FIRST DRIVE | The new BMW 3 Series is an engineering masterstroke

Phuti Mpyane is left dazzled by what Munich's new sports saloon brings to the table

13 December 2018 - 11:32 By Phuti Mpyane
New look is more evolutionary yet strikingly revolutionary and unique in BMW stable Pic: SUPPLIED
New look is more evolutionary yet strikingly revolutionary and unique in BMW stable Pic: SUPPLIED

Building on the excellent foundations of the outgoing F30 model and 43 years of domineering segment know-how, the seventh-generation BMW 3 Series is a cosseting, intelligent and thrilling junior exec.

With this latest iteration, BMW has come out swinging with intent — among its strategies being a promise to sell the new car at virtually the same prices as the outgoing model.

The modern drive for better everything, from lower emissions, to refinement and digital sophistication, has made its mark on the new 3 Series, which now dazzles with technology, new mechanical configurations and an all-new, all-wheel-drive range-topper.

BMW SA has initially confirmed only the 320d and 330i for local debut in March 2019.

This new 3 Series is a measurably better car and could well be the undoing of segment expectations in general. Quantifiable improvements in all areas see a slightly larger but 55kg lighter car with quieter cabins and better outputs.

At 4,709mm long, the new 3 Series is 76mm longer than its predecessor, 16mm wider and just 1mm taller.   

The cabin is imagined in the same style and design seen in both the new BMW X5 and X7, adopting the wedge shapes and BMW Live Cockpit. Specification lines are the Advantage, Sport Line, Luxury Line, M Sport and M Performance.

Similarities in styling technique to X5 and X7 are found in roomier and quieter cabin Pic.SUPPLIED
Similarities in styling technique to X5 and X7 are found in roomier and quieter cabin Pic.SUPPLIED

The interior is constructed with good materials, and ergonomics have returned firmly to be angled towards the driver. It’s an aura of heightened refinement that permeates through the vehicle now, which also introduces artificial intelligence. New basics include laser light headlamps with 530m of night-time brightness, while a reworked chassis aims for a cushier, sharper and more composed driving experience.

This is complemented by in-depth technical change.  

Below the new surface panels that are penned with the pursuit of aerodynamics and visual drama are truly fine engines.

The remarkable coming together of every new aspect and the quality of this car is going to trouble segment rivals. Since BMW SA halted the sale of six-speed manual gearboxes, the cars will be available exclusively with an eight- speed Steptronic transmission. Although outputs remain unchanged at 140kW and 400Nm from the previous model, the 320d is livelier now, thanks to the introduction of multistage turbocharging.

This brings increased efficiency across all engine speeds, and improved the 0-100km/h sprint from 7.2 to 6.8 seconds, with a top speed of 240km/h. Fuel consumption combined is a claimed 4.5l/100 km. 

The 330i is powered by a 190kW and 400Nm 2.0l petrol single turbo, which is 5kW and 50Nm up on the outgoing car. Combined fuel consumption is rated at 5.8l/100km and it’s claimed to shoot from standstill to 100km/h in 5.8 seconds with a 250km/h top velocity.

It deploys its thrust vigorously and, fitted with adaptive dampers, it generates true reflections of various setups according to mode selected. These are Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. 

Whether coming or going, new 3 leaves quite an impression Pic: SUPPLIED
Whether coming or going, new 3 leaves quite an impression Pic: SUPPLIED

Dynamically, few rivals will seemingly offer anything like the driving texture of the latest 3, whether in 20d, 30i or M340i xDrive guise, the latter car earmarked for a global debut in June 2019. 

However, we got an early taste of this six-cylinder gauntlet that BMW plans to throw at the feet of Audi’s quattro-wielding S4 and AMG’s C43 4MATIC. This offers a truly visceral and sporty driving experience, its all-wheel-drive chassis impressing at the technically challenging Autodromo Portimão track in Algarve, Portugal. 

M340i top gunner is a road and track tool par excellence Pic: SUPPLIED
M340i top gunner is a road and track tool par excellence Pic: SUPPLIED

The better agility, sharper steering responses and how the integrated BMW M Differential alongside xDrive manages power distribution throughout all off its four wheels, is the stuff of engineering supremacy. The car felt able to successfully juggle everyday driveability with track-day antics.

But such are the improvements to the entire range above the previous model. Highlights are there in every aspect, from lessened noise and vibrations, especially how quieter in operation the 20d diesel engine has become.  

There’s also more digital wizardry added to the catalogue. Take the new Reversing Assist as a case in point. Should you find yourself having to jink through a sort of chicane of a driveway, the car can reverse itself for distances of up to 50m by steering it along exactly the same line it has just taken when moving forward.

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