Cape Town - BMW’s 3 Series has always been the German carmaker’s top seller, since it was introduced more than 40 years ago, and with the recently launched seventh generation of the sports sedan things are set to continue in the same vein. More than 15 million 3 Series cars have been sold world wide and you’d be hard pressed to drive anywhere in South Africa without seeing one within a kilometre or two.
It seems too that the 3 Series bucks the trend of buyers opting for SUVs, which means that BMW is clearly doing something right and because it’s their volume seller, they have to get it spot on.
And with this model they certainly have, from the exterior, interior, handling and tech, the car is everything a driver could ask for.
For now there are two options available; a 320d and 330i. A 320i, M340i xDrive, and 330d should be in the showrooms towards September this year.
In days past you could pretty much figure out what engine was what with the label on the boot, a 320 was a two litre, a 330 a three litre and so on. Not so much anymore in this day and age. You pretty much have to be an aficionado to know what’s what under the bonnet but fortunately with easy access to social and electronic media a quick search will reveal all.
At the local launch in Cape Town we got to sample the 320d and 330i, both built at BMW’s plant in Munich. The turbocharged 320d gives you a very respectable 140kW and 400Nm and according to BMW will cruise to 100km/h in 6.8 seconds while the 330i is a 2.0 litre four cylinder engine punching out 190kW and 400Nm getting you to 100km/h in just under six seconds.
Both are driven by the rear wheels via an eight speed automatic transmission.
Because this new 3 Series was redesigned form the ground up, engineers were given carte blanch so it’s 76mm longer, 16mm wider and only 1mm higher than its predecessor, the wheelbase is also 41mm longer while both the front and rear track width have been increased as well.
So what does this mean? Well, the 3 Series has always been a driver’s car with a rear-drive sporty edge and nothing has changed in fact, the general opinion was that this model is better in all aspects than its predecessor.
Both models give you punchy acceleration and superb handling. We gave it a bit of stick going around sharp bends and gentle curves over the two loops we drove and if you didn’t know you were behind the wheel of a diesel you’d think it was a normal petrol engine with zero turbo lag, the only give away is the fuel consumption which was just under 6l/100km without using economy mode. The 330i has the advantage of a pleasant throaty roar as the rev counter climbed. Both give you the option of using paddles, but the auto gearbox is so smooth and intuitive that it’s hardly necessary.
In many modern cars you tend to feel a bit removed from the steering but in true 3 Series fashion feedback is there.
And while the design lines, LED headlights and signatory BMW kidney grill make for a very attractive exterior, it’s the interior that really puts it in a different league. The previous model was becoming a little long in the tooth and playing second fiddle to its competitors (Hey, Mercedes), but this redesign has leap frogged it right to the front of the line.
Think tablet, virtual reality look and feel that’s fairly intuitive but will take you a while to drill down in to all the menus, but once you’ve done this the car is set up for all your personal preferences, much like your phone, PC or laptop. A touchscreen facing the driver dominates along with a fully electronic “virtual cockpit” and you can choose between the touch control, iDrive controller, steering wheel buttons, gesture control or voice control. It’s all very top end high tech, but easy enough to operate even for technophobes.
For the first time you get BMW’s Intelligent Personal Assistant, that responds to ‘Hey, BMW” and can be personalised to give it a name you prefer. So for example if you tell it you’re cold it will increase the temperature slightly, you can ask about fuel consumption, messages, remaining fuel, and can explain different functions of the car. We told it we were bored, so it answered by informing us we hadn’t tried the Sport mode yet and changed the setting to Sport.
As expected the new 3 Series is an extremely safe vehicle and has a raft of safety features including some nifty automated driving selections.
As per normal there are many options to enhance and further personalise your car that will obviously have an effect on what you pay.
Overall though the new car has thrown down the gauntlet to the opposition and at this stage comes out trumps.