FEW cars hit the market with such great expectations as a new 3 Series.
It made BMW’s reputation as ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’ and has long been the sedan that other manufacturers, and road testers, use as a comparative benchmark.
BMW lost the plot with the 3 during the midnoughties as it took the car into the digitally controlled age, in the process dissolving its defining, intimate connection between driver, car and road.
At the same time, Mercedes lifted its game with the C-Class and in 2010 took best car honours.
So this new seventhgeneration 3 Series is on a mission, as stated by BMW, to regain that Ultimate Driving Machine feeling.
It all starts with the platform, the base body structure.
The new 3 Series is larger, lighter and considerably stronger than its predecessor.
It rolls on new suspension with stiffer springs and continuously variable dampers, designed to deliver greater control over wheel movement and a compliant ride.
BMW’s holy grail 50-50 front-to-rear weight distribution a given.
Prices start at $67,900 for the 320d, which runs a 140kW/400Nm 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel, matched with a standard eightspeed automatic. The 330i we’re in today is $70,900.
Up front is a 2.0-litre turbo (190kW/400Nm) that launches its lithe 1433kg from rest to 100km/h in a claimed 5.8 seconds.
You can, of course, go troppo on the options list but, unusually for a premium German car, the 330i shapes up as a no-optionsrequired performance drive straight out of the box.
Standard are the eightspeeder with sportier shift mapping, adaptive M suspension with adjustable dampers and 10mm lower ride height and M Sport brakes.
If you need to spend more, tick the $2600 M Sport locking rear diff option. Adaptive, swivelling LED headlights are also included.
It’s seriously deluxe in the 330i’s cabin, with beautiful Vernasca leather-upholstered, power-adjustable sports seats, dark roof lining, textured aluminium trim, an all-digital, configurable 12.3-inch instrument panel, the latest version of BMW’s iDrive infotainment, headup display, wireless phone charging and smartphoneactivated locking and unlocking.
Comfort setting in the new model is exactly that, with much improved absorbency at low speeds.
BMW owners will immediately feel at home in the signature twin cockpit, with sporty driving position and firm, supportive seating. It’s the best in the business.
BMW still has no autonomous emergency braking on the base 320d.
It is standard on the 330i, along with adaptive cruise, semi-autonomous steering/lane keeping and surround cameras.
At all times the car responds precisely and predictably to your inputs.
The steering in particular is a highlight. Sharp, tactile and intuitive, more than any other aspect of the car it shows that BMW has rediscovered the 3’s driver-first focus.
In Eco and Comfort modes, the 2.0-litre also returns great fuel economy.
It will do 5L/100km on the highway at a steady 100km/h and single figures in town, assisted by automatic stop-start.
Verdict: The Ultimate Driving Machine is back. If I didn’t drive other people’s cars for a living, I could be very happy with one of these.