Words: Ollie Marriage
Let’s start with some facts, because your mates who have proper jobs, ones that involve company cars, will want to know about the sixth generation BMW 3 Series, and it’s your duty to tell them what they need to know.
If this needs to be communicated briefly, via Twitter or somesuch, just tell them it’s the best car in its class. Still. Because it is. If you want to go into much depth, begin with increased dimensions (93mm longer, 9mm taller, etc) and go on to discuss how the new lower nose design has improved both aerodynamics (0.26Cd for the most air-cheating models) and pedestrian safety.
Of course it’s not a revolutionary leap forward. This is a mainstream car that sells in massive numbers – when it goes on sale in the here next year it needs to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. We can’t see it alienating many. With the exception of the pointier front end the exterior is entirely fine. Nothing radical, just a good freshen up. Same indoors, too. BMW has been bolder with materials, folding them into more interesting shapes, yet the ergonomics are excellent and the quality and design is fully up to scratch.
Seven engines are available overseas, four diesels and three petrols, although on the launch just two were present, a pair of 2.0-litre turbos, one petrol, the other diesel. The 328i is the new engine, a four cylinder turbo that replaces the old naturally aspirated straight six of the 330i. No, it’s not as charismatic, and yes, that does matter as there’s now one less reason to buy petrol instead of a more sensible diesel. It’s got plenty of grunt though, as in 245bhp and 0-100km/h in 5.9secs and growls in a vaguely interesting way as it homes in on the 7,000rpm redline. Look, it’s an impressive engine for its combination of power and efficiency (15.6km/L), but it’s not especially memorable or lovable.
Special mention also goes to the eight-speed automatic gearbox worn by every car on the launch. I can’t report on what the standard-fit six speed manual is like, but the auto is terrific. It has many ratios to choose from, but manages to slink through them all rapidly and unobtrusively.
A good drivetrain isn’t the be all and end all of this car though. Granted, it would be a shock if BMW had ballsed up the ride and handling, but it really hasn’t. Quite the opposite. The rear wheel drive saloon drives smoothly, precisely and rewardingly. The steering might not be the last word in feedback, but the weighting is so good and the nose so responsive that it’s never an issue. And the thing’s just so well balanced and agile. For a mainstream car, it’s brilliant. It’s a mighty capable motorway device: quiet, stable, smooth and all the rest.
The 3 Series in its various form should arrive here by the second quarter of next year, to be followed in late in 2012 not only by new body styles (estate leads the way, followed by coupe and cabrio), but also a hybrid model and even a quattro, er, that is, an all-wheel drive version. It probably won’t be coming here, but if it did, that really would put the cat among the Audi pigeons.
No word on pricing for our market yet, but one thing’s for certain, the new 3 is good. No, scratch that – it’s an excellent, excellent car. Now go tell your mates.