There are more exciting models in the BMW 3 Series Coupe range but underestimate the 320d at your peril. Steve Walker reports.
With a 7.5s 0-60mph time, 60mpg economy and four-seat practicality, the BMW 320d Coupe is quite a car. Faults include looks that might be too sedate for some two-door buyers and a firm ride but otherwise, this is a well-rounded and highly enjoyable car, despite hailing from the lower end of the range.
At one extreme of the BMW 3 Series Coupe range is the M3 with its startling speed and motorsport overtones. At the other is this, the 320d. Beneath the shapely two-door body, it has a four-cylinder diesel engine, a version of the same unit that pops up in volume-selling models across the BMW product portfolio. It's a BMW Coupe but is it more concerned with cutting costs than thrilling drivers?
In the market for prestigiously badged yet relatively affordable coupes, BMW's 3 Series Coupe is a consistently popular choice. In recent times though, the competition has been building, first from Audi's A5, then from Mercedes' E-Class Coupe and even from niche alternatives like Infiniti's G37 two-door. Like other 3 Series models, the Coupe sets out to appeal to a broad range of buyers but the 320d is one of the most affordable ways to buy it and the most affordable way to run it.
Anyone who was in doubt over how sporty a 3 Series Coupe with four-cylinder diesel power might be should find themselves reassured by even a short stint behind the wheel of the 320d. The steering is accurate and the car corners with remarkable levels of grip accompanied by barely a hint of body roll. Choose the M Sport trim level with its sports suspension or the optional 19" alloy wheels and the ride is extremely firm but in the more standard set-ups, comfort levels are up to scratch.
The engine has 184bhp at 4,000rpm, quite a lot of grunt for a 2.0-litre diesel. There's also a hefty 380Nm of torque that's produced at just 1,900rpm. It means that if you keep the 320d in its sweet spot with judicious use of the short throw but slightly rubbery six-speed gearbox, it's very quick. The traditional 0-60mph sprint of 7.5s is impressive enough but the car will also need just 5.9s to surge from 50mph to 75mph in fourth gear. That's a good indicator of the depth of pulling power at its disposal.
On the way around the car, you'll spot the sculpted flanks and should you tap the front wings, you'll find that instead of the high-pitched ring of steel, you'll hear the duller thud of plastic. In a bid to cleave weight from the 3 Series Coupe, BMW used plastic as well as the more traditional method of 'tailored blanks' - panels that are thick where structural rigidity is needed and thin where it's not. With a fixed centre console dividing the rear seats, the 3 Series Coupe is a proper four seater with room in the back for two adults. The 440-litre boot and folding rear seats add a welcome dose of practicality but this is a coupe, even if its looks are is elegant rather than extrovert.
All models come with close-ratio six-speed manual gearboxes but there's also a very decent automatic option that halves the shift times of a conventional auto thanks to a smart interface between software and torque converter. There is even a pair of paddle shifts behind the wheel for when the driver wants to have some fun. That three letter word figures large in the 3 Series vocabulary. One look at the aluminium suspension parts and the direct rack and pinion steering shows that BMW are serious about upholding their reputation for producing the Ultimate Driving Machine.
Many people will go in expecting to make allowances for the BMW 320d Coupe. Yes, it's a BMW coupe but it's also one of the entry-level models in the 3 Series Coupe range and it's a diesel. The reality is that, while there are quicker models in the line-up, it turns in a highly engaging driving experience. Couple this with outstanding fuel economy plus the practicality that's common to all 3 Series Coupes and you have an extremely adept all-rounder.
The styling of the two-door 3 Series might lack the drama of other sporty cars in its price bracket and the ride is certainly on the firm side but it's hard to fault the level of driver enjoyment. The 320d engine produces some of the lowest running costs in the class, refinement is strong and performance is more than adequate. BMW does it again.