Schoolboy chemistry was such a fun subject and the idea of combining two completely different elements to create something new rather exciting – think hydrogen and oxygen and, voila, there is water; or sodium and chlorine to create salt.
Naturally, that very schoolboy curiosity also quickly found ways to combine things to make noxious smells or combinations that went ‘bang’ – much to the distress of our teacher. . .but that is a completely different story.
In a much broader sense of the definition of elements and, not necessarily directly from the Periodic Table, the combination of things from opposite ends of a spectrum often produces something delightfully new.
In its absolute base form the BMW 320i is, well just another BMW. While it does have the main styling cues of others in the range and a fair whack of luxury and safety kit as standard, it just does little to excite the senses.
Coming in at R693 800 it is still quite a pricey beast even for the luxury end of its target market – however, my test unit, an Alpine White example came fully fettled with the M Sport package that added another R198 000 to the price tag.
To put it all into perspective, over 36 months with a 10% upfront deposit on BMW Select, the monthly payment would be R13 862,01. On this deal the contract mileage is limited to 60 000 km, the interest rate set at 8,25% and the guaranteed future value R472 000 – a mere 52% of the original price.
Taking that up to a 55 month contract means a payment of R12 523,33 and mileage of 95 000 km for a future value of R346 500.
The 3 Series sedan represents the core of the BMW 3 Series range (of which more than 15-million units have been sold worldwide) but also the heartbeat of the BMW brand. When the first BMW 3 Series was launched in 1975, it introduced the sports sedan concept and, over the course of its six model generations, the BMW 3 Series has been ranked the world’s biggest-selling premium car.
The exterior design became the first step in the new design language being followed by BMW and, not unsurprisingly, grew in size compared to the previous generation – 76 millimetres longer (at 4, 09 mm), 16 millimetres wider (1 827 mm) and just 1 mm taller (1 442 millimetres). The car’s 41 millimetre longer wheelbase (2 851 mm) and increased track widths (front: + 43 mm, rear: 21 mm), have a direct and positive influence on its poise and agility.
The large BMW kidney grille elements are framed by a single surround and split up by wide bars and link to the headlight units.
Both the standard front fog lamps and the Air Curtains are integrated into the outer air intakes, which are inserted into the front apron in a horizontal T shape on Sport Line models. This design was originally developed by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) for the intake air in jet engines and later became a feature of classical racing cars.
The car’s rangy bonnet, long wheelbase, short overhangs and elegantly flowing roofline accentuate its profile when viewed from the side. Another feature treated to a new look is the Hofmeister kink – the familiar counter-swing at the trailing edge of the side window graphic. A BMW hallmark, this element of the window frame is now integrated into the C-pillar, giving the rear doors a ‘freestanding’ glass edge.
There is a simple elegance to the 3 Series design and I like that. Adding the M Sport package ups the wheel size to 18-inches and this, I feel, suitably enhances the overall exterior look.
Under the bonnet is the trusted four-cylinder in-line 1 998 cc petrol engine linked to an eight-speed Steptronic transmission. Output is 135 kW at 5 000 r/min with maximum torque of 300 Nm from 1 350 r/min to 4 000 r/min, allowing acceleration from 0 – 100 km/h] in 7,4 seconds and on to a top speed of 238 km/h.
Fuel consumption on average hovered between 5,7 l/100 km and 6,1 l/100 km.
Here we return to the elements. The conservative business base model combined with the sporty and upspec of the M Sport package transform the car into a new and much more desirable product that is the best of both worlds.
The M Sport model variant of the new BMW 3 Series Sedan is all about the dynamism of the car’s handling and appearance. In keeping with its model-specific chassis systems, this variant features particularly large air intakes in the front end and an equally distinctive design for the side skirts and rear apron.
In the normal course of a road review such as this, the focus would be narrow and subjective to the specific model under discussion with possibly an occasional relevant note about immediate opposition in the market.
The lengthy lockdown brought about by Covid-19 backed up manufacturer road test fleets so cars from the same source were being scheduled almost back-to-back when released – and I have had the 340i, 135i and now 320i.
So, perhaps there is a case for taking a step back and looking at a wider view.
Sure, the 320i does not have the neck-snapping thrust of the 340i or the go-kart style edgy handling of the 135i but, in M Sport trim, is no slouch even if it takes a bit longer and it is supremely confident when pressed through the twisty bits.
Admittedly, a bit softer on the suspension and with a tad more body roll, the balance and poise nonetheless makes for enough of an adrenalin buzz when required. Overall body rigidity is up by some 25%, rising to as much as 50% in certain areas.
The point of comparison between the three comes with the question; which is the most practical to live with on a daily basis?
Unquestionably, (for me) the combination of the diverse elements of sport and practical make the 320i the logical choice. Maybe it is the fat variable sport steering, the fully electric seat adjustment, the professional infotainment package or the Driving Assist Professional or, maybe it is the combination of all these elements.