‘IT’S A LOT OF MONEY IT SHOULD BE FUN’
THE 3 SERIES’ essential magic? That driving one makes you feel a bit special, because it’s a bit special to drive. In recent years, however, first Jaguar’s XE and now Alfa Romeo’s Giulia have snapped ever-closer to the outgoing F30 3-series’ heels. The new G20 arrives with one crystal-clear objective: to be indisputably the best car in its class to drive.
‘We wanted to bring the sharpness back,’ says Peter Langen, BMW’s senior VP for driving dynamics. ‘Our customers are paying a lot of money – the car should be fun to drive.’
How to achieve this noble objective? There are no carryover parts from the outgoing 3-series, but a 50:50 weight distribution remains – a good start. The G20 is also up to 55kg lighter, depending on spec, and BMW’s engineers have pulled its centre of gravity down 10mm while lengthening its wheelbase by 41mm for increased stability at speed. Track widths are also up, by no less than 30mm – a big increase, and the result of a decision taken very early in the engineering phase. Langen says body and suspension were developed simultaneously, by engineers in all departments working collaboratively. Langen claims the result is a very high level of structural stiffness – a key requirement of accurate, consistent handling.
The 3-series remains rear-wheel drive (sDrive in BMWspeak), with xDrive all-wheel drive also available. For the first time, a locking rear diff will be available for both sDrive and xDrive variants. As before, rear suspension is a five-link arrangement and front suspension is still by MacPherson strut (the 3’s bigger, platform-sharing 5-series sibling uses double wishbones, as do the XE and Giulia).
Cause for concern? Langen says not, and that the humble strut is a very tuneable animal. (Porsche’s Cayman serves to back up his assertion.) There are three suspension options: the standard comfort set-up, the 10mm lower, firmer M Sport set-up, and optional adaptive dampers. The latter are designed to act faster than before, while the standard passive dampers have a trick of their own, with hydraulic bump-stops for greater control at the end of their stroke. The claimed upshot is quicker and more precise impact absorption and improved driver feedback and – that word again – accuracy. ‘There was no question driving dynamics were the most important attribute,’ says Langen. ‘We spent more money on dynamics than before. It’s an emotional aspect – there needs to be a clear reason for the customer to want this car.’4