For all the changes going on at BMW at the time, getting a new 3 Series still is a top priority for those in charge in Munich.
BMW is launching so many new cars these days that it is hard to keep up. In the last 18 months, we got a bunch of new and restyled X cars: the facelifted X1, new X2, X3M, X4M, X5, X6 and X7. Only the X3 is older to market and even that one is pretty recent.
Then, there is the new 1 Series, M2 Competition, the facelifted 7 Series and the resurrected 8 Series. Pause for breath.
Of course, I am missing one other car, the most important one, the car that made BMW what it is today: the 3 Series. The daddy. There is also a new one of those, code name G20.
Now in its eighth generation, the 3 Series epitomises everything BMW was built on and is the biggest selling model in its history, with 15 million units delivered to clients worldwide. The original modern sports saloon is bigger and technologically more advanced than ever, but what I wanted to know was if it still feels like a BMW, if it still feels like a 3 Series.
Now, I have owned a last-gen 325d Touring for the past five years. I know what it does and how it does it. I have also driven every single generation, all seven of them, so I have a pretty good idea what a 3 Series must be.
Some cars define a whole genre. Cars like the Volkswagen Golf, the Mercedes S-Class or the Porsche 911 are the benchmark from which all others in the same segment take their cues. The 3 Series is one of those cars as well. If the Mercedes C-Class, the Audi A4, the Jaguar XE or the Lexus IS exist today, it’s because BMW created the modern sports saloon.
So, what’s it like? Well, the new car has grown in every direction. It’s 85mm longer than its predecessor, with a 41mm increase in wheelbase. That, of course, may rob it of some of its agility around town, but there is more legroom in the back for passengers. Model for model, the new car is up to 55kg lighter than before, mainly because the new CLAR platform – the same BMW builds the 5 and the 7 Series on – makes extensive use of aluminium.
The tracks have been widened and negative camber for the front wheels increased so that the 3 can maintain the dynamic edge it has always had over its rivals. The result is quite simple to explain: the 3 Series is the best car in the world. Believe me, it is. There are other equally impressive ones, of course, but doing what it does and being what it is, there’s nothing else quite like it.
The engines available at launch were the 318 diesel, 320 diesel, 330 diesel and 330i petrol, recently joined by the much-needed hybrid version, the 330e. Prices start at just over €45,000 for the entry-level diesel. I drove the €55,000 petrol version. The 330i had been a six-cylinder in all of the 3 Series’ life but circumstances have now dictated it is to use a four-cylinder engine, helping the environment with less emissions for roughly the same performance.
The 2 litre unit produces 258 horse power, meaning 5.8 seconds to 100km/h and an electronically limited top speed of 250 km/h. Let’s not pretend it is as sweet or smooth as the old straight-six, but the truth is it gets the job done.
Coupled to a magnificent eight-speed automatic gearbox, the 330i offers more performance than you will ever be able to use on the road. But the engine is definitely not the stand-out feature of the car. That accolade goes to the chassis. The way the 3 flows on a twisty piece of road is absolutely mesmerising; brilliant; just truly and utterly magnificent. BMWs used to be ‘ultimate driving machines’ and this one is exactly that.
For all that the new 3 Series has changed on the outside and under the body, it is nothing compared to the revolution that has taken place inside. As other modern Bimmers, the cabin layout boasts a central 8.8in display above the air vents (10.25in on option), with the respective buttons just below. At the centre console sits the gear lever, drive mode switches and the dial controller for the infotainment system – the best one you will find in any car at any price point, for that matter.
There’s more space than ever before, the driving position is spot on and fit and finish are well worthy of the brand. Road trips are very welcome.
So please listen to me: this is the car you should buy. Any similar SUV will be pricier, thirstier, slower, heavier and not nearly as good to drive. I cannot, for the life of me, fathom this inexplicable SUV trend. This right here is peak automobile as we know it. Not the SUV. This. The new BMW 3 Series. Get one while you can.