Wait? A BMW 3 series saloon that’s also a 4×4? What sorcery is this? Rory Reid road tests and reviews the latest xDrive model to see whether it’s a viable alternative to an SUV.
So you want the luxury, driving dynamics and looks of the excellent BMW 3 Series, but you’re worried about slipping off the road the minute the heavens open? Well you’re in luck; BMW has fitted a four-wheel-drive transmission to its iconic 3, which allows it to stick like glue to terra firma in even the most inclement weather. We hopped behind the wheel of the new BMW 3 Series 320d xDrive 4×4 to see whether this unusual underbelly tweak makes sense or if it’s a pointless waste of time and money.
You’ll be able to slip under the radar of even the most fervent anti-4×4 enviro-protesterThe BMW 320d xDrive is a 4×4, but not as you know it. To casual onlookers, it resembles any normal 3 Series. There’s no jacked up suspension, no black plastic wheel arches to give a false sense of ruggedness, nothing. The only thing that gives the game away is the inclusion of an xDrive badge on the rear so you’ll be able to slip under the radar of even the most fervent anti-4×4 enviro-protester.
BMW hasn’t bothered ruggedising any of the controls or farmer-proofing the seats.Inside, it’s a similar story. BMW hasn’t bothered ruggedising any of the controls, farmer-proofing the seats or adding chunky glove-friendly buttons. Everything is standard 3 Series, which is great, because the 3’s interior is about as sorted as you could wish. It’s beautiful to look at, well stitched together, logically-arranged and practical, with comfortable seats all round, a good driving position and creature comforts galore.
Performance & Handling
In practice, it feels very similar to drive to the normal rear-wheel-drive car, the xDrive system sending 60 per cent of torque to the rear wheels with the remainder being channeled to the front axle. That said, it can fire 100 per cent of torque to the front or rear depending on the situation. Hammer it out of a low speed corner with plenty of steering lock and it’ll oversteer in a similar fashion to the standard car, providing similar driving dynamics to its more conventional cousins.
The instant it detects a lack of traction, however, it’ll blast torque to the wheel or wheels that need it most, bringing the car back under control, which is a great safety net in hairy moments.
We actually found ourselves driving this model faster than we would the standard car due to the extra confidence and grip xDrive provides.Those moments are few and far between, however. We actually found ourselves driving this model faster than we would the standard car due to the extra confidence and grip xDrive provides. Our testing was limited to the slightly damp, sweeping and potentially treacherous roads of Inverness, Scotland, but try as we might, we couldn’t get the thing to break traction in any significant way.
Elsewhere, its performance is largely identical to that of the standard 3 Series. It rides beautifully, particularly in Comfort mode and feels agile in the Sport setting. Its braking ability was stunning, too. This facet has little or no bearing on its 4×4 nature, but it’s a reassuring trait nonetheless.
Bottom line: the BMW 3 Series xDrive is no off-roader – but it’ll tackle low-grip terrain like bigger, uglier wagons. Whereas rear-wheel-drive cars inherently struggle to put their power down in rain, sleet, snow or ice, this will keep going no matter what brand of weather Mother Nature decides to serve you.
Economy & Environment
4×4 cars are usually less efficient than those driven by a single axle, and the 3 Series 320d xDrive is no different. However CO2 emissions are a mere 124g/km, while fuel economy is an impressive 60.1mpg. The standard car, in comparison, spits 119g/km and returns 62.8mpg.
Equipment & Value
If you’ve ever found yourself sliding due to dodgy winter weather then £1,500 is peanuts.The 3 Series 320d xDrive packs the same equipment and spec as the standard car. However the inclusion of xDrive will set you back an additional £1,500. We certainly can’t recommend paying for xDrive if you usually drive in areas where a lack of traction isn’t a primary concern, but if you’ve ever found yourself slipping and sliding due to dodgy winter weather then it’s a small price to pay.
The standard 3 Series is incredibly safe, racking up a healthy 5-star rating after its bettering at the hands of Euro NCAP. The xDrive model will perform almost identically in a crash situation, but it is arguably safer due to the fact it’s likely to keep you out of harm’s way in the first place.
If you’ve ever considered trading your saloon for a large 4×4 in the pursuit of better grip, but don’t want all the baggage involved with owning an SUV, the 3 Series 320d xDrive is worthy of consideration. We can’t recommend it for everyone – those who drive mostly on dry, grippy asphalt are better off pocketing the £1,500 premium and sticking with an ordinary 3 Series. But those who are worried about being stuck during cold weather snaps or careering off the road during heavy downpours will find this a capable, and confidence-inspiring alternative to an SUV.
Model tested: BMW 3 Series 320d xDrive SE Saloon
Engine: 2.0-litre diesel + 6-speed manual
Emissions: 124g/km CO2
Price: From £29,910