There are no huge surprises under the bonnet as the twin-turbo four-cylinder diesel engine has been continued from the E90 3 Series but has been tweaked for better economy and efficiency. The two-litre 190bhp unit still sounds the same at idle and you'll need to carry a few more revs than you'd at first expect to get the car up on its toes. 62mph from rest takes 7.3s and as the needle approaches 2,000rpm, the 320d feels genuinely brisk, but the power band is fairly narrow and it's done its best work by 3,000rpm. It never gets harsh and thrashy at any point in this midrange, and the manual gearbox is slick and wristy so changing gears to keep it on the boil is no great hardship. Most cars will see the majority of their miles plugged into sixth gear on a motorway, for which it's perfectly happy, with the engine nudging around 2,000rpm at typical British motorway cruising speeds. It's worth noting at this point that there's also a 163bhp 320d EfficientDynamics Plus model, which is quite different, with lower power and an eco focus. The driving position is excellent and it's good to see car manufacturers starting to get windscreen pillar widths under control again.
The 320d gets the Drive Performance Control function as standard, allowing the driver to switch between up to four driving modes, varying from sporty to extremely economical. The four modes are ECO PRO, Comfort, Sport, and Sport + (Sport + is included only on Sport models or with selected optional equipment). Straight away you notice how well the car rides, even on run-flat tyres, although I will add the caveat that the demonstrator car I drove was fitted with the optional BMW M Suspension pack. I'd need to try a standard car on passive dampers to report on how the cooking 320d will feel. Nevertheless, even when hustled along in Comfort mode it resists flat and wallow admirably. The steering feels slick and accurate, but not laden with detailed surface feedback. You'll emerge from the 320d full of admiration at how BMW's chassis engineers have managed the compromise between ride and handling. In other words, the bar's just been raised.