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

Autocar - - THIS WEEK -

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

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