I’ve always loved the BMW E30 – rear-wheel drive, sporty and fun to drive. The latest generation of the BMW 3 Series (the G20) kind of follows the same formula.
The entry-level 2021 BMW 320i is (relatively) light, rear-wheel driven and in my eyes tries to stick as close as it can to that winning recipe.
We spend a lot of time talking about the top end of the 3 Series range – the M3, specifically – but spend little time exploring the bottom end of the range. So, is the entry-level the place to be?
Sitting at the bottom of the BMW 3 Series range, the BMW 320i kicks off from $70,900 plus on-road costs.
From there it’s a steady climb to the BMW M340i xDrive, which is priced from $111,900 plus on-roads.
If you delve into the M range, it kicks off from $144,900 for the entry-level manual BMW M3 and finishes at $159,900 for the automatic BMW M4 Competition.
There are six colours available, with all but white costing an additional $1538.
The BMW 320i is available in two trim levels, M Sport and Luxury Line. They both cost the same, but offer slightly different appearance to differentiate them.
Standard features include:
- 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster
- 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system
- Wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- DAB+ digital radio
- Satellite navigation
- Head-up display
- Automatic LED headlights with LED daytime running lights
- Automatic high-beam
- Rain-sensing wipers
- Keyless entry and start
- Front and rear parking sensors
- Reversing camera
- Heated and folding exterior mirrors
- Wireless phone charging
- Vernasca leather upholstery (Luxury Line) or Alcantara/Sensatec upholstery (M Sport)
- Wood trim
- 10-speaker sound system
- 18-inch alloy wheels
In addition to the standard features, there are a number of individual options available, including a Visibility Package ($5000) that adds a sunroof, laser headlights and ambient lighting.
M Sport models add sports suspension, an M Sport exterior package and aluminium interior trim as a no cost addition.
The BMW 3 Series was crash tested back in 2019 and received a five-star ANCAP safety rating. This rating does not apply to the M340i xDrive Pure and M340i xDrive, as they remain untested by ANCAP.
Standard safety features across the 3 Series line-up includes:
- Autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection
- Lane departure warning
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Driver attention monitoring
- Reversing camera
- Front and rear parking sensors
- Eight airbags
BMW offer a $2900 Driver Assistant package for the 320i to bring it in line with the rest of the range. This adds:
- Front cross-traffic alert
- Lane-keep assist
- Semi-autonomous parking assist
- Adaptive cruise control with stop/go
- Steering and Lane Control Assistant (semi-autonomous mode)
- Surround-view camera
Inside the cabin, BMW hasn’t gone to town with dash-mounted screens. The design aims for minimalism, but still offers all of the latest technology in new cars today.
While the bulk of the interior is dark, it’s broken up by aluminium highlights and minimal use of piano black materials. It feels high-end and premium despite being the entry point to the range, and it doesn’t feel like it’s missing anything.
BMW is one of the tech leaders in this segment. iDrive is heads and shoulders above the rest in terms of functionality and features, with a new focus on over-the-air updates and the ability to add applications later for an additional fee.
Atop the dashboard is a 10.25-inch infotainment system that features AM and FM radio along with a DAB+ tuner. A 10-speaker sound system is standard, while smartphone mirroring comes in the form of wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Ahead of the driver is a 12.3-inch display that integrates navigation data, along with trip computer details. Further to that is a head-up display that shows speed and navigation data.
One thing I love about the M Sport package is the chunky steering wheel that nicely fills the hands. It offers a sporty feel, but is also comfortable enough to hold on to for long distance drives.
The paddle shifters are easy to reach and the steering wheel controls cover most of the functions you need access to.
It’s a little disappointing that adaptive cruise control is optional. It’s something you’d expect to see on a luxury sedan with a circa-$70,000 asking price.
The second row is a little cramped for adults with limited knee and toe room, but there’s ample space back there for kids. For smaller kids you’ll find two ISOFIX points along with top tether points.
A centre armrest includes two cup holders and the entire centre section can be folded down for access to the boot.
Cargo capacity comes in at 480 litres. The second row can be folded to increase load space from the boot.
Powering the BMW 320i is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 135kW of power and 300Nm of torque.
It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and sends torque to the rear wheels.
Official fuel consumption comes in at 6.3 litres per 100km and during our time with the car we ended up averaging 6.7L/100km with a mix of city and highway driving.
It’s worth noting that the 320i requires 95RON premium unleaded fuel.
I mentioned earlier that the current-generation 3 Series had E30 vibes to it. Yes, the E30 only weighs around 1200kg, but the G20 isn’t too far off that.
The 320i tips the scales at 1458kg tare, but obviously has more punch and quicker torque delivery by comparison.
As a result, behind the wheel it feels responsive and punchy throughout its rev band. Peak power occurs at 6500rpm, but more importantly peak torque comes in from 1350rpm and taps out at 4000rpm, offering a meaty band of torque delivery.
BMW hasn’t spent a great deal of time dialling noise into the package. While it has dual exhaust pipes, the engine and exhaust sound is uninspiring. Once you get it up and going, there isn’t a great deal of noise outside of induction sound.
The eight-speed automatic transmission is equally as impressive with quick gear changes and an ability to lean on the torque reserves when required instead of rifling back through gears.
Steering feel is also excellent with an ability to dial in extra resistance via the Sport drive mode.
But the entire package is let down by the firm sports suspension with the M Sport package. Despite riding on 18-inch alloy wheels, the ride is overly firm and feels artificially sporty just for the sake of it.
It’s easily fixed by ticking the adaptive M suspension option box ($846), but it’s not something a buyer should need to think about ahead of purchase. In and around the city it picks up every road imperfection and that’s amplified as speeds increase.
If you find a twisty stretch of smooth road it can be rewarding in return, but it comes at the cost of ride comfort the rest of the time.
It’s a real shame, because this is the only flaw in what is otherwise an impressive machine. It sits nice and flat through corners and even though 135kW of power doesn’t sound like a great deal, it can confidently be thrown around without the fear of being chewed up and spat out.
Rear tyre width comes in at 255mm (front is staggered at 225mm), which means it’s seldom overcome by the engine’s torque and you can almost hold the throttle flat out of corners to keep yourself entertained.
That grippy rear-wheel drive feel is is hard to replicate in this segment and it shows you that you really don’t need to go crazy with the high-end six-cylinder models to put a smile on your face.
BMW buyers are still stuck with a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty (inferior to the five- and four-year offerings by Mercedes-Benz and Lexus respectively), but can prepay for five years of servicing to reduce costs over the long term.
Service intervals are variable and condition based. The car alerts the driver when services are required.
Buyers can prepay for three years (40,000km) or five years (80,000km) of servicing for $1450 and $1750 respectively to take the sting off paying as you go.
While it may not look it, the 2021 BMW 320i still gives me those E30 vibes behind the wheel.
It’s surprising even in base trim there’s enough engagement to put a smile on your face without breaking the bank. It doesn’t have the theatre of BMW’s six-cylinder engines, but it makes up for it with nimbleness and plenty of feel through the chassis.
If you want a sporty, luxury sedan that is understated, but still enjoyable to drive, this is it. Just make sure you tick the box for adaptive suspension – your back will thank you for it.
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MORE: Everything BMW 3 Series