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BMW 3 Series 318D M Sport Saloon

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      17.09.2008 15:34
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      Less a car, more a - no it's just a car. But a very nice one though

      BMW 318D M Sport

      Intending to replace our three year old Rav4 we were looking to dip our toe into the murky pool of the premium brand, junior executive range. In this class the choice comes down to four realistic options: the 3 Series BMW, Audi's A4, the Mercedes C-Class or the Lexus IS. This is one of the most fiercely contested markets which means there is excellent choice for the buyer.

      The A4 and C-Class have recently had new models released; this means that nearly new new models are priced quite high. It also means that there are good bargains to be had picking up nearly new older models, although that is what you'll get, an old model with the subsequent hit to resale values. The Lexus is slightly older but has held its value well and trades at slightly higher prices than the BMW, quite likely reflecting the better level of options. Introduced in 2005 the 3 Series is a couple of years old now and probably half way through its lifecycle. This means that prices are slightly lower and there is plenty of choice, it also means that you should benefit from a few (very few, this is BMW after all) extra standard options and you shouldn't be faced with a newer model for a while yet.

      We went for the 318D M Sport saloon as it offered a good trim level at a price that allowed us to buy one less than a year old. This review covers my experience buying and using this model over the last three months.

      Buying ~
      Now is a pretty good time to buy a car. With the credit crunch putting the squeeze on everybody car dealers are feeling the pinch more than most and the impact of this has been to drive down the price of vehicles. Starting from the new car sales dealers are offering bigger discounts and incentives than before and the trickle down effect has made buying nearly new cheaper as well. You shouldn't be surprised to see nearly new cars on the forecourt significantly cheaper than 12 months ago. The trade off is that it is a bad time to sell a car so if you're looking to part exchange you'll have to accept that you're going to get back less than you'd hoped for. Check the sums carefully and you should find things balancing out in your favour.

      Having been looking casually for a year and seriously for a couple of months we were ready to take the plunge and contacted our local BMW dealer. I took an instant dislike to the first salesman and was grateful that he didn't have any suitable vehicles so I wouldn't be forced to line his pockets. Travelling a bit farther on to the next dealer the salesman was younger and enthusiastic and this time it was a good 30 minutes before I actively started to hate him. He had a couple of vehicles close to the spec I was after but either too old, too expensive or the wrong colour. This didn't stop him trying to pressure me into seeing them but as they would have to be delivered from a different site he was keen for some kind of commitment from me first. Not happy with this I disentangled myself from his clutches and left. The point I'm making is to take your time and judge the staff as well as the car when buying from a dealer. If the sales staff can't treat you in the way you want to be treated how are their service people going to be if there is a problem. The other factor is that 3 series BMW's are very popular and there is no shortage available, if you have a particular spec in mind take your time and it will probably turn up.

      Sure enough, a quick search on the very easy to use BMW web site soon revealed the exact model we wanted. Even better the dealer had four vehicles to choose from, all of them the right model, age and colour and all cheaper than we'd seen elsewhere. As a bonus they were all very low mileage as well. The salesman at the Park Lane dealership was very helpful and a pleasure to deal with and I felt comfortable talking with him, a factor that was borne out in later dealings which I'll cover later. A test drive round the mean streets of west London later (taking in the daunting Marble Arch and Hyde Park Corner junctions) and I was sold and it was time for the haggling to begin.

      When negotiating a deal with a car salesman it is important to be clear in what you want from the deal and be aware of the facts. You'll invariably be at a disadvantage; they do this for a living after all, but a little research beforehand will go a long way. Check out the value of the car you're buying and, as importantly, what you're trading in. There are various places to get this: What Car website is quick and easy and quite reliable. The printed price guides such as Parker's are helpful but in a volatile market such as we are in now are likely to be out of date. For £3.50 you can get a reliable quote from the on-line Glass's guide and as this is what the trade use it can be a useful bargaining tool. Throughout the deal the salesman will be looking to balance the books between what he sells his car for and what he'll give for yours and you too have to keep this in mind. It's no good getting over the odds for your car if the newer car is over priced and so on. Be realistic throughout and don't expect the Earth, as long as you come out a little bit ahead you've done well.

