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Thursday, 7 May 2015

The best BMW for BMWness is the...


ENJOYED a brief but brilliant bit of petrolhead bonding the other day.

Heading home over the M62 I got overtaken by a chap in an E30 BMW M3 and – as a sort of way of doffing my automotive cap – I gave him the thumbs up. He looked back, gave me a knowing glance, and gave me the thumbs up in return. It was a fleeting moment of automotive anorakness between two guys who’ve never met – we both know the E30 M3 is a truly brilliant bit of kit.

My M3-driving mate will doubtless know something else - that all BMWs worth their salt have an inherent goodness. It’s an emphasis on driving enjoyment, build quality and somehow feeling very firm and focused, even though it costs a little more than normal to achieve it – let’s call it BMWness. His massively expensive Eighties touring car for the road might represent BMWness in its most concentrated form, but everything from a brand new 760Li to a tatty secondhand Z3 has it to some degree or other.

I went looking for it on the couple of occasions I’ve borrowed an X1 – the smallest of the German giant’s quartet of sporty off-roaders – and found it weirdly wanting on the BMWness front. It’s roomy, quiet and relaxing to drive on a long run, but this X-badged car just didn’t seem to have the BMW X factor, and always seemed to feel a bit dimwitted in the situations other BMWs – including its bigger brother, the X3 – revel in. M3 Man would have hated it.

Happily, you don’t have to go far if you’re hunting for BMWness – in fact, you’ll only have to wander a couple of feet across the varnished glimmer of your nearest BMW showroom. For roughly the same sort of money as the X1, you can have a 3-series with the same 2.0-litre diesel engine as the one I’ve been trying. Yes, I know that BMW isn’t importing the four-wheel-drive 3-series you can get on the continent and that the X1’s a tad more practical, but unless you live up a farm track I’d honestly go for the smaller saloon (or its Touring-badged estate sibling).

The 3-series is a proper BMW, and whether you go for the powdered milk world of the entry-level 316 or the full fat Cravendale world of the modern day M3 you’ll still get that inherent BMWness every time you go for a drive. It does all the things you’d expect a modern day family saloon to do, but there’s something about its informative steering, the attention to detail with the build quality and the way the tyres, the suspension and the traction control team up in every corner that lets you know someone in Munich has given this car some real thought. It even looks good too, in a snouty, aggressive sort of way.

The 3-series is really very good indeed. No wonder it’s the company’s biggest-selling model.

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