the king of low CO2s were first to do it. In fact, it was only a matter of time before the Bavarian boffins cracked it when you consider they were the first to make a luxury executive saloon with lower emissions than a Toyota Yaris.

The real big surprise though ... it's not the mega 5-Series but it's little brother, the 3-Series, who has taken the accolades.

The reason is down to volume and the fleet market especially in the UK where BIK (Benefit In Kind) rules the roost. That's why the 3- Series boasts none other than seven models in the lowest Tax and VRT Band.

In cash terms, it means that the annual road duty is just €160 while the diesel units sips fuel and the star of the show, the EfficientDymanics, returns an eye-watering 70mpg.

But the trade off has always been that extra bit of comfort and luxury associated with driving an automatic.







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Not any more. The eight-speed unit (which is also available in flappy paddle mode) is now greener than most six speed manuals and the 320D ED has seen emissions reduced by a band-busting 22g -- now at 109g/km.

But the 320 Sport is the real prize, packing quite a punch with 184bhp and a 0-100kph sprint of 7.5 seconds while giving over 60mpg.

The box works effortlessly and the responsive and seamless gear changes work exceptionally well with Drive Performance Control.

This is a clever bit of technology which allows the driver to select up to four different driving modes -- Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+.

Whatever the setting, the on-board computer then makes subtle changes to the steering, suspension and throttle to suit the road and conditions which, in turn, saves fuel.

If you're feeling a bit frisky a quick flick of a button will have you in racing mode and it is here where you'll find a noticeable difference between Comfort and Sport. The handling and ride is clinically good and even flat-out in Sport the ride was not too choppy.

Comfort-wise this baby executive is up there with the Audi A4 for build quality and finish. It's loaded with goodies too with leather multi-function steering wheel, iDrive with 6.5 inch colour screen, Bluetooth, cruise control, and Drive Performance Control -- all as standard.

The only downside is the premium of €2,290 for the auto and a few other optional extras including leather upholstery (€1,745) alloys upgrade (€745) and a few other bits brought the price up to €48,500 which is almost six grand dearer than the 520D.

It's a bit of a no-brainer to spend that kind of cash to spec up when you can get the 5 cheaper. Prices for the 3 Series starts at €35,600.


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