The 3-series is the bedrock on which BMW is founded. It has always been like this. It was true when the launch of the first 3-series coincided with the upward trajectory of the brand in 1975, it was true when the 3-series morphed into the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ in 1982 and it is true today, 36 years, 12 million cars and six generations later. And there is no doubting it was the 3’s combo punch of pure driving pleasure and luxury that gave BMW the right start in India.
The 3-series also sets the philosophical standards of BMW’s core brand values. Understand what makes the 3-series tick and you’ll understand what makes every BMW so alluring. There’s a generous helping of driving pleasure, a sharp focus on luxury, the cutting-edge digital driver interface and an impressive dedication to efficiency, all wrapped in a stylish package. This cars’ predecessor, the E90, embodied all of these attributes. But can this new F30 take the game further in this era of greater efficiency and increasingly digital connectivity?
DESIGN & ENGINEERING - BMW 3 Series
The new 3 has gone through a mini-revolution as far as the styling is concerned. BMW has historically been a bit timid with the styling of the 3-series, not evolving it too much for fear of disrupting the success of its bread and butter model. But this car makes a much bolder statement. The headlights and kidney grille are stretched, spread out and pasted across the nose, the bonnet is considerably more muscular and sinewy and, with two bold swage lines running across the flanks, the new car looks much more athletic. There are more radical bits up front too. The lower half of the chin mimics an aerofoil, vertical air intakes in the bumper allow a curtain of air to flow around the front wheels, and where the grille and headlights meet there is a solid band of chrome. The rear is typically BMW, but the wider boot lid makes it easy to confuse this car with a 5-series from the rear.
Compared to the old car, the new 3-series has grown in length by 93mm, the wheelbase is 50mm longer and the front and rear tracks are wider too. The use of more exotic raw materials means that the new car is both 40kg lighter and 10 percent more rigid. While this car may be all new, bits and pieces have been borrowed from everywhere. The electric steering and double-wishbone from suspension are taken from the 5-series, the rear suspension is carried over from the earlier 3-series and bits like sub-frames and the prop shaft are reworked as well. BMW’s obsession with weight distribution has been carried over too - this car boasts a 50:50 front-rear balance.
INTERIORS - BMW 3 Series
The dash of the F30 looks like that of the new 5-series, which in turn looks like the one on the 7-series, and that’s great. To give to more of a youthful exuberance, BMW has tilted the dash in towards the driver, there are myriad surfaces for that ‘layered’ 3D effect, and the 328i’s Sport trim includes a bright red stripe running across from one side to the other.
A widescreen infotainment display sits above the central console, the new iDrive system is even more intuitive and useful, and you can switch from Comfort to Sport in a second by using the ‘Drive Performance Control’ switch. Some buttons and knobs, however, are still too small and there are still a few shiny plastic bits present. Also, the tunnel for the gearbox that sits at the base of the central console is still massive - BMW engineers have pushed the engine and gearbox as far back as possible for that aforementioned perfect weight distribution.
The longer wheelbase, however, means there is much more legroom in the rear of the car, and because you are sat slightly higher, visibility is better as well. In addition, thigh support is fantastic, the backrest is very supportive and, unlike the earlier car, there’s plenty of room of room for your feet as well. Even more comfortable are the big front seats, which offer tremendous shoulder and lateral support with just the right amount of suppleness. The 3-series finally has four useable bottle-holders up front too, two ahead of the gear lever and two in the big door pockets. And isn’t it nice to see a real handbrake?
ENGINE AND HANDLING - BMW 3 Series
Under the bonnet of the diesel 320d is BMW’s familiar four-spot-one of the best four-cylinder diesel around. Carried over from the old 3, the 5, the X1 and X3, this worked-upon and more powerful motor still isn’t the most refined of units. There is a hint of buzz at start-up, it gets a bit vocal when you extend it, and it never really turns silky smooth like many other modern diesels do. What you get in return, however, is performance that is quite un-diesel-like. It’s always ready for action, its willingness to rev hard is second to one and that, in effect, makes it the perfect companion for the sporty new 3-series. And considering its size an uprated, 181bhp output (put to the rear wheels via the eight-speed auto), performance is nothing short of shocking. 100kph is dispatched in just 7.8 seconds, approximately a second faster than the earlier 320d, and press on and in 16.9 second you will reach 150. So good is the performance, in fact, that you miss having paddles behind the steering wheel. Of course, the light kerb weight and quick gearbox do help give the diesel and extra kick
The all-new, 241bhp 328i turbo-petrol in-line four gets even more of a leg up due to these two factors. This big-bore motor loves to be spun hard just like a BMW straight six, but unlike a naturally aspirated six, it’s torquey too, thanks to direct injection and turbocharging. So, while there is a tiny bit of lag, this motor has a strong mid-range and an extremely strong top end. In fact, far from being deficient, the mid-range is now this motor’s strongest point.
