BMW’s new 3 Series lives up to its heritage
Seventh-generation sedan has taken all the hallmarks of its predecessors and ratcheted them up a few notches
When the first-generation (E21) BMW 3 Series was launched more than 40 years ago BMW would not have guessed it would turn out to be the most successful model in the brand’s history.
More than 15-million units have been sold worldwide, many thousands of those in SA, over six generations. Last week BMW SA launched the all-new 3 Series into the local market, hoping to significantly add to the sales tally.
Considering its importance to BMW’s bottom line, it’s not surprising that the firm’s design team hasn’t mucked about too much with the aesthetics of its medium-size sedan. The styling is a gentle evolution of the existing 3, but refreshing at the same time. BMW’s design director, Adrian van Hooydonk, is adamant that each model in its line-up has a distinctive appearance.
It seems BMW has been careful not to fall into the trap of some of its rivals. The face, in particular, has a bold treatment with large kidney grilles flanked by (standard) LED headlamps with an interesting notch in them. If there is one angle that is unflattering it’s the rear. The tail lamps look quite generic and do not help the car stand out at all.
New buyers can help differentiate the G20 3 Series with optional Sport Line and M Sport trim levels. In all key dimensions the new car has grown over its predecessor. Length, width and height have increased by 76mm, 16mm and 1mm, respectively. While the successor is larger in all regards, depending on the variant and specification, the new car is up to 55kg lighter than the outgoing model.
Inside there has been a major step-change. The cabin feels more spacious, particularly in the rear, and airy. BMW says it’s “calmed the interior” so drivers can focus on the essentials. Controls have been grouped into usage sets with the most relevant either on the steering wheel or close by.
The G20 3 Series features the company’s newest operating system, 7.0. This means the new 3 features all of BMW’s latest high-tech gadgetry. Included among these is BMW’s Connected Drive Services, large-format colour screens for the instrument cluster and infotainment screen, access via a smartphone digital key and BMW’s Intelligent Personal Assistant. The latter is a voice-operated system that allows you to interact with your new 3 as well as learn about all the onboard functionality.
BMW SA has launched locally with two derivatives: a 320d (140kW) and a 330i (190kW). Both are 2l turbocharged four-cylinder motors and all engines offered locally will be fitted with eight-speed automatic transmissions. Later this year the four-cylinder 320i (135kW) and six-cylinder 330d (195kW) will arrive, as well as a high-performance, all-wheel drive M340i xDrive (275kW). There’s no word on when the apex M3 will arrive.
At the ride and drive event I sampled the 320d diesel and 330i petrol. BMW SA laid on a comprehensive launch route that comprised every conceivable road condition in the Western Cape. The new 3 has excellent primary ride quality as we experienced on motorways and well-surfaced touristy roads of the Cape.
The noise, vibration and harshness properties, too, are also right up at the top of the class. There’s little or no unnecessary noise intrusion and several hours behind the wheel didn’t leave either driver worse for wear. On the twisty Franschhoek Pass, the 3 Series’ sporting side came to the fore.
A quick, if inert, steering action meant we could attack corners with precision and verve. In these situations the BMW 3 has most, if not all, of its rivals beat. Many of the cars on offer for us to drive were kitted with optional 19-inch alloys. While these are nice to look at and work well in dynamic situations, they did send a fair deal of road imperfections into the cabin. Scarred tar and rougher sections of road were telegraphed quite clearly to the occupants.
Of the two derivatives we drove at the event, which are priced identically, my choice would be the 320d. It has the same level of torque as the 330i but will travel so much further between fill-ups. Oh, and I’d have it on the smaller 18-inch wheel.
The battle between models in this subsegment has always been closely fought. Typically, it is little more than personal preference that guides the decision-making process of buyers. In reality there is little to choose between the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series.
This new model has taken all the hallmarks of its predecessors and ratcheted them up a few notches, which should keep it as BMW’s most successful model for a bit longer and, if you’re inclined, make it a brilliant option in the executive sedan category.
320d — R649,000
330i — R649,000
Sport Line model — R672,600
M Sport model — R694,400
Sport Line launch edition — R664,000
M Sport launch edition — R684,000