The new BMW 3 Series is go. With a sleek look, upmarket interior and a range of fuel efficient engines, the new 3 Series will build on the appeal of its predecessor to deliver the luxury of the 5 Series in a smaller, more affordable package.
The Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class rival has more space and comfort than before but is also lighter and, according to BMW, better to drive. For the first time, in addition to petrol and diesels, BMW will add a full hybrid and a four-wheel-drive model to the range. There will also be more scope for personalisation than ever.
The 3 Series is BMW’s most important model, both in terms of numbers sold and as a flag carrier for the German company’s reputation for quality, reliability and desirability. With so much at stake, the 3 Series has been under development for longer than almost any other BMW. We first scooped the car testing back in 2009. But has it been worth the wait?
In terms of the exterior design, there’s no doubt that stylists have played it safe. Inspired by the new BMW 5 Series, the new car’s lights, flusher radiator grille and L-shaped LED taillights represent the biggest changes.
Even so, it’s important not to underestimate just how much of the detailing has been reworked.
Weight has been reduced by 50kg compared to the previous model and the drag coefficient is down to 0.26 thanks to optimised aerodynamics. These tweaks include a streamlined underside, covers which create a diffuser effect at the rear and ‘Aero Curtain’ channels in the front bumper which reduce the turbulence created by the front wheels.
The new model also features a much stiffer body and an all-new chassis with a longer wheelbase (up 50mm to 2,810mm) along with wider tracks (up 37mm at the front and 47mm at the rear) to improve handling. There is a substantial increase in overall length of 93mm too, and there’s more space inside. Indeed, there’s 15mm more knee-room and 8mm more headroom in the back, while luggage space has increased by 20-litres to 480-litres.
Up front, the dashboard is angled toward the driver, but the iDrive controller and the 6.5-inch display screen that accompanies it (both are standard across the range) are arranged in the centre.
For the first time, BMW owners will be able to personalise their car too as the 3 Series takes its lead from the latest 1 Series with the addition of Sport, Modern and Luxury trim levels to standard ES, SE and M Sport versions.
Sport models get unique alloys and black gloss trim with sports seats with red stitching, red highlighting, switchable ambient lighting and a sports steering wheel on the inside.
Modern models have matt chrome, unique bumpers and new 17-inch wheels, while inside there’s a two-tone finish to the dash and part cloth/part leather seats. Luxury versions have bright chrome exterior trim and 18-inch alloys, with chrome detailing, leather upholstery and wood trim inside.
As for the more familiar trim levels, ES comes with air-con, 17-inch alloys Bluetooth and cruise control among other items, while SE versions add parking sensors, different wheels and dual-zone aircon. M Sport models get lowered and stiffened suspension, 18-inch M Sport wheels and leather sports seats.
Under the skin, the all-new rear-wheel drive chassis features an updated version of BMW’s five-link suspension set-up at the rear and BMW says it has managed to improve on the car’s handling by making it even more agile and stable but with better ride comfort. All models get a new electromechanical power steering which BMW claims is just as accurate and has as much feedback as a convetional system. However, its Variable Sport steering will be available as an option, as will Adaptive M Sport suspension with electronically variable dampers.
As you would expect the 3 Series is loaded with gadgets. All models come with Drive Performance Control, allowing the driver to swap between ECO PRO, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ (the latter available on Sport models). All cars have stop-start too. Other gadgets making their 3 Series debut include Park Assist, which steers the car into a parallel parking spot, a Head-Up Display showing speed limits, and Dynamic Safety, which tensions the seatbelts and closes any open windows if its senses an imminent accident.
For the first time in the 3 Series all the engines are turbocharged, including a 2.0-litre petrol engine that will power the 328i from 0-100km/h in 5.9 seconds. The same engine will also be used in the 138kW 320i.
Making an even stronger case for company car drivers, BMW says it will have eight versions of the 3 Series on sale by March 2012 that emit less than 120g/km of CO2. Standard transmission is a six-speed manual gearbox, but a new eight-speed automatic gearbox has been introduced for the first time too. Towards the end of 2012, BMW launch xDrive four-wheel drive versions and the ActiveHybrid 3 which gets is essentially a 335i with a 40kW electric motor.
All of which should make the 3 Series the best yet. But it’s race to the top of the sales charts should not be taken for granted. Standing in its way is an improved C-Class, and on the horizon, new versions of the Audi A4 and increased competition from upmarket SUVs like the Q3 and Range Rover Evoque. Let battle commence!
The new 3 Series will make its first public debut at the Detroit Motor Show in January 2012.
Source agreement: AutoExpress