By now you've been reading about the new generation 3 Series from BMW after its debut at this month's Paris Motor Show. BMW has the new kid on the block, and there's no doubt that it'll set the standard for premium rear-wheel drive fun... when it arrives here, that is.
Until then (most likely in early to mid 2019), we've still got the current generation in showrooms, and BMW Philippines handed us the keyfob to a very sharp and athletic looking example: the 320d M Sport.
The 3 Series sedan (or saloon, depending on your preference) you see here has been around since 2012. To be honest, the first version of it I drove wasn't quite to my liking; a Luxury line variant, the most conservative version alongside the Modern and Sport. That car felt like it was trying too hard to be a luxury car, but was a bit short of the mark. This M Sport, the fourth version, just might change all that.
I know what you're thinking: M Sport is just a bit of badging filled with sporting pretensions. But BMW doesn't add the M Sport badge just for show; they make sure it has some go when you want to roll up those long sleeves and drive after a week of MANCOMs and board meetings.
There's nothing much to note about the sheet metal, it's far clearer that this is a very sporty version of the 3 with some aero enhancements. The exterior package includes a front and rear apron, side skirts, and a diffuser insert. And, of course, a bunch of M badges all around. We could cut it right there, but if you look closer, you'll see more of what makes the 320d M Sport special like the fact that it sits 10mm lower on the road, those big lightweight wheels, and those improved brakes behind them. And it's all finished in a shimmering hue of Estoril Blue. Hey, that rhymes.
Open the door, and you're met by the signature driver-centric cabin we know BMW for. The seat is snug to the body, but not overly so. I absolutely love this rather retro-looking M steering wheel on the 3 Series, and the way it feels on your hands is just sublime, particularly the texturing of the leather wrap on the rim.
Familiarizing with the controls is easy if you've driven a BMW before. The gear selector is ergonomic, and clearly marked so it's difficult to make mistakes. The iDrive controller is easy to use, enabling you to rifle through the many features and adjust the settings of the system. The drive selector allows the driver to pick the settings of the 320d's powertrain based on the situation. There's Comfort mode for casual driving, EcoPro for optimized fuel consumption, Sport for better performance, and Sport+ for roads that demand everything the car has got. We'll get to that later.
At the heart of the 320d M Sport is a 2.0-liter turbodiesel. This is an engine we're familiar with; a similar one powered the previous examples of anything with -20d attached to it that we drove before like the 320d Luxury, the 420d Sport Coupe and 420d Gran Coupe. But BMW had made some improvements to the engine, bumping up the power to 190 PS (up from 184 PS) and improving the torque to 400 Nm (up from 380 Nm). And it's matched with an 8-speed Steptronic Sport automatic transmission.
Press the starter button and that engine comes alive, albeit with the typical diesel judder; no matter how much they try to tune it out. Driving from home to the office in the M Sport is fun, but it can be tiring. The reason is because the ride comfort is affected by the stiffer M Sport suspension. BMW says this one has the electrically adjustable version, but it's still noticeably stiff even in Comfort mode.
But you didn't really read a review about the sportiest version of the 3 Series (that isn't the M3) to have someone groan about the suspension, right? No, this 320d M Sport is about driving, and not the kind you do in the city.
With a mountain road ahead and Sport+ mode on, this 3er really comes alive. The engine isn't big on power, but it sure has a lot of torque. Mash that throttle from a standstill and this thing can easily sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in about 7.6 seconds, even with an 8-speed automatic and not a dual clutch. The enhanced M Sport brakes are far better than the stock ones, resulting in a 3 Series that can easily scrub speed, no problem.
And that suspension, the same one that you would dislike on our urban concrete roads, will be your favorite thing on an open road. The limits of the 320d M Sport's handling and tire grip (from the Bridgestone Potenzas) are quite high; even with all the traction and stability aids off, it takes a lot of speed to get the back to step out. And when it does, the excellent steering (even for an electric one) allows you to be very precise to either bring the back in line, or let it hang out even more.
We don't exaggerate when we say the 3 Series has always been the benchmark for driving dynamics when it comes to rear-wheel drive saloon cars. Even more so in this M Sport. 7 years after it was launched, the 3 Series is still the standard we look for in driving pleasure, especially this M Sport. It won't be the most comfortable amongst the competition, but you'll enjoy it. It won't be the most powerful, but it's really efficient; like 12.5 kilometers to a liter in the city and 19.1 km/l on the expressway.
At just over PhP 4 million, the 320d M Sport isn't cheap, but it's worth it. So much so that we really want one, and in Estoril Blue.
What's the 6/58 jackpot up to now?