BIGGER. BETTER? TBD
I T ’ S O N LY A N opinion, not absolute fact. But my opinion is that the latest incarnation of BMW’s 3 Series looks a lot better than the previous one. And the one before that. A lot of unnecessary complication in details and surfaces existed in models of the recent past, and a bit of that is still here; this design carries over quite a bit to provide marque-identity continuity. You know it’s a BMW, but given its greater size, you might think it’s a new 5 Series. BMW designers are well aware of this and are dealing with the problem.
For many years the Automobile staff, including me, very much favored the 3 Series, especially the M3. But enthusiasm began to wane a bit as both dimensions and prices got a lot bigger and options more diverse. BMW used to pretty much optimize all of its cars for the West German home market—for autobahns and winding country roads—and only one technical specification existed. An early 3 Series bought in California wouldn’t behave much differently from that same model delivered in Hamburg.
Legally required items like side parking lights or license plate mounting brackets might differ, but essentially a BMW was a BMW, and it behaved as expected, everywhere. EPA and CARB rules might have resulted in a bit less power in the U.S., but steering and braking feel were the same. Then customer attitudes changed some. In severely speed-limited markets—Japan and America, specifically—BMWs got softer subframe bushings for comfort, and the Ultimate Driving Machine magic began to fade.
Will this new 3 Series be back to Ultimate standards? We’ll know once we’ve had a chance to drive the 2019 model, but until then we can concentrate on matters of appearance.
One thing BMW has had going for it was the ability to keep front overhangs really short, improving overall proportions. There is more mass ahead of the front wheels in this one, and the hood is puffier to deal with pedestrian safety requirements. But by angling the outer corners of the body back in plan view, there is less sense of that mass. Even in pure side view, taking a scallop out of the painted skin fools the eye a bit and leads to a sense that the car is not bigger. There’s still a kind of lower protuberance, rather like the cowcatchers on 19th century steam locomotives, but it manages not to shock, thanks to the big concave sections on the lower corners of the front end.
The cabin has been simplified, but the impression remains that it has all been shaped with the driver in mind. Sit in this car, and we doubt you’ll think only of taking the kids to after-school activities or commuting to work. Both are more than possible, but going fast is still the leitmotif for BMW. We only see that as a good thing. AM