New BMW 3 Series Now it’s even better to drive
Next-generation 3 Series will arrive in the UK next March with a swisher-looking cabin, new technology and the promise of class-leading dynamics from the base model up
The base-spec version of the new BMW 3 Series must be the best in class to drive if the model is to be hailed a success, declared product manager Stephan Horn ahead of its world debut at the Paris show this week.
Dynamic leadership was determined as the key goal for the new car – codenamed G20 and the successor to the F30 model generation – following appraisals taken from customers, media reviews and critical assessment of rivals, which began five years ago.
“Our reputation is built on making the best car to drive, and while the current car is good, we knew we could do more and knew our rivals were pushing us hard,” said Horn.
Although Horn was reluctant to talk about competitors, two new rival car launches are believed to have prompted BMW’S decision: first, the Jaguar XE, which went on sale in 2015 and was widely regarded to have established a new dynamic benchmark in the class; and the Alfa Romeo Giulia, which was introduced in 2016 and drew praise from enthusiasts for its on-the-limit handling.
Despite the significant updates to the 3 Series, Horn stressed that the Giulia comparison was not entirely relevant. “A 3 Series must be both brilliant to drive when you want to push it and brilliantly relaxing when you want to go for a long drive,” he said. “We could never build a car that has your nerves on edge the whole time, or which only excites on the track. The bandwidth in which our car must operate must be wider than for any rival.”
The 3 Series now sits on the same underpinnings as the 5 Series and 7 Series and is therefore a little bit larger, lighter and safer than the outgoing model (see separate story, p10). The extra length is almost entirely dictated by enhanced crash regulations and the styling challenges they in turn have thrown up.
Significantly, the 3 Series’ axle tracks have widened at both the front and rear, with Macpherson strut suspension used up front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear. Key to the dynamic updates is an innovative new passive damping system that, combined with stiffer springs on the suspension, is said to make the 3 Series sharper to drive but also, when road surfaces deteriorate, allows the car to maintain a flat, composed ride. In addition,
Dynamic leadership was determined as the key goal for the new 3 Series
the steering set-up has been overhauled.
All of these developments were extensively tested in the UK, mostly in Wales. “The UK is a major market for the car, and we know that if we can make it work on the types of roads you encounter around Wales, then it will work in most places,” said Horn. “When your goal is to be the best, then you test the car in the places where it will be most challenged, and we’re confident that the hard work will deliver good results.”
Buyers also have the option of enhancing the 3 Series’ dynamic capabilities by moving up the trim levels from SE or Sport to M Sport, which sits 10mm closer to the ground and features more rigid bearings, additional body struts, firmer springs and anti-roll bars and more wheel camber. An optional M Sport Plus pack includes a more advanced active adaptive damping system and the option of a limited-slip differential.
Horn added that BMW’S engineers have now acknowledged they had overcomplicated previous model line-ups by making the highest level of dynamic performance accessible only to cars fitted with optional active damping. As a result, it is the new 3 Series base car that has been most extensively benchmarked against rivals.
“Putting your most concentrated development focus on something that buyers may or may not decide to put on their car is perhaps not the best way,” said Horn. “We want every 3 Series buyer to know that they have the best-handling car in class. In this respect, we have aimed to ensure every buyer has the best car in the class and, at the same time, it has underpinned a goal for the entire car, which is to make speccing it as simple as possible.”
When deliveries begin next March, power will come from a choice of two diesels and one petrol. The usually bestselling diesel 320d will be available in standard form and with xdrive four-wheel drive. It will make 161bhp and 295lb ft of torque, in line with the
outgoing Efficient Dynamics model of today but less than the 187bhp of the standard 320d. The 0-62mph time is 6.8sec, fuel economy with the eight-speed automatic is rated at 64.2mpg and CO2 emissions are 115g/km. Four-wheel drive adds 0.1sec to the 0-62mph time and lowers fuel economy to 58.9mpg. There won’t be an Efficient Dynamics model, with Horn saying that it was deemed appropriate to only offer the more efficient engine. However, complications from
When deliveries begin in March, power will come from a choice of two diesels and one petrol
the requirement to test every variant as part of the more stringent WLTP fuel tests are also likely to have played a part in the decision.
