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Reader test: BMW 320i

2009-10-20 07:36

John Kivedo, Midrand

For those of you who don’t know, the 320i Start is the very basic BMW that costs an arm and leg and you practically get all the low end bits.

For example, you get aircon when every other 3 Series models get climate control. You get a cheap radio/CD (using BMW marketing speak, it's called “Radio BMW Business CD”) as opposed to every other model in the 3 Series range getting “Radio BMW Professional”. You get undersized 16-inch alloys. BMW has not even bothered to colour code the door handles on the “Start”.
And the most hideous thing about this car is those ugly “Korean” styled rear lights, which seem as if it's a bunch of triangles of various coloured lenses just put together to form a light cluster. Fortunately it took BMW a whole three years to change those hideous lights to a more premium-looking outfit on the facelift.

However the great thing about the “Korean” lights is at least it will cost you R15 for a light bulb if the indicator light fuses as opposed to replacing the whole LED cluster found on the facelift at nearly R4 000 if you are out of motorplan. Ouch!

On paper versus real life

My car claims to push out 115kW on paper. With about 10% drivetrain losses and another 10% altitude loss, I am roughly getting 90kW at the wheels. But I am convinced I have a “Monday car" as I am sure I lost another 5kW somewhere because getting from 0-100 km is definitely more than 11 or 12 seconds as it feels like a full lifetime getting there. Professional tests reveal it’s about 10secs, but that’s with expert drivers and a “Wednesday” car I presume.
So all the BMW fans are by now probably shouting that there are loads of benefits, such as that it has 50:50 weight distribution, rear-wheel drive and it handles like a train on rails. Let me tell you these positives do not matter at all - with the underpowered lump under the bonnet you cannot feel the difference.

FWD and RWD feel the same when a car is pushing below 90 kW at the wheels and trust me I won’t be taking a “Start” to a track or a drag strip to embarrass myself so therefore I don’t care about 50:50 weight distribution for a car in the entry level compact executive segment. I would have preferred a softer suspension and normal tyres to give a more comfortable ride instead.
Even the fuel consumption is nothing to write home about. I average about 8.5l/100km. It’s neither bad nor good.

Basic A to B
To summarise, the “Start” is an A to B car and nothing more. It’s not exceptionally bad nor exceptionally good. It gets you where you need to be safely with a BMW badge stuck on it for a bit of brand snobbery.

If you have one, you’ll blend in nicely with the rest of the rat race and no one will even notice you among the herd as the streets of Johannesburg are flooded with the BMW 320i range. But the price tag for a new one starting at R300K for a “Start” right up to R365K for a 320i “Individual” I think is ridiculous.

Personally I feel if you cannot afford anything above a *25i then there are much better buys than a 320i for that kind of money.

Unfortunately I had no say in how to spend my R300k as my “Start” is a company car.  But the upside (or downside, whichever way you look at it) is that a basic 320i depreciates as fast as an Alfa Romeo such that a good three-year-old model has lost about half its value already if not more. So picking up a second hand will be a bargain.

For my next company car, if it becomes available on our list, I think I'll opt for the C180K BlueEFFICIENCY instead. As an entry-level in this compact executive segment this model is the best on paper I think. For starting prices at R325K you get a more fuel efficient 1.6-litre pushing the same power and much more torque than BMW's 2.0-litre lump.

You get a softer and more comfortable ride, more space and you don't suffer altitude losses as much.

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