      With this model there wasn't a lot of room to manoeuvre. Taking into account the optional extras on the car (metallic paint, and larger wheels) the ticket price was nearly £10k down on the new price despite only being nine months old and £3,500 lower than the Glass's guide price. The mileage was less than 2,000 so I didn't have a lot to work with but I did manage to get £250 off and a full tank of fuel as well as an extra £400 for mine (but which was still £1k under the guide price). All in all a pretty good deal even if the haggling wasn't as dramatic as I'd hoped for.

      Exterior ~
      In my opinion this is the best looking 3 Series for many years. Recent models have looked a little bloated and overweight but this model moves it closer to its sports saloon roots. The car sits well on the road with a stance that looks like it is leaning slightly forward, ready to pounce. Leaner looking than before there are more edges and design touches but it still retains the clean Germanic look that BMW are noted for. With its black metallic paint and sharp alloys it looks the part from any angle.

      Nothing in the styling strikes the wrong note and if you think it looks a little bland you are probably looking at the wrong class of car, it is the match if not superior of comparable (and newer) models from Audi and Mercedes.

      Build quality is of expected German standards, doors open and close slickly and all panels are precisely fitted. Now a year old with 4,000 miles on the clock it remains as good as new despite not being garaged.

      There is a touch of gimmickry around the external lighting. When the car is unlocked via the key fob small lights illuminate the door handles and when you open the doors further lights shine on the ground (so you don't step in a puddle or something nastier I suppose). All superfluous to be sure but looks good all the same.

      All doors will lock and unlock on a single click of the fob, also releasing the petrol cover and the indicators flash to show that the car has locked. This model comes with rear parking sensors as standard which has proved quite beneficial in use.

      Being the M Sport model this has a more aggressive nose with a more pronounced air intake and the classic BMW M Series logo is placed around the body, noticeably on the model specific alloy wheels.

      Interior ~
      What you make of the interior largely depends on how you feel about German styling. The dashboard and controls are rather austere and clinical and I was a little put off at first. In use, though, I have come to appreciate it more and more. The controls and dials are intelligently laid out, easy to find and operate and straightforward to read. In the binnacle are dials for speed and revs and gauges for fuel level and current mpg. Between the dials are the warning lights and below this is the small computer screen which will display information on distance covered, average speed and mpg plus estimated range based on current driving conditions and fuel remaining.

      The seats in this model are part leather and sporty in design with solid side support and are very comfortable; long journeys can be taken without worry. The side supports can be adjusted for tightness electronically but that is as far as such things go. Seat position and steering wheel rake must all be adjusted manually which may come as a disappointment to drivers used to better equipped cars.

      The M Series branding continues inside with logoed steering wheel and gear knob as well as chromed kick plates in the door wells.

      There is no sun roof in this model but the large windows make the interior pleasantly bright while also affording excellent all round visibility, I haven't detected any significant blind spots as yet.

      Leg room is generous both in the front and rear and all except the tallest should be able to travel in comfort. Head room is also uncompromised. There is seating in the rear for three adults although the middle passenger may find their legroom hampered by the central console. Isofix is standard so fitting child seats securely is possible.

      Zonal climate control, cruise control and a single CD stereo are all standard and equally easy to operate. In the central console is a chilled cup holder and jack for connecting an MP3 device to the stereo.

      Build quality is faultless, as you should expect. All the materials used are tough but attractive and well fitted; there are no rattles or shakes to worry about and it all looks built to last. Interior lighting is extensive and flexible. There are courtesy lights front and rear and individual reading lights for all. On exiting the vehicle the door light comes on illuminating the pavement below.

      There are three 12V sockets in the car, two in the cabin and one in the boot. With the plethora of mobile devices we carry around these days (phones, PDAs and sat navs) this is the minimum you can get away with.

      Storage around the cabin is adequate but not spectacular. The glove box is a healthy size but the central console is compromised by the AC chilled drinks holder. The door pockets are wide but not very deep and struggle to accommodate standard sized road atlases. The rear parcel shelf is quite small, not that this should be used for storage anyway.