And the faster you spin it the harder it want to go, and that enthusiasm is infectious. Like the diesel, idle isn't the most refined, and it emits a coarse snarl at high revs too; it’s not quite as smooth as a straight-six. Performance, however, is sizzling hot. 6.4 seconds is all you need to get to 100, 180 comes up in 22.1 seconds and from the way this car howls past 230 Kpl, you can tell hitting the limited top speed of 250 is only a matter of finding the right stretch of road. The motor, in true BMW fashion, pulls hard all the way to 7000rpm. Select Sport and the gearbox flicks to the next gear almost instantaneously, without that slight interruption in power you get from a twin-clutch unit. The performance is so addictive, the 328i just sucks you into the driving experience. To put it in perspective, this car is faster to 120kph than the 300bhp Audi A6 3.0 TFSI!
RIDE AND HANDLING - BMW 3 Series
The new 3-series manages to ride and handle beautifully. And that’s despite the raised ride height, the hard-edged run-flat tyres and the absence of adjustable dampers (deleted on the raised, India-spec suspension). On the diesel, there’s a suppleness to the ride not seen earlier, the longer-travel springs seem to take large craters better, and you don’t find yourself involuntarily winching when you run over rain-damaged sections of our roads. The 3-series does have an underlying layer of firmness, however (more noticeable on the 328i’s 18-inch wheels), which at times does tent to make the suspension a bit noisy, especially over horizontally aligned ridges. Low-speed ride, though, is superb and there is almost no bobbing or pitching at speed, meaning, all-round, there’s nothing in its class that can touch it. It must be mentioned that modern run-flat tyres now ride much more comfortably, contributing to the ride quality in some small measure as well.
The new 3-series, especially the 328i, darts into corners with the agility of a jet fighter, especially in Sport. All that’s’ need to change course is a flick of a wrist, and turn-in is so aggressive, you involuntarily try to correct the quick lateral movement of the nose the first few times. You soon get used to this, though, and start to exploit more and more of the inherent grip and balance present in the chassis. The 320d’s steering, in tune with the more relaxed character of the car, is understandably not as quick.
There is a bit of roll initially, especially at the rear, and that too takes a bit of getting used to. But the overall poise is quite impressive and you soon find yourself pressing on. The electric steering is one of the best around, very accurate and reasonably feelsome. The blend of lateral grip and adjustability on turns is fantastic, and the new 3 allows you a few degrees of slip before the ESP intervenes. Work up a rhythm on a meandering road with enough room for lip and get used to the simply phenomenal brakes, and the 3-series will entertain you better than cars thrice its price.
FUEL ECONOMY - BMW 3 Series
The new 3’s low weight, eight-speed gearbox, automatic stop-start and intelligent Eco Pro mode (see box) all contribute significantly to making this the most efficient car in its class. The 328i returned 7.5kpl in the city and 12.5kpl on our highway test. The 320d, on the other hand, travelled 11.1kph and 15.5kpl in the city and on the highway respectively, making both BMW’s fast and frugal.
Outstanding all-rounder set new class benchmark.
The old 3-series was the benchmark in its class, one that remained undefeated in most comparisons, especially with a diesel motor under the hood. The new 3 takes the game forward substantially in almost every area, which is an indication of how good this car really is. It’s an outstanding all-rounder, delivering the best of all worlds; this BMW is compact, yet the most spacious in its class. It’s blisteringly quick, but efficient too. It’s the most comfortable to be chauffeured around in and yet incredible fun to drive. It’s even competitively priced. Flaws? Yes, there are a few – the engines could have been more refined and the suspension could have been quieter. But, apart from that, we’re totally convinced this is the new benchmark in the compact luxury class. And from the manner in which it stands head and shoulders above the rest, It’s likely to stay there for a long time to come.
Cabin is spacious, soft and supportive seats very comfy
Diesel and petrol easily best in class. Petrol can shock sports car
Diesel sounds gruff when revved. Suspension rattle on bad roads.
Packed with tech and lots of features; good value for the price
The 3-series comes standard with 8 airbags and ESP
Softly sprung suspension offers superb ride at all speeds
Superb chassis balance, quick steering make it wiling and agile
BUILD & QUALITY 8/10
Well made, but cabin quality could be better.