BMW straps their entry-level four-cylinder engine to their handsome 3 Series Coupé. But does it still deliver a full BMW experience without their signature six-cylinder powerplant?
Photos: Joel Tam
I remember learning how to swim. Like many of us, I started with the small pool. Knee-deep water level, blowing bubbles and learning to float. Lots of fun - yet safe. I could tell my friends that I had gone 'swimming' and they'd be like "Wah, you can swim!".
Eventually though, splashing around in the shallow pool wasn't much fun anymore and I progressed to the deep pool, and though it was challenging, there were rewards. I eventually learnt the different techniques and strokes in swimming. Through the years, swimming became a large part of my life. I had developed a regular swim regime and even joined the school team in their training.
Which brings me to the BMW 320i coupe. Driving it is like being in the small pool. It is fun to be in. Like many models that came out of the Bavarian marque's production line, it handles brilliantly, and thanks to its handsome and stylish lines it feels sporty enough to make you feel like you're piloting something quite special.
Yet the keyword here is 'feels', for under that long hood lies a two-litre four-cylinder power plant that produces a humble 156 bhp and a 0-100 km/h time of almost 11 seconds. This is hardly a sporting engine option, even with the lighter coupe (it has a weight advantage of 10 kg as compared to the sedan), the car still feels sluggish. Within the first five minutes of driving, you'll feel like you've experienced everything the car has to offer. Once again, akin to stepping into a shallow pool.
There is still fun to be had nonetheless. The chassis is a fine one and this is especially felt round the corners, along with every directional change. The suspension is firm but comfortable, always giving you the confidence to push the car harder (and you would need to, with that insipid engine).
Visually, even though the car does without the chrome trimmings found on its more well endowed siblings, the car still cuts a sleek shape and is overall, a very attractive car. Pull open the door and you'll notice the long and frameless doors, plunk yourself into the front seat and the coupe's very handy automatic seat belt 'butler' will feed you the belt so you can avoid getting shoulder cramps trying to reach for it.
The interior is typical BMW, spartan, stylish and well screwed together. The regular six-speed automatic transmission is, well, regular at best. At that price point, there are many cars out there that feature much faster double clutch systems which make driving much more enjoyable. That said, it does the job well (as long as the job doesn't require an 'enthusiastic' style of driving).
So, does the 'small pool' experience translate to a car for shallow people? Not really, the 320i coupe is still a competent car despite the bland motor. But do yourself a favour and spend that extra 30 grand or so and get the 325i. With 62 bhp more and a signature six-cylinder under your bonnet, you'll be lapping in the deep pool with a smile on your face.