In times past, entry-level cars were not kitted very well and most of the features were removed so the price can be justly slashed. As sure as nachos go well with cream cheese, the base cars will usually have smaller capacity engines for motivation.
Well, time for a change of thinking. Because when you peel open the door, you’ll be presented with a well-kitted interior. You’ll know simply because of the presence of the iDrive Controller with lets you interface with the crisp graphics in the 6.5-inch screen. Funny how such a little knob and a colour screen make a modern BMW feel complete.
The absence of additional cubbyholes or dummy buttons are sure signs that this Happy Meal isn’t one fry short. Much value you’ll get for RM238,800.
OK, so there’s no navigation or a music interface for smartphones or even BMW Apps. In any case, all modules in here are glued tight and the trim that clothes them is of quality. It is a sharply dressed interior and you won’t mind spending time in it. Nicely bolstered seats and armrests will bring much comfort no matter if it is counting the seconds passed in traffic or traversing the Peninsula from tip to tip.
The engine isn’t the biggest of the bunch but it has enough strength to shoulder the 1,495kg car. It is a 2.0-litre force-fed that throws up 184hp and 270Nm from 1,250rpm, which gives the car a lot of go from the moment you step on the pedal. It takes 7.6 seconds to 100kph and stops the speedo needle at 235kph.
As speedy as it may seem, the acceleration isn’t eye-wateringly quick. Power is delivered to the rear though the eight-speed automatic, which isn’t setup for a sporty drive. Yet, you can feel that the ratios are tight and the gears shifts are crisply executed.
The ride is somewhat firm but never jiggly. It also tracks the undulations of the highways really well, which makes the car feel confident and grippy at high speeds. Push it around the B-roads and you’ll find the chassis is impeccably balanced.
The steering certainly plays up the sporty part. Steering feels properly weighted and it gets heavy with confidence at speed. Flick the wheel and you’ll know that the car has the potential to dance around corners. Body roll hardly occurs too, considering that this suspension isn’t tuned for spirited driving.
Criticisms? There are more than a few. It might seem that, in creating a car that is wonderfully drivable, BMW have left out the refinement that should have been here in the first place. Shockingly, road and wind noise intrude the cabin even when the car is travelling around the national speed limit.
And then, there’s the engine, oh where to begin. The Auto Start Stop function works, as it should so fuel is used properly. You won’t feel the engine stopping; it’s that smooth. However, the same cannot be said when it restarts. It feels like a bear has just nudged side of the 3er with prejudice. Rough.
There’s also the issue of that tappet-like sound coming from the engine at parking-lot speeds, which sometimes make me wonder if I am driving a 320d instead.
Pity about the refinement because the 320i is such an accomplished driver’s car. You really need to turn up the volume up to drown out the external sounds. But if you can past that, if you can also get past the rough start-stop (which, by the way, can be turned off), then you shouldn’t write off this Bimmer. Because in a world where cars are becoming mere joyless tools, the 320i let’s you remember that driving can be satisfying.
This review originally ran in Issue #2 of Driven+ Magazine.