      Moving the family from the Rav4 to this car my biggest concern was for boot space. Being a saloon there is no flexibility in the load space, what you see is what you get, but I have been pleasantly surprised at how much you can pack in and how accessible it is. Bigger than the comparable Mercedes and Lexus it is only a fraction smaller than the Audi and uses the space better, wheel arches do not intrude too much and having run flat tyres means the spare wheel can be dispensed with creating more space. On a recent camping trip it took the four of us with luggage, tent and equipment not to mention travel cot and pushchair without complaint. Should you need extra storage there are mountings for a roof rack.

      The boot opens to reveal a wide opening and although there is inevitably a lip to get over, loading is problem free. It may lack the total storage space of the Rav4 with seats folded but in everyday use it is perfectly adequate. In the boot is a warning triangle, tool and first aid kit and another courtesy light.

      Performance ~
      The 318 is the entry level engine in this range and is less powerful than the others. Although it shares the same two litre engine as the 320 it only has 143hp compared to 170hp. This gives a top speed of 130mph (143mph for the 320) and a 0-60 of 9.3s (7.9s for the 320). This difference in performance is quite noticeable, not that it feels under powered but it lacks the push of the bigger model. It accelerates tidily and rolls along at motorway speeds very comfortably but the 320 (I had one as a courtesy car for a week) feels like it has that much more in its locker and presumably the bigger engines in the range will build on this. To be honest the 318 has all the power I need, I don't burn up from the lights as much as I used to and I don't corner like The Stig so the improved running costs and the lower initial cost are worth the trade off.

      This is the M Sport model but that represents the trim level rather than any enhanced performance, the figures above are consistent across the range. It has slightly stiffer suspension to give a firmer ride but that is as far as it goes.

      Moving from petrol to diesel was something else I was wary of but again this was largely unfounded. Performance figures are only slightly lower but the returning mpg is impressive. While I was getting around 31mpg from the Rav4 so far I have been averaging over the 40mpg mark in the beemer, and this from mostly urban journeys of less than five miles. Taking it for trips on the motorway significantly improves this and the six speed manual box will tootle along between 70-80 mph at relatively low (and therefore quiet and fuel efficient) revs. If you were doing mainly motorway driving at sensible speeds I would expect this figure to move closer to 50mpg. Noise is an undeniable factor with diesels and from the outside there is the unmistakable London Taxi rumbling, albeit not as bad as in the past. In the cabin, though, the sound insulation is excellent and once up to speed external noise reduces to a minimum.

      Ownership ~
      I can't begin this section without mentioning the service I got from the Park Lane dealership. When I was inspecting the car I noticed a couple of minor scratches to the paintwork, not surprising in a black car, and the salesman promised these would be taken care of before I collected the car. When I picked up the car a week later it was raining so I couldn't check it properly but on cleaning it later I saw they were still there and found a couple more. I called the dealer for an explanation and he couldn't have been more apologetic. He agreed I shouldn't have to drive all the way back up town so offered to collect it himself, dropping off a courtesy car (a brand new 320 with 25 miles on the clock) at the same time. So he then drove all the way down, after work so we would be at home, the next evening. Didn't send a minimum wage driver mind but came himself, and did so again a week later to drop it off. He'd even fixed a ding my wife had put in the bumper and refilled the tank. 'It's the BMW way' he said, in a slightly smug way, but I can't deny I was impressed. That's what I mean about finding a dealer you're comfortable with.

      Anyway, on to ownership. For a BMW this seems quite cheap to run, an insurance grouping of 13 won't break the bank and with a CO2 (g/km) figure of 123 it is attractive for company drivers and means the annual road tax is just £120. Servicing and repairs won't be cheap given the premium brand but going by colloquial information it is closer in cost to Ford or Vauxhall than Mercedes. Service intervals are a generous two years / 20,000 miles so even if the prices are slightly higher the bills won't come along too often.

      Filling the tank at today's prices costs a wallet emptying £70 plus, but according to the on board computer this gives a range in excess of 550 miles (subject to driving style and conditions of course), in truth I usually get around the 480 miles mark between fill ups. This is a significant improvement on the 300 odd miles I'd get from a similar fill up in the Rav4.

      The BMW is very easy to live with, the manufacturer would have you believe that they build driver's cars and this isn't far from the truth. It is a pleasure to drive both around town and on the motorway. The space and accessibility of the cabin make this a more than useful family car and so far I have not felt let down by any aspect of ownership of this model.

      I'm confident I've made the right choice with this car and therefore am happy to recommend it.

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