The competition in this space couldn’t get any hotter.
BMW has today launched what might be its most important new car, more than 40-years after the very first of the kind debuted. The G20 3-Series is the seventh generation of the 3er, and BMW’s thrown everything they can at it. It’s larger, it’s more agile, it’s got stronger engines, and should now appeal to an even broader range of customers than ever before. It’s a big deal.
The new generation is considerably larger than the car it replaces, growing significantly in every metric except height; It’s 76mm longer, 16mm wider, and has an extra 41mm between its axles than the outgoing model, but is just 1mm taller than the F30 it replaces.
The design of the new 3er is a matter of great discussion, with BMW being pretty adventurous considering the ‘safe’ approach it’s taken with its other saloon cars. The 3er sports a new kidney grille, fused together for the first time, and flanked by ‘notched’ headlights that are now LED as standard. Looks a little Peugeot, but perhaps BMW’s trying to hark back to the 4-eyed look of older BMWs. Air Curtain vents are integrated into the lowest, furthest edges of the front bumper and incorporate the LED foglights, but now don’t work in concert with Air Breather vents behind the wheels (they’re missing, oddly).
Go down the sides and you see typical BMW complex surfacing down the flanks, though the character line that used to stretch from headlight to taillight is also missing here. The Hoffmeister kink has been reimagined and now features a bevelled edge down the back, which will probably piss off purists. Down the back, the L-shaped positioning lights are incredibly prominent, and frame a smoked upper section that houses the indicators and reverse lights, which to us looks a lot like the Lexus ES.
Inside, the cabin of the new 3er is a lot of what we’ve seen from other new BMWs: Look closely and you’ll find bits of new Z4, new X5, and new 8-Series throughout. But with the 3-Series, a compact saloon, there’s greater emphasis on wide elements to try and trick the eye into thinking there’s more space than there necessarily is. It’s all rather minimal though, with the buttons very neatly integrated into only two spaces on the centre stack, and minimised along the tunnel. There’s now no more mechanical handbrake, which frees up space, mostly taken up by the new-generation iDrive controller.
Infotainment is a big uptick with the new 3er, incorporating BMW’s latest infotainment technology. As standard there’s an 8.8-inch centre screen and a 5.7-inch driver supervision cluster, but this can be optioned up to a 10.25-inch centre screen with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. Input can be made through the rotary controller, its touch-sensitive pad on the top, or via Gesture Control; We don’t know why they still have this Gesture nonsense because it’s really buggy but you know, BMW. That aside, there is an advanced voice assistant powered by AI, which should allow you to give your new 3er voice inputs to do a variety of things, much like Mercedes-Benz’s MBUX system.
The seats have been redesigned to offer greater comfort for long-distance driving, though that’s just the start of it. Optional extras include sports seats, heating, powered adjustment (with memory functionality), and Vernasca leather upholstery. BMW says that they’ve massively improved cabin refinement, something that’s long been a bugbear with the 3-Series, and now features chassis tweaks to reduce squeaking, an acoustic windscreen (though side windows can have this too), as well as foam in the A-pillars, all in the name of quietness.
There are now new engines available for the 3er, all of which feature a variety of updates and refinements that increase efficiency and performance. As a result, the 2.0-litre 4-pot 320i makes 137kW and 300Nm of torque (up 10Nm), goes from zero to 100 km/h in 7.2-seconds and delivers a fuel consumption figure maxing out (officially) at 6.0L/100 km. Meanwhile, the 330i produces 192kW (up 4kW) and 400Nm of torque (up 50Nm), does the century sprint in 5.8-seconds, and returns a maximum of 6.1L/100km in fuel consumption.
On the oil-burning side, the 112kW/320Nm 318d and 141kW/400Nm 320d also use a 2.0 litre unit, outfitted with twin turbos to improve high-end performance and fuel economy. The 330d gets a 3.0 litre turbo straight-six that produces 198kW and 580Nm. All diesel models get a particulate filter, an oxidation catalyst and a nitrous oxide storage catalyst, along with selective catalytic reduction (SCR) with AdBlue injection to keep Greenpeace happy (or less irate).
But the Greenpeace special will come in the 330e, which will debut next year: It’ll pair a four-pot engine with an electric motor, offering a total output of 187kW (or 217kW in overboost mode). That’ll hit 100km/h in just 6.0-seconds while returning a FC figure of just 1.7L/100km, thanks to its all-electric range of 60km per full charge. Next year will also herald the arrival of the M340i xDrive, which will force a 3.0-litre turbo straight-six to produce a heady 280kW and 500Nm, which will hit 100km/h in just 4.4-seconds.
All but the 318d and 320d will get an 8-speed auto as standard, while the base diesels mentioned earlier will get the option of a six-speed manual (which we probably won’t get).
Safety is a big concern that the 3-Series has addressed, and now features things like collision warning and mitigation braking as standard, along with lane departure warning. Optionally, lane-change assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control are available. As a further option is Driving Assistant Professional, a level-2 semiautonomous driving system that’ll control the steering and keep you in lane, working together with active side-collision protection, evasion aid (which avoids collisions with cars and pedestrians), and forwards cross-traffic alert.
BMW’s also offering things like the new Digital Key for the 3-Series (which lets you use your Samsung NFC-enabled smartphone as a key), as well as the NFC BMW Key Card, as well as a regular key for people who’d prefer that. The BMW 3-Series should go on sale in Europe by the end of the year, meaning Australian introduction (which is an absolute surety) will commence sometime later, around mid- to end-2019.