BMW have managed to completely baffle me since Chris Bangle came on board as their designer. You see for as long as I can remember I’ve loved the idea of owning a Beemer. I think it comes down to the image they portray which is one of youth, zest and an unrivaled “cool” factor.
In comparison their rivals have had rather a different image. Mercedes have until recently been happy with the idea that only old folk drive their cars. You know, the bumbling 50-something year old that’s had his lot in life and now cares only for comfort and the pomp that comes with owning a Merc. Never mind the fact that it is his very car willing him to an early death, most likely from boredom.
Audi were always, in my opinion, for the bloke who wanted to be different, but instead ended up looking a bit of a spanner for trying too hard. Audi’s styling was nothing to write home about, nor their interiors, nor their price. What made people buy one ended up being a compromise between the geriatrics and the younger blokes – and compromise is never a good thing. Just ask Zimbabwe.
Then Chris Bangle and his “Bangle butt” came on scene and destroyed everything. My beloved Beemer became more and more difficult to love. And now I’ve removed myself completely from any such debate involving the German powerhouses because I refuse to admit I’d rather have a Mercedes.
Early 2009 saw Bangle resign, resulting in every single Mercedes and Audi dealer losing sleep over what the new guy might jot down on the drawing board. It needed to be epic in order to set right the Bangle wrongs.
But alas it was not. It seems Adrian van Hooydonk was a Bangle admirer – clearly a blind chap, and deaf for that matter, because all that has emanated from the design room in Bavaria are slight variations of the same drivel. Wrecking the couple months of tingling anticipation between Bangle’s resignation and van Plonker’s first run (maybe he hasn’t had enough time, who knows).
So when the facelift 323i arrived at my doorstep I hardly ran outside in a blur of frothy excitement. I ambled rather slowly, dragging my feet, with my eyes shut.
After a brief spell on the ground, ruing my decision to close my eyes, I was rather shocked by what I saw. The subtle variations aren’t drivel. They’re actually not bad at all – well done van Plonker for taking something horrible and making it bearable, if it was in fact you. The sculpted lines on the bonnet added a much needed aggressive edge, as do the new tail-lights which no longer blend seamlessly into the boot.
Things weren’t quite so rosy on the inside. Not much has changed unfortunately, but it is only a facelift so I’m not going to be too critical at this stage. All I’m saying is that if the next 3 series comes out with this lacklustre, dull, insipid, concave dash I may be forced to drive over (yes it’s a long way to Germany but it’ll be worth it) and make van Plonker eat his dachshund.
So a step in the right direction, maybe, but far from the glorious 80’s styling genius that still holds appeal today. Not entirely convincing then…until I planted my foot and turned the first corner out of my complex. The surge of power isn’t what impressed me (mainly because 140kW doesn’t get the van Bangle rear end moving), but rather the way the power is delivered. Couple that with the precision of a Chuck Norris round-house kick to the jaw and you’ll understand how incredible this car feels on turn in.
From the list of entry level German saloons I’d never driven a new 3 series – only my mates 2002 E46. And even that is a better drive than the hemorrhoid soft C Class and fronty (yes I’m having another go at front wheel drive) A4. The 2009 model, though, is so far ahead it’s as though Mercedes brought a poodle to a dog fight, which leaves Audi, armed with nothing but a shoe in a nuclear war. Take away the German filter and there’s no entry level saloon in the world that rivals BMW in this regard.
And you know what? Subconsciously I knew all along that the Beemer was this good. Yes it is still ugly. Yes the interior is quite shoddy and poorly equipped by comparison. But in my mind the kind of person who buys the 3 isn’t someone who wants a million buttons and gadgets on the centre consol. And all the flash they need comes in the badge on the key. They’re the kind of person who wants to enjoy driving. And nothing will make that happen quite like a 3 series BMW.
Price: R 360 500
Engine: 2497cc straight six
Acceleration (0-100 km/h): 7.8
Top speed (km/h): 233
Fuel consumption (l/100km): 8.4 (claimed – actual 10.6)
Verdict – Once you’ve blocked out all the downsides it delivers an inspiring drive.
Photo Credit: Quickpic