I have mixed feelings about the new 3 Series. Although BMW has done a lot to make this car appear modern and sexy, I am dumbfounded by my lack of excitement. I expected to walk up to this car and say “WOW”, but that response never came.
The New 3 Series
The very successful E90 was definitely the base ingredient. Add some “modern” to the mix, and the new 3 Series comes driving out of the designer’s oven. BMW is known for throwing the old blueprints in the bin completely when designing a new model, to the detriment of BMW owners, but it seems they decided to stick to an already successful recipe this time round. What the chefs at BMW came up with is a striking, smooth and elegant new exterior.
Personally though, I am struggling to like the new bonnet design. What was a smooth and beautiful curvature all the way to the windscreen was replaced by a square bonnet that is not integrated with the front bumper. A very noticeable line now runs across the width of the car, breaking the flow as your eyes follow the curve between bumper and windscreen.
However, true to BMW standards, you are still welcomed into the driver’s seat by a solid door handle and a very healthy thump when closing the door.
The interior design is astonishing. It’s simple and modern, yet you still feel like you are getting behind the controls of a fighter jet. The introduction of iDrive as a standard feature does wonders for the hi-tech feel when sitting in the driver’s seat. Everyone likes a good quality LCD screen, and you will not be disappointed here. Cup holders were moved to the center console, but unfortunately no longer support smaller cans. (I can just hear Red Bull fans saying “WHAT!?) To please the eye, a removable lid covers the cup holders while they are not in use. This lid will probably end up in your bedroom cupboard, but at least you are given the option. Door handles are now found on both the passenger and driver’s doors, but seem a little thick and not well finished in your hand as the trim do not line up. Almost every aspect of the interior changed in some way and except for these small mistakes, I cannot fault the new interior at all. As far as layout and the quality of materials are concerned, the new 3 Series sets a new standard for the midrange sports sedan segment. I’ve always been a fan of the matt finishes used by BMW, and this is still present, producing a high quality and luxurious feeling interior.
The 3 Series now comes in three flavours. Luxury Line, Modern Line and Sport Line, each adding their own aesthetic experience. Those of you expecting a performance difference between these models will be disappointed as BMW decided to make the differences cosmetic only. Depending on the Line you choose, look, trim, stitching and dial schemes will determine how you experience your new 3 Series. An M-Sport package will be made available later this year for those wanting a more sporty drive and will include lowered suspension, a more aerodynamic body kit and various related accessories to make you feel like a race driver. True to German tradition, you will still be presented with an option list that will make your head spin. What has become basic functionality in cars from other manufacturers, like USB integration and handsfree blue-tooth, still remain optional. What you do get, however, is the ability to customise your interior to match your mood. Via the iDrive system you can now select which color lighting you want your instrumentation to be. Orange, red or white.
You now have four engines to choose from, all turbo charged. Three four cylinder models which include the 320i, 320d and 328i, producing 135kW, 135kW and 180kW respectively. The 335i remains a 6-cylinder producing 225kW. With the exception of the 320d and 335i engines, these completely new engines promise to deliver performance never before seen from engines of similar sizes. The biggest performance difference to 320d and 335i owners will be the new 8-speed gearbox. I drove the 320d and the difference was immediately apparent as the initial lag, when driving over speed bumps or even pulling away from intersections, were reduced by approximately 60%, mainly due to the new gear ratios.
Although BMW did an amazing job at getting the new 3 Series aligned with modern standards, I do not see current E90 owners rushing to their nearest BMW dealer to hand in their keys for a new set of wheels. The new models will no doubt grab public attention and once again prove the 3 Series to be a top performer in the BMW stable. If you are in the market for a sport sedan, make this your first stop.
Most disappointing was the launch event hosted by Menlyn Auto. First they could not find my name on their list, even though I had RSVP’d weeks in advance. Then, as I was browsing the new models on display, not one representative come up to me to have a chat, they seemed more than happy to keep it amongst themselves. Arranging a test drive was a nightmare, and I could not help thinking me wearing a t-shirt had something to do with it. I eventually found someone willing to have a chat, and he gladly set aside five minutes to hand me the keys to the new 320d. After spending two and a half hours browsing and talking to various visitors, I left, thirsty and somewhat disappointed. No doubt this experience put a damper on my excitement about a potentially great new product from BMW.