Cockburn Gazette - - DRIVEWAY -

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.

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