DRIVEN: updated BMW 3-Series is still a jewel among sedans

Published Mar 7, 2023


Launch review: 2023 BMW 3 Series

Pretoria – It’s heartening to know that the BMW 3 Series is still the mainstay of the Munich-based car manufacturer and that one in seven BMWs sold is the 3 Series. So it stands to reason that they will pay careful attention to its updating and tweaking as the models progress.

The latest ones have arrived in South Africa and though not massive, the tweaks have made it an even more attractive line-up. The front-end gets larger air intakes, slimmer full-LED headlights, daytime running lights in an inverted L and a redesigned kidney grille. Let’s raise a glass to BMW for not trying to force the much-maligned large grill into the 3-Series’s profile.

The rear has a higher proportion of surfaces painted in the body colour, slim units and flared rear-wheel arches and the exhaust tailpipe now measures 90mm or 100mm in diameter, depending on the engine variant.

Standard on the 3-series is the M High-Gloss Shadowline trim and 17-inch light-alloy wheels, except if you opt for the M-Sport trim while the M340i xDrive sits on 19-inches.

The interior has had a more significant makeover now with the BMW curved display. A 12.3-inch digital instrument panel dominates the view from the lovely-to-hold steering wheel and is joined by a 14.9-inch diagonal touchscreen infotainment system fitted with BMW’s iDrive and their latest operating system 8, with extended capabilities of the BMW intelligent personal assistant.

Buttons and controls have been reduced in favour of touch and voice control while the gear-selector lever is the new smaller designed switch found in some other models. Fortunately the volume control is still a physical dial and not integrated into the touchscreen.

The engine line-up remains as before, starting with the 318i that’s fitted with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbopetrol engine rated at 115kW and 250Nm, and paired with an eight-speed Steptronic transmission driving the rear wheels.

The rest of the range comes standard with the eight-speed Steptronic sport transmission fitted with a launch-control function.

The 320i uses the same engine with a bit more power providing 135kW and 300Nm, while the 330i, available only with the M Sport package, gets 190kW and 400Nm from the 2.0-litre motor.

Fortunately we still get the ever-popular 320d 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel mill that’s good for 140kW and 400Nm.

Heading the range is the M Performance variant M340i xDrive, with the glorious turbo-charged BMW 3.0-litre in-line six cylinder petrol mill pushing out 285kW and 500Nm to all four wheels, albeit with a rear-wheel bias. It’s also available with the M Sport Pro package.

We got to drive the 320d and the M340i at the recent launch in Gauteng and I must say that the cosmetic changes to the exterior really makes the car stand out. The lines, curves and sweeps I reckon make it one of the more attractive sedans on the market, but there’s no doubting that it’s a 3.

First up was the 320d and even though the engine has been around for a while, it’s still a jewel and pretty much the benchmark for performance and fuel consumption.

It’s fantastic what BMW has managed with it and even in the highveld air there was little to no turbo lag. It glides forward effortlessly going through the gears and while it’s a diesel, acceleration is brisk and it will quickly get to the national speed limit and beyond.

Because the rest of the car remains unchanged, handling is as crisp and direct as the previous model and it very much remains a driver’s car.

The changes to the interior have firmly placed the car in the 21st Century and ready for the future, although the voice control will need a while to get used to your voice, defaulting to the weather if it doesn’t understand your command.

The M340i xDrive is a whole different driving experience. Like the diesel engine, the straight six needs little introduction. It burbles, pops and makes a glorious sound when red-lined in sport+ but will just as easily glide along unassumingly in Friday afternoon Gauteng highway traffic.

Passing slower traffic on some surprisingly unpotholed back roads, only needs a gear change or two when it’s floored and it will roar past with ease. It makes short work of sharp corners and bends as you would expect from an M Beemer with very good driver’s feedback from the front wheels.

In short, this is very much a fun car to drive.

The BMW 3 Series has an important place in the marque’s range with the 320i and 320d being the most popular choice locally and if it was my money, the diesel makes the most sense in terms of everyday well-balanced real world driveability.

BMW 3 Series Pricing (March 2023)

318i Sport Line – R767 893

318i M Sport – R817 893

320i Sport Line – R832 893

320i M Sport – R882 893

320d Sport Line – R880 3130

320d M Sport – R930 313

330i M Sport – R953 197

M340i xDrive M Performance – R1 338 206

M340i xDrive M Sport Pro – R1 353 206.