Motoring

New BMW 3 Series better than ever

The BMW 3 Series has long been the brands' bread and butter model, not just here in South Africa but the world over.

It was, however, for many years built in South Africa until BMW decided to replace the 3 Series production line with that of the X3. There is a new 3 Series and is being built in Dingolfing, Germany. Do the Germans still know how to build the most popular BMW model of all time or have they forgotten how to build a good car? Well, the new 3 Series arrived at our office and I got behind the wheel to find out.

Only three variants were introduced by BMW South Africa at the time of launch. It has subsequently decided to include all engine variants on offer; there is a 320i, 320d (which were the test vehicle we received) and the 330i petrol which is in fact, not a 3.0-litre but a 2.0-litre that develops a bit more power than the normal 320i hence the 330i designation and a 330d. A fifth model is coming later on in the form of the M340i.

Back to the 320d

The model that arrived at our office had all options specified complete with large, sporty wheels and an M-Sport body kit. The new 3 Series has, in my opinion, improved on the styling aspects of the previous model, it looks modern, more aligned with the current family design language yet remains identifiable as a 3 Series. The front bumper is more sculptured and the LED headlights now also feature a more noticeable design element in that they cut into the bumper which highlights the dual-LED day-time running light elements.

The rear of the car also features a new design with slim horizontal taillights which include slightly blacked-out elements for an added sporty look. The 320d also features a dual exhaust, one on each lower corner of the bumper. The M-Sport body kit includes added air vents as well as a gloss grey diffuser. To be honest, I never really did like the styling when I first saw the car in images although everyone told me that it looks better in real life, I can now confirm this is true. I will, however, say that the M-Sport body kit and large wheels play a big part in the above statement.

What about the interior?

Many people complained about the interior of the 3 Series as it progressed over the years, BMW did, however, introduce slight updates to the car over its life span but this new one has taken it up a notch. The new facia design is minimalistic with very few buttons with the climate control system now operated via a small screen between the two mid-mounted air vents. A large infotainment screen sits atop the dashboard. It offers you the ability to control just about every aspect of the car. The operating system, however, is somewhat not as easy to navigate as before. Thankfully my test car had wireless Apple CarPlay so once I turned it on, my phone would automatically connect and all my apps and music was at my fingertips. The car now also offers Gesture Control, a system that reads hand movement input to adjust options such as audio volume, answer or cancel a call or skip to the next song, you simply have to move your hand in a specific way and magic happens.

The quality of the interior has also drastically improved with the fit and finish being some of the best on offer within the segment. I also like the new digital instrument cluster, sure, you can’t customize the look but the design does change depending on the drive mode that you are in.

About those drive modes

The latest 3 Series has been designed to offer a 50:50 weight distribution as well as a lower centre of gravity with a wider front rack. The car’s wheelbase is also a bit longer than before and it has been built on BMW’s CLAR platform, which has led to increased body rigidity. The 320d that was on test came fitted with large wheels and low profile tyres, however, I did not find it uncomfortable, even when driven on rough back roads. Sure, the suspension is firm, especially in Sport mode but that’s what you want. Remember, the 3 Series has always been known to offer a more engaging drive than its counterparts with its sharper steering and overall more agile nature.

The engine though is the main ingredient; the 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel unit develops around 140 kW and 400 N.m making it quite quick. It will also achieve a 0-100km time of around 6.8 seconds. That said though I found myself cruising around in Eco Pro and Comfort mode more than in Sport mode. The 8-speed ZF gearbox is one of the best but in Sport mode the car, although potent just feels out of place, holding onto gears with that typical diesel grumble.

Alternating between the other two modes ensures a comfortable ride as well as brilliant fuel economy. The Autodealer team managed to achieve an impressive 4.8l/100km at one stage of our test, however, I averaged around 6.2l/100km. Nevertheless, I racked up around 950km by the time I handed the keys back with still 60km of range left in the tank.

Verdict

So to answer my question, can the Germans still build a world-class 3 Series? Yes, they can. The new 3 Series features technology that has filtered down from the flagship 7 Series and it’s semi-autonomous driving aids such as active lane keep assist, active cruise control and the likes are some of the best systems available today. The car looks good and it drives even better, the biggest problem though is the price. An entry-level 320i will set you back R617 036, the model that I drove had a base price of R694 653 (320d M Sport) but was carrying an optioned out price tag of close to R800 000. Now the BMW X3 xDrive20d xLine starts at R743 589 and I know which I’d rather have in this day and age.

Likes

  • Overall improvement over the predecessor
  • Minimalistic interior
  • Driving dynamics

Dislikes

  • Price
  • Vanilla M Sport models
  • Infotainment operating system

 
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