The 254bhp four-cylinder petrol 330i will also be offered in the UK and is expected to gain in popularity if current anti-diesel trends continue. It delivers 295lb ft of torque, accelerating from zero to 62mph in 5.8sec and recording 46.3mpg and 132g/km of CO2 with the automatic gearbox. Fuel economy and emissions
are boosted by a significant step in the 3 Series’ aerodynamic profile. Within 12 months of launch, a plug-in hybrid variant, called the 330e iperformance and offering around 35 miles of electriconly range and 39g/km of CO2 output, will be available. A provisional 0-62mph time of 6.0sec has been suggested.
Beyond dynamic ability, two other key areas identified as ripe for change from the current 3 Series were improving the look and feel of the interior and isolating the interior further from wind and road noise by the addition of significantly more insulating materials in the bulkhead and A-pillars and by installing a double-glazed windscreen as standard.
While the 3 Series cabin was always well regarded for the quality of its materials and the way they were screwed together, feedback suggested that some specs could also leave it looking drab. Now, even on base SE models, there are better materials again, and based on our chance to sit in the car, it is clear that the materials are further enhanced, hard plastics are reserved for the extremities only and the inclusion of ambient lighting strips and a sports steering wheel as standard lift the ambience.
Furthermore, more optional flourishes, such as horizontal seat stitching, are available and buyers can also opt to switch the analogue speed and rev dials on the dashboard for a digital display, which can be toggled to show the sat-nav’s map and instructions, as pioneered by Audi.
The infotainment screen is 8.8in as standard – the same size as the largest screen on the outgoing car – and can be upgraded to a 10.25in unit as
already available on the new BMW X5. It is controlled via BMW’S latest idrive system, which has been warmly received for retaining intuitive one-touch buttons as well as allowing access to functions via a rotating controller and on-screen options. For the first time on a BMW, the car’s software can also be updated remotely so that features can be added or upgraded.
The small increase in exterior dimensions doesn’t translate into much more space inside the car, BMW reasoning that if you needed more, you would buy a 5 Series. As a result, apart from a fraction more width, the interior is the same size, with the same ratio of space front and rear. Practicality and usability have been improved, though, with the rear seats now split 40/20/40 as standard, more storage cubbies being available, a same-sized but better-shaped boot and the
option of up to five USB ports, for instance.
A variety of driver assistance functions are available as standard now, including systems to steer, accelerate and brake the car on motorways and in traffic, and to detect potential impacts with pedestrians or bicycles. The most eye-catching technology is a new, unique function, most useful for getting out of parking spaces and available as standard, that records the last 50 metres you drove and that can automatically reverse the route for you.
The car is also significantly better equipped as standard than the outgoing car, with kit including a reversing camera, puddle lights, LED headlights, three-zone air conditioning and folding door mirrors.
To boost residual values and make choosing options easier, BMW will sell the 3 Series with a range of five pack options that bundle together items with a similar purpose, ranging from the sporty M Sport Plus option to Comfort, Premium Technology and Visibility offers. There are just nine individual options that buyers can specify.
Prices will start from £33,610, which, BMW says, is in line with the prices for the current car once the cost of the additional, now-standard options have been taken into account. However, with the marketplace more hotly contested than ever, it is likely that discounts will also be available once the initial rush of interest in the car has subsided. JIM HOLDER
The new 3 Series is significantly better equipped as standard than the outgoing car
Digital displays and new trim aim to lift the ambience inside
The idrive controller sits aft of cupholders. Space is virtually unchanged, despite the car’s extra length
New 3 Series shares its platform with the 5 Series and 7 Series
LED headlights are standard on the base model and the plusher-looking interior has three-zone air-con