BMW’s gold-stan­dard com­pact sedan is thor­oughly re­shaped and up­dated

The Mercury News Weekend - - DRIVE - By Mal­colm Gunn WWW.WHEELBASEMEDIA.COM

The 3-se­ries sedan es­tab­lished BMW as a ma­jor player on the global ve­hi­cle scene. InMarch, the sev­enth-gen­er­a­tion ver­sion hits the streets.

Nu­mer­ous en­try-lux­ury com­peti­tors from Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and Lexus con­tinue to chal­lenge the 3’s dom­i­nance, but for rea­sons mostly re­lated to over­all per­for­mance and brand ca­chet, the Bim­mer con­tin­ues to be pop­u­lar.

The new 3 se­ries con­tin­ues its con­ser­va­tive evo­lu­tion, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to dis­cern new from old. The front pro­file has been smoothed out and slightly low­ered, while the un­der­body has been al­most com­pletely sealed off to re­duce drag (to im­prove fuel econ­omy).

The kid­ney-shaped grille and lower air in­takes have been en­larged and LED head­lights are stan­dard. The to­tal glass area has been in­creased, thin­ner wind­shield pil­lars im­prove vis­i­bil­ity and help re­duce wind noise, and the hockey-stick-shaped tail­lights are more ex­pres­sive.

The alu­minum hood and front fend­ers con­trib­ute to an over­all weight re­duc­tion of up to 121 pounds, depend­ing on the model, even though the 3 se­ries is nearly 3 inches longer and about a half-inch wider and taller than be­fore. The dis­tance be­tween the front and rear wheels has grown by 1.6 inches and trunk space has in­creased by about 8 per­cent.

The re­sult­ing roomier in­te­rior pro­vides more front shoul­der room and more rear legroom. The mod­ern­ized dash­board has an 8.8-inch touch­screen and a 5.7-inch dis­play in the gauge clus­ter. For the op­tional Live Cock­pit, the touch­screen is 10.25 inches and the all-dig­i­tal gauge pack­age/dis­play is 12.3 inches.

BMW points out that the 3 se­ries’ new plat­form is con­sid­er­ably stiffer and gets all-new front and rear sus­pen­sions. In­cluded are con­tin­u­ously vari­able dampers to im­prove ride and sta­bil­ity when cor­ner­ing.

At launch, only the rear-wheeldrive 330i and all-wheel-drive 330i xDrive will be avail­able. Both get a 255-horse­power tur­bocharged 2.0-liter four-cylin­der (up seven horse­power from the 2018 en­gine). Torque is the big story, here: It has been in­creased by 37 pound-feet to 295. Com­bined city/high­way fuel econ­omy is es­ti­mated at 27 mpg.

TheM340i and M340i xDrive will join the lineup later, fit­ted with tur­bocharged 3.0-liter in­line six-cylin­der en­gines that pro­duce 382 horse­power and 369 pound-feet of torque.

A new 330e plug-in hy­brid model is also in the works for the 2020 model year.

The xDrive all- wheel- drive sys­tem main­tains a rear- wheel bias in most driv­ing sit­u­a­tions and will send all of the torque to the rear wheels in light- load con­di­tions, such as on flat roads.

The sole trans­mis­sion, re­gard­less of en­gine, is an eight-speed au­to­matic

with pad­dle shifters. This marks the first time that a man­ual gear­box won’t be avail­able in the 3 se­ries.

The base 330i rings in at $41,250 ($43,250 for the xDrive model), which in­cludes tri-zone cli­mate con­trol, 10-speaker au­dio sys­tem, rain-sens­ing wipers and emer­gency brak­ing that can avoid pedes­tri­ans and cy­clists. You’ll pay ex­tra for the Driv­ing As­sist pack­age that comes with lane-de­par­ture warn­ing, blind-spot de­tec­tion with cross-traf­fic backup alert and ac­tive cruise con­trol, which main­tains a safe dis­tance while fol­low­ing other ve­hi­cles.

The range of price-in­flat­ing op­tions in­cludes premium in­te­rior trim, head-up pro­jec­tion dis­play, adap­tive laserlight head­lights, M Sport sus­pen­sion and M Sport dif­fer­en­tial, which sends added torque to the out­side rear wheel when cor­ner­ing. BMW’s Per­sonal As­sis­tant al­lows con­trol of var­i­ous sys­tems by voice com­mand, such as heat, au­dio and nav­i­ga­tion.

Ul­ti­mately, cus­tomer pref­er­ences are lean­ing heav­ily to­ward util­ity ve­hi­cles. No mat­ter how good the new 3 se­ries is, the main com­pe­ti­tion might not be from other au­tomak­ers such as Audi, Acura and MercedesBenz, but other BMW ve­hi­cles such as the X1 and X3.

The real story of the new 3 se­ries in­te­rior is per­haps the in­crease in room. The car is nearly 3 inches longer than be­fore, with 1.6 more inches of space be­tween the front and rear wheels. (Photo cour­tesy of BMW) The new 3 se­ries has more rear-seat legroom than be­fore, although the lay­out back there is ide­ally suited for two peo­ple and not three. (Photo cour­tesy of BMW)

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