Top class contradiction

BMW 3 Series
BMW 3 Series
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This sixth generation 3 Series is a car of contradictions.

Larger and more spacious than ever before, but also lighter.

Quicker, but more fuel-efficient. And more nimble and agile, while being even safer.

Add to that the big steps taken forward in style, quality, comfort and specification and it’s not possible to come away from a first acquaintance with this car without being very impressed indeed.

It’s a BMW that takes your previous perceptions of how a model like this should drive and how much it should cost to run, and just tears them to shreds.

Here’s a car that looks better in the metal than it does in pictures - really good in fact.

Sit this sixth generation model next to its predecessor and in both saloon and Touring estate guise, it looks lower and more aggressive – longer too, by 93mm.

Like all of the best driver’s cars, this one will flatter the inexpert driver, yet has the depth of talent to reward the enthusiast.

The basic formula here hasn’t changed much. Front engine, rear wheel drive, and near perfect 50:50 weight distribution have defined the 3 Series to date and this one doesn’t deviate too far from that script although BMW will, for the first time in the UK, also sell you a hybrid and even a line-up of xDrive all-wheel driven versions.

But it’s the standard rear driven layout that really marks this car out from its direct front-driven rivals.

Super-effective traction and stability systems keep those back wheels in check so that if you’re not a driving enthusiast, you’ll notice no difference.

But if you are, then the feeling of being pushed by the back wheels as you exit a bend never fails to offer up a great feeling of pleasure.

Part of the reason is the car’s Drive Performance Control system.

It’s available across the range and allows you to switch the car into different modes according to your mood.

In standard form, it changes throttle response, engine mapping and, if you’ve an auto gearbox, the change parameters for that depending on your selection between efficiency-orientated ‘ECO PRO’, laid-back ‘Comfort’ and more assertive ‘Sport’ modes.

Go for one of the ‘Sport’ models and you can have your car with a set of adaptive dampers so you can alter the ride to suit the road you’re on and the mood you’re in.

As for engines, well there are plenty of tempting options. All the volume four cylinder diesel models share a 2.0-litre diesel in different states of tune that delivers 116bhp in the 316d, 143bhp in the 318d and either 163 or 184bhp in the 320d.

Petrol people meanwhile, get a choice of two engines. First, there’s the 1.6-litre TwinPower unit from the 1 Series that offers 136bhp in the 316i or 170bhp in the 320i EfficientDynamics model.

Then you’ve the impressive 2.0-litre petrol unit that offers up either 184bhp in a 320i variant that comes with either two or four-wheel drive – or as much as 245bhp if you go for the 328i.

If you’re wondering about six cylinder engines, well yes, you can talk to your dealer about those in either diesel or petrol form.

The top 335i petrol unit develops a throaty 306bhp, while the 330d diesel puts out 258bhp and a massive 560Nm of torque.

Finally, there’s the option to go really hi-tech with the Active Hybrid 3 model.

This uses BMW’s TwinPower Turbo 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine in tandem with a 40kW (55hp) electric motor, to develop a combined 340hp and 450Nm of torque. The result is exceptional