‘IT’S A LOT OF MONEY ­ IT SHOULD BE FUN’

CAR (UK) - - Bmw’s ‘perfect’ 3-series -

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

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