You half expect BMW’s repsonse to being asked ‘will you ever make an economy model?’ to be ‘Actually, a lot of our normal cars already have Start/Stop, brake energy regeneration and intelligent ancilleries – so that’s like asking the Queen if she’d like a crown you spaz.’. But this 320ED shows that their answer is ‘Why yes. On top of our usual Efficient Dynamics routine, we’re going to go one step further by taking a 320d, detuning the engine, lengthening the final drive ratio, fitting some aero alloys, wrapping them in energy saving tyres and lowering the ride by 15mm.’.
Which is exactly what they’ve done. So while a 320d SE has 184bhp and does 60.1 mpg, a 320ED has 163bhp and does 68.9mpg – the 280lb ft of torque and £27,245 ticket are identical. Jolly good show really. With a 0-62mph time of 8 secs, you do lose half a second to the normal car and forfeit the option of speccing big alloys or M-Sport body kits… but that seems a fair swap for covering an extra 12% of road from each drop of fuel.
And rather cleverly, it’s actually a smoother drive than the standard car. The unsung hero is an unfathomably brilliant device called a Centrifugal Pendulum Absorber, which lives inside the dual mass flywheel and smoothes out the juddering you usually get from a car when it labours at low revs. It works incredibly well, making any vibrations almost imperceptible at slow engine speeds and just as smooth at high ones – so you stay in a higher gear for longer, using less diesel. If you’re lazy, it can trick you out: approach a junction, downchange to third, slow to a crawl, then try and accelerate with the engine still smooth as it languishes at 700rpm. The moral? Don’t be lazy or you’ll bog down. A life lesson.
The rest of the car is exactly how you’d expect a mid-spec BMW 3-Series to be. A fantastically judged 50:50 weighted chassis that’s forgiving and alert in perfect measures, a stubborn resistance against understeer even on the energy saving tyres and, to us at least, no effect whatsoever from being 15mm lower and having a higher final drive ratio than normal. If anything, the tall sidewalls on little wheels make it more compliant than the typical Barry-spec 3-Series on 19″ rims and runflats.
So, what about the three other pesky German midi-execs? Audi make an A4 TDIe which costs a couple of grand less, but is 30bhp and 7mpg down on the 320ED, while Merc will sell you a C220CDI BlueEfficiency for the same price as the Audi, which has the same power as the BMW but is less economical than either. Unless the extra £2k is a deal breaker, the BMW is a no-brainer.
You half expect any manufacturer’s repsonse to being asked ‘does detuning the engine, shrinking the wheels, compromising the tyres and lengthening the gears in the name of economy make your car better to drive?’ to be a pretty straight ‘no’. But BMW actually answer it with a convincing ‘yes’.