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Road Test: BMW 316d SE

Prices as tested: �44,016

+ Decent performance and economy, delightful chassis, refinement
� 320d is gruntier, as economical and barely any more expensive
= If it�s all you can afford, 3 Series-wise, then it�s fine. Otherwise, go for the 320d.

It�s probbaly getting a bit late to be surprised any longer by BMW fuel economy and emissions figures, but for the record, here�s what the new 316d can manage. BMW claims 4.4-litres per 100km and 117g/km of Co2. Over a 1,200km road test, often with four-up and luggage, we managed an average of 5.2l/100km and a best of 4.5l/100km. Genius, witchcraft or a painting of an ageing diesel pump, stashed in an attic somewhere. However BMW is getting these figures, and however blas� we might be becoming about them, they are still remarkable.

But this is the BMW 316d � the lowliest of the new F30 3 Series range and therefore a car with a tough question to answer; is it enough BMW for you or, should you buy one, are you going to feel short-changed relative to its stablemates.

Well, that depends on a couple of things. If most of your driving is urban based, then the 316d feels entirely adequate, with 240Nm of torque easily propelling its 1,410kg mass into traffic gaps and along dual-carriageways. You�ll also find its overall engine refinement slightly better and quieter than its 320d big brother, which is odd considering that, outputs aside, both use the same 1,998cc engine. And the fuel economy, which stubbornly refuses to budge much below the 50mpg mark no matter what you do, will be as amazing as any of its more expensive brethren can manage.

The slight, and it is only slight, letdown comes when you venture out onto country roads or long motorway stretches. There, you will find that while the 316d�s 114bhp is adequate, you will have to rev it longer and harder to get the kind of performance commensurate with the blue and white flag of Bavaria on the bonnet. It�s not slow, as such (10.9secs 0-100kmh, 203kmh top whack), it�s just that a 320d is significantly quicker.

OK, so you can easily point out that, comparing identical SE specifications, a 316d is �4k cheaper than a 320d and yet still offers the same blend of decent (if, as noted, not as satisfying) performance with remarkable fuel economy. But to be fair, we would have expected better in terms of economy relative to the 320d, otherwise what�s the point (price aside) of downsizing? And if you�re going to get into pricing arguments, then why are you shopping for a BMW in the first place?

OK, let�s get away from that for a moment and look at the driving experience. Which, as with every F30 we�ve thus far tested, is little short of sublime. The steering is beautifully weighted, accurate, fast and gives lie to the theory that electrically assisted systems cannot be satisfying to use. The ride quality, on our test car�s unfashionably high-profile Continental tyres, was exceptionally good; always Germanically firm but never giving into the annoying bump-thump that so blighted the old E90 3 Series. The F30 really does effortlessly combine agile, athletic reflexes that please a keen driver with the kind of comfort and isolation that keeps passengers happy. Asleep, even.

Back to pricing though. Our test car came with a list price of �35,980, which sounds like a surprisingly reasonable figure for a 3 Series. But it didn�t seem to need a very long or deep dip into the options list to whack it up to a much more robust �44k as tested. I can�t help feeling that it�s a bit stingy in this day and age to ask �35k for a car and not throw in some small things like brushed aluminum trim. Mind you, it most be noted that �3,800 of the �5,400 worth of extras on our car was eaten up by the leather trim and the 8-spped ZF automatic gearbox. Sweet though the standard six-speed manual is, it�s hard not to recommend spending the extra on the auto; it�s seamlessly smooth and has no discernible impact on economy. And anyway, it�s all more affordable now that BMW is offering some seriously tempting personal lease agreements, with guaranteed second hand values and with backing from its own bank.

But there will always be the niggling doubt that you�ve bought the lesser 3 Series. In isolation, the 316d is everything you�d expect a BMW to be. But, with more grunt and yet identical fuel economy, a 320d is more.

Facts & Figures

BMW 316d SE
Price as tested: �44,016
Range price: �34,750 to �60,260
Capacity: 1,995cc
Power: 114bhp
Torque: 240Nm
Top speed: 203kmh
0-100kmh: 11.2secs
Economy: 4.4l/100km (62mpg)
CO2 emissions: 117g/km
Tax Band: A. �160 road tax
Euro NCAP rating: Not yet tested

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