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Opinion: the new BMW 3 Series’s styling is too fussy

We’re going to be seeing a load of these very soon. Is that a good thing?

Full disclosure: I like a good BMW. I like a well-sorted 3 Series. I actually own an old 328i Sport (E36) and happen to think it has aged tremendously gracefully and is frankly one of the finest cars ever built. Others in the office disagree quite vociferously but they’re clearly wrong.

News of a new BMW 3 Series was of interest, then. This is, after all, a model line that has shifted more than 15 million cars during its lifetime. It’s the reason BMW exists today; the core of its range. The car that allowed the company to use its ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ tag and actually be proved right. It is a Very Important Car.

So you’ll have to forgive me