Can a car be too blokey?
BMW's seventh-generation 3 Series sedan may not look dramatically different, but under-the-skin changes are significant. The new model is longer and wider, yet lighter than its predecessor.
Our family of testers sampled the diesel version, costing from $73,950 drive away.
Iain: There's a BMW 3 Series in the driveway: my life has balance once more.
Jules: What is it with blokes and BMW sedans? Some kind of primitive guy club thing?
Iain: What's wrong with appreciating excellence? A BMW 3 Series is like a Porsche 911 or Range Rover: they've been around forever and just do what they're supposed to do better than anything else.
Jules: Such as?
Iain: The 3 Series is a driver's car. It has always meant rear-wheel-drive joy, balance, comfort, style and just enough luxury. Our 320d, at $73,950 drive away, is kind of affordable too.
Jules: And I suppose the BMW alternative, for the fairer sex, is a 2 Series Convertible or X3 SUV?
Iain: Let's just say there's a BMW for everyone, and I like the 3 Series.
Jules: And you've owned how many?
Iain. Five. So far. But never a new one. We're too poor for that.
Jules: Well apart from the 320d being overtly masculine, it is a sporty-looking thing with its edgy bodywork and skinny-spoked alloys.
Iain: Thanks to the free M Sport package. That means sporty aero body bits and black trim. Ours has nearly $10,000-worth of extras too, including metallic paint ($2000), glass sunroof ($2900) and ($1400) 19-inch wheel upgrade.
The living space
Jules: A word of warning, the doors are heavy and it's low, so not easy for getting in and out if you're older.
Iain: But once you're in, it's glorious and very modern. Seat comfort and driving position are faultless, I love the chunky M Sport leather steering wheel and there's proper space for two adults in the back. Who needs a 5 Series?
Jules: This may be the cheapest model, but it feels properly premium. Leather seats, giant screens, head-up display, wireless phone charging and the infotainment is a cut above.
Iain: You need a few hours to get used to all the functions through the 10.25-inch screen; there's a boggling amount of information to access. The 12.3-inch digital dash may not be as beautifully presented as a Mercedes or Audi, but it's classy nonetheless.
Jules: Electric memory seats are really useful, as it appears you like driving reclined on the floor. I can press my memory button and electrically move up so I can actually see the road.
Iain: That's why BMW makes SUVs too.
Jules: Are you sure it's a diesel? It's so quiet inside.
Iain: Diesels may be out of favour, but BMW knows how to make a good one. BMW claims an incredible 4.5L/100km fuel use - we managed 5.6L - and it's a refined, classy four-cylinder.
Jules: It's really quick; great for safely pulling out of junctions.
Iain: It has a chunky 400Nm of torque, making it zoom off the mark and hit 100km/h in 6.8-seconds. It runs out of revs and guts in each gear though; real joy requires a petrol 3 Series.
Jules: It's a beautiful motorway cruiser, with adaptive cruise control and speed limit information systems really helpful.
Iain: It has Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity but - shame on you BMW - only a one-year subscription for this. And no Android Auto.
Jules: Kia gives it free-for-life in sub-$20,000 cars.
Iain: Wouldn't be shamed out the front of any posh shopping strip.
Jules: I don't feel very feminine driving it though. This 320d looks so manly it should have hair growing on its body panels.
Iain: For the weekly shop, as with most sedans, the boot is deep but not as practical as a hatch or wagon.
Jules: Ours had a $700 power tailgate option, which I'd pay for, while the surround-view camera was integral for car parks. The front bumper is so low you've got to be so careful not to hit a kerb.
Iain: This is why you own a 3 Series. Show it a back road and its balance and rear-drive fun bring utter joy, even with a 2.0-litre diesel powering you.
Jules: It is good fun. The suspension crashes a bit at times though?
Iain: Fair call. It has M Sport suspension included - 10mm lower than standard - and combined with run flat tyres, bump absorbing isn't brilliant. Adaptive suspension, as found in the 330i, would help.
Jules: There's a Sport mode making everything a bit more responsive. And makes the digital dashboard a bit redder.
Iain: Red equals fast. Overall the 320d is brilliant, efficient and smooth, but call me old-fashioned, I want the petrol engine for playtime.
Jules: Safety's great, loads of space in the back for the two kids, but I couldn't get their bikes in the boot.
Iain: We'll have to wait for the new 3 Series wagon, due later this year.
Jules: Not bad for the family budget. It sips such little fuel, and the service costs aren't as scary as expected.
Iain: I've always loved 3 Series BMWs, and this latest edition remains exceptional in drive and presentation. The 320d doesn't look best value though. The more engaging 330i is only $3000 more and has more kit too. For me, it's the 3 Series to have.
Jules: Nope. This diesel offers all you need for normal everyday driving. I'd option the Luxury Line pack (for free) rather than M Sport to get fancier leather and trim. I'd want a wagon rather than sedan too; anything to make it less blokey!
BMW 3 Series vital
Price: $73,950 ($83,550 as tested) drive-away
Warranty/servicing: 3 years/unlimited km; $1565 for basic service pack 5 years/80,000km
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl diesel, 140kW/400Nm
Safety: Not yet rated, 6 airbags, AEB, head-up display, active cruise control, lane change and departure warning, speed limit warning
Spare: None, run flats