WE SAY: THERE’S A REASON WHY THE 3-SERIES IS A HARDY PERENNIAL
The 3-Series is one of the great oaks in the automotive woodland. You can name them: Golf, 911, Range Rover, S-Class. And 3-Series. They mature but don’t change; they define the landscape. So if you’re BMW, you don’t cock about with the 3.
Sure enough, after 40 years this new generation declines to ambush us with any great surprises. Yet its component parts are basically all new. Pretty much all that’s been handed on from before are the engines and transmissions. But we defy you to find much wrong with that particular inheritance.
One of the aims for the designers was, ‘Don’t make it look like a 5-Series’, which is good because when I saw an old Three or an old Five, especially as Tourings, I had a job to tell which it was. The new body has taut metal along the sides, and subtle but sharp creasework, and holds the bonnet low over the front wheels.
The shell is stiffer and larger now. Extra front length copes better with crashes, so they had to lengthen the rear to balance the look
and, y’know, on it went until they’d added 7cm overall. Considerable track width too, so mind you don’t kerb those wheels. But there’s more aluminium in the skin and suspension, and the weight saving is over 50kg in most models, and it’s more slippery through the air too.
The 320d now has twin-sequential turbos. Thanks to that and loss of weight and drag, an auto 320d will get to 62mph in under 7.0secs, but the spec says CO2 emissions of 110g/km. On the road it’s as effective as any comparable diesel and quieter than most. The fun four-cylinder is the 330i, a super-smooth and rev-happy device that’s a better dance partner for the chassis.
First mile down the road, the new Three jabs you in the chest and tells you it’s sporty. The ride is taut. The steering’s sharp and accurate, without being nervous. Lean harder and it connects beautifully, subtly squatting onto its thighs and swivelling around and out of the curve. The M340i has 370bhp and 4WD with electronic control of the centre and rear diffs. That set-up will look after you but it’s also amazingly playful when you want it to be.
The ride’s pushing it a bit, though. In any version. Whether it’s big bumps or small corrugations, the suspension never relaxes. Or lets you. Still, as a long-distance car it does everything else right. It sits solid between motorway lane markers and generally keeps the audible hubbub to a minimum.
Inside, base versions get BMW’s trafficaware navigation, and actual dials. Optional on some and standard on the M Sport is the virtual instrument cluster and supersized central touchscreen as in the X5. We like the central screen, and the instrument pack carries loads of info, but in a layout that’s messy and not very legible. Maybe they’re pushing you into the awesome optional HUD. As rivals migrate to touchscreens and swipe pads, the iDrive rotary controller feels like coming home. You can use it without looking down, even when the car is bouncing along.
The new Three is emphatically betterfurnished than the old one, but it hasn’t moved ahead as fast as the best opposition. Oh it’s modern, with high-def screens all over the place and ambient lighting strips and lots of metallic highlights. But it’s not as plush or as lovingly crafted as an Audi or Mercedes.
It’s certainly big enough. The longer wheelbase serves up adult-size rear legroom. Behind that is a bounteous boot, with folding seat-backs if that isn’t enough. This could be a family car, though you’d probably wait a bit for the Touring, which is only a matter of months behind the saloon.