You do know that BMW takes immense pride in saying that it makes machines for ‘Sheer Driving Pleasure.’ And this isn’t just a marketing gimmick, all BMWs really are driver’s cars. And if there’s one car that manifests this belief, it’s the 3 Series – the brand’s most successful model for over 40 years now!
Even in India, the 3 Series has been the mainstay for the BMW brand. But, unsurprisingly, it’s always been the diesel version – the 320d – that sold in way more numbers than the petrol powered 328i in our market. Owing to the low demand for the petrol version, BMW discontinued the 328i last year. Now, while the 320d is a proper blast to drive, the true petrol-heads amongst us have always wished for, well, a petrol derivative of the 3 Series. Thankfully, BMW in India has now answered our prayers with the 320i.
The 320i is not the spiritual successor to the 328i – at least on paper. Its 2-litre, four-cylinder turbo direct injection unit is far more sedate, and develops 181bhp at 5,000rpm, while 270Nm of peak torque kicks in at 1,350rpm and stays put till 4,600rpm. Power goes to rear wheels in true BMW fashion via an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Now the spec-sheet of the 320i may not boast class-leading numbers, but it’s a spectacular machine to drive – and more so when you’re at a racetrack. Despite being a turbo motor, the 2-litre unit delivers power in a linear and smooth manner. In Sport mode, the 8-speeder holds the cogs longer and swaps gears through the paddle-shifter without any hesitancy. The steering is direct and communicative, while the chassis balance is simply superb. The suspension setup is slightly on the stiffer side, which, on the track, allows for better body control around the tight sections of the BIC. And it’s this seat-of-the-pants feel that encourages you to pound it harder at the track. It’s for the same reason that, despite being over 56bhp short on power to its main rival, the Jaguar XE 25t, the 320i was only three-tenths slower over a lap around the BIC.
The BMW 320i is truly a driver’s delight, although you do miss the extra kick provided by the more powerful 328. And, as a luxury saloon, it does have some shortcomings – the interior feels a little dated and the rear seats aren’t great, especially when you compare it with the new Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. And, on top of that, the 320i doesn’t get the tasty M-Sport kit and bigger wheels. All said and done, though, you forget all those shortcomings the minute you get into the driver’s seat.