Driv­ing dy­nam­ics still at its core

IN­TER­NA­TIONAL LAUNCH/ Mark Smyth spoke with mem­bers of the BMW 3 Se­ries project team at its re­cent re­veal at the Paris mo­tor show

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

Watch­ing BMW’s press con­fer­ence at the Paris mo­tor show, it was pos­si­ble to think that the re­veal of the sev­enth gen­er­a­tion 3 Se­ries was not a big deal in a chang­ing global mar­ket, one where BMW has changed pro­duc­tion of the 3 Se­ries af­ter decades in SA to the new X3.

How­ever, when the G20, the next gen­er­a­tion 3 Se­ries ar­rives in SA in March 2019, it will be as much a corner­stone of the brand as ever.

“Ten years ago, the SUV mar­ket was more or less dead,” says Thomas Baue­mer, head of project BMW 3 Se­ries. “In 2008 we were think­ing how long X5 will be around.

“Ev­ery fifth BMW is a 3 Se­ries sedan. The SUV mar­ket is grow­ing but up to now we have sold 50-mil­lion 3 Se­ries over the past 40 years and it is still a very im­por­tant mar­ket for us.”

“It’s a huge seg­ment,” says Stephan Horn, head of prod­uct man­age­ment BMW 3 and 4 Se­ries. “Even though in some coun­tries the sedan doesn’t play the role it played 20 years ago, the Tour­ing (sta­tion wagon) is still part of the 3 Se­ries fam­ily.”

Many might crit­i­cise the new 3 Se­ries for hav­ing a few el­e­ments that are a lit­tle too Lexus­like in terms of de­sign, but it is more about what is be­neath the skin — more tech, more com­fort and more driv­ing dy­nam­ics. Driv­ing dy­nam­ics have al­ways been a key char­ac­ter­is­tic of the 3 Se­ries and the com­pany is promis­ing that the lat­est ver­sion will be even bet­ter.

“The core of BMW driv­ing dy­nam­ics is still the 3 Se­ries,” says Robert Roth­miller, the man in charge of func­tional de­sign and in­te­gra­tion driv­ing dy­nam­ics. He says that early in the project they de­ter­mined it needed to be the ul­ti­mate sports sedan and it was never a ques­tion of how it should drive but how they can achieve that tar­get.

Roth­miller says that to make the 3 Se­ries bet­ter they needed to fo­cus on han­dling, steer­ing feel, acous­tics, agility and pre­ci­sion. In­ter­nally they came up with the slo­gan “ef­fort­less fast” and he says that as an ab­so­lute ba­sis for this you need “weight dis­tri­bu­tion front to rear bal­anced at 50:50, ex­tra strength and, although the car is longer, wider and slightly higher than pre­de­ces­sor, it is up to 55kg lighter, again ex­cel­lent for driv­ing dy­nam­ics”. The cen­tre of grav­ity is lower by 10mm com­bined with a wider track, all of which make up one ma­jor pil­lar of the im­prove­ments to the car.

The sec­ond area has been op­ti­mi­sa­tion of the com­bined stiff­ness of the body and chas­sis. Pre­vi­ously ve­hi­cle rigid­ity was mea­sured at the jack mount points but this was not what you are driv­ing on the road.

“Nowa­days we are able to op­ti­mise the com­bined stiff­ness of body and chas­sis from the road sur­face through the tyres, through the axle kine­mat­ics, up to the body and up to the driver. The goal is to make the steer­ing feel more pre­cise be­cause it’s the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of elec­tric power steer­ing. There were crit­i­cisms of the first gen­er­a­tion, so we in­creased, for ex­am­ple, the me­chan­i­cal feed­back for the driver in the steer­ing wheel.”

Then Roth­miller says there also some new in­no­va­tions in the lat­est gen­er­a­tion car, in­clud­ing the in­tro­duc­tion of a new dam­per tech­nol­ogy. He says it’s “a kind of a dam­per in­side of a dam­per”, to pro­vide ad­di­tional shock ab­sorb­ing forces at the front to re­duce the re­bound ef­fect over bumps while at the rear the en­gi­neer­ing pro­vides the op­po­site with more com­pres­sion through an ad­di­tional pis­ton in­side the dampers. The changes im­prove sporti­ness and also over­all ride com­fort.

Mod­els from the 330i up­wards also get a new elec­tron­i­cally con­trolled lim­ited slip dif­fer­en­tial in the rear axle to im­prove trac­tion and agility.

All this talk of driv­ing dy­nam­ics is fas­ci­nat­ing at a time when there is so much talk of au­ton­o­mous driv­ing and driver as­sis­tance sys­tems.

“We bal­ance the po­si­tion­ing of the car,” says Horn, “On the one hand, our her­itage — we must be the ul­ti­mate sports sedan and to en­sure our com­peti­tors do not get close to us, we make the next step, very im­por­tant. But on the other hand the in­dus­try is chang­ing fast, there’s a lot of new tech­nol­ogy com­ing in and we have to make sure the 3 Se­ries is fu­ture proof.”

But do not ex­pect the new 3 to be able to drive you to the of­fice when it ar­rives in SA in March 2019. Horn points out that it will be more Level 2.5 au­ton­o­mous driv­ing than Level 3, with driver as­sis­tance for high­ways such as lane keep­ing.

MORE TECH

The new 3 Se­ries has grown marginally in all ar­eas, ex­cept pos­si­bly the in­te­rior which is sim­i­lar to the out­go­ing ver­sion. But there will be more tech to make the G20 fit in more with our mod­ern lives. This will in­clude a per­sonal as­sis­tant, sim­i­lar to that of­fered by Mercedes and which you are used to with Siri, Alexa or Google.

Thomas Bren­ner of BMW’s dig­i­tal de­part­ment gave us a quick demo of the new as­sis­tant which is wo­ken up by say­ing “Hey BMW”. The sys­tem is more in­tu­itive than we are used to. As an ex­am­ple, he told the car he was tired and so it low­ered the tem­per­a­ture in the cabin and in­creased the mu­sic vol­ume. Ask­ing it for sug­ges­tions of places to go is also more in­ter­est­ing and the car can recog­nise who is ask­ing — the driver or the front seat pas­sen­ger.

The kinked head­lights and su­per­sized kid­ney grille make an in­ter­est­ing de­par­ture from 3 Se­ries norm. Left: It’s larger but lighter than its fore­run­ner in the quest for bet­ter driv­ing dy­nam­ics. Far left: The in­te­rior now comes with a new per­sonal as­sis­tant.

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