A restyle sees the new 3 Series adopting an enlarged kidney grille that, along with the increased track width, gives the car a more hunkered-down look. Picture: SUPPLIED
A restyle sees the new 3 Series adopting an enlarged kidney grille that, along with the increased track width, gives the car a more hunkered-down look. Picture: SUPPLIED

If I had to choose one word to describe the new BMW 3 Series, it would be polished. The seventh-generation of Bavaria’s popular sedan, internally designated the G20 and replacement to the F30, has become even more sophisticated and refined, but at the heart of it is still a driver’s car that delivers on the promise of its forebears.

It’s become less apt to refer to the 3 Series as a junior sedan as we once used to, because it’s become a scaled-down luxury car and can be thought of as a 5 Series with slightly less leg room.

That leg room is the best it’s ever been as the new 3 Series has grown 76mm in length, making for a cabin that very comfortably seats four adults. The 480l boot is a very useful size too, and the rear seats flip down to boost luggage space.

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Despite its size increase the car weighs up to 55kg less than its predecessor depending on model variant, and the stiffness of the body structure and suspension mountings have significantly increased. The quintessential low centre of gravity and 50:50 weight distribution remain, while the increased wheelbase and track width have improved both the ride comfort and handling stability.

New to the 3 Series as a standard feature is continuously variable damping which adjusts suspension firmness according to the driving situation, reducing body roll in corners while making for a plush ride on bumpy roads. Optionally, the car can be specced with 10mm lower M Sport suspension and Adaptive M suspension with electronically controlled dampers.

Its pinned-down handling inspires lots of confidence, and the steering is weighted with that typically meaty BMW feel. Picture: SUPPLIED
Its pinned-down handling inspires lots of confidence, and the steering is weighted with that typically meaty BMW feel. Picture: SUPPLIED

The 3 Series has always excelled in handling and the newcomer doesn’t disappoint. It’s a very accomplished driver’s car for those who take a fancy to exploring its agile corner-carving abilities.

Its pinned-down handling inspires lots of confidence, and the steering is sharp and weighted with that typically meaty BMW feel, particularly when Sport mode is selected. The steering lightens up to a more commuting-friendly mode when set to Comfort or Eco.

The ride is quite plush too, though the sports suspension and optional low-profile 19-inch tyres fitted to our test car caused a somewhat choppy feel over bumps.

The seventh-generation 3 Series is a technological tour de force, with an expanded suite of optional semi-autonomous driving features including the ability to steer the car in its lane, automatically keep a safe following distance, and apply emergency self-braking.

The cabin has been greatly modernised with a swish new digital instrument panel, mood lighting, and design details that give the interior more pizzazz than before. A large infotainment screen can be controlled by touch, voice, gesture control, and also the familiar iDrive knob.


BMW 320d MSport

WE LIKE: Driveability, fuel economy, refinement

WE DISLIKE: High cost of optional extras

VERDICT: Iconic sedan gets even classier  


Making its debut is the BMW personal assistant which responds to “Hey, BMW” and offers a more intuitive way to voice-control features like the climate control and navigation.

The connectivity includes USB charging ports in the front and rear of the cabin, and a live news service as one of the menu items in the large screen.

A restyle sees the new 3 Series adopting an enlarged kidney grille that, along with the increased track width, gives the car a more planted and hunkered-down look. This more muscular stance is continued at the rear with its widened tail lamps which are stylishly darkened.

Full LED headlights come standard, while adaptive headlights with BMW Laserlight for nondazzling high beam, with a very impressive range of around 530 metres, are available as an option.

Most of these cool hi-tech toys cost extra, however. The base-spec 320d priced at R649,000 is quite poorly appointed, with manually-adjustable cloth seats and 16-inch wheels. If you want anything more than a “rental spec” version the car is also available in Luxury, Sport Line and M Sport packages.

The cabin has been modernised, including a smart-looking digital instrument panel. Picture: SUPPLIED
The cabin has been modernised, including a smart-looking digital instrument panel. Picture: SUPPLIED

Our test car had the more athletically-appointed M Sport configuration, as part of R228,000 worth of extra-cost options.

Some of the more interesting new toys include a Reversing Assist which can reverse the vehicle for up to 50m by steering it along exactly the same line it has just taken when moving forward. Other options boxes that can be ticked include the ability to lock and unlock the car using an Android smartphone instead of a physical key. Our test car also had an inductive smartphone charger and a head-up display.

The new Three is initially available here in 330i petrol and 320d diesel models. The range will be expanded later this year with the introduction of the 320i, M340i xDrive and 330d models.

The subject of this test is the 320d, a car that offers the best mix of performance and economy with its outputs of 140kW and 400Nm. Our test car sipped just 6.8l per 100km, but never disappointed with its lively and lag-free feel, with the ability to sprint to 100km/h in 6.8 seconds

It’s exceptionally refined for a diesel too.

The eight-speed Steptronic auto the only transmission available in the new 3 Series - is a thing of smooth-shifting finesse and adds to the car’s all-round polished vibe. The drag coefficient has reduced to 0.23 to make the car slip even more silently through the airstream than before.

The BMW 3 Series has sold over 15 million units over the last 40 years, and despite its dwindling sales in the face of the mass customer exodus from sedans to SUVs, it remains (just) BMW’s most popular model range in SA.

The polished new G20 takes the winning formula into the next level. Just a pity all those cool toys cost so much extra.


Tech Specs

Engine

Type: four cylinder diesel turbo

Capacity: 1,958cc

Power: 140kW

Torque: 400Nm

Transmission

Type: Eight-speed automatic

Drivetrain

Type: Rear-wheel drive

Performance

Top speed: 240 km/h

0-100km/h: 6.8 seconds

Fuel Consumption: 4.5l /100km (claimed); 6.8l/100km (as tested)

Emissions: 122 g/km

Standard Features

Tilt and telescopic adjustable steering wheel, stability control, ABS brakes, six airbags, runflat tyres with pressure monitors, Drive Experience Control (Comfort, Sport and Eco Pro modes), automatic aircon, cruise control, central locking, keyless engine start, multifunction steering wheel, electric mirrors, electric windows, LED headlights, trip computer, real-time traffic information, park distance control, 18-inch runflat tyres, M Sports suspension, variable sport steering, M Aerodynamics package, sports seats, audio system with Bluetooth smartphone connection and USB ports

Warranty: Two years/unlimited km

Maintenance plan: Five years/100,000km

Price: R694,653

Lease*: R14,854

* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit


Motor News star rating

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Competition

Audi A4 40 TDI Sport, 140kW/400Nm - R590,000

Mercedes-Benz C220d, 143kW/400Nm - R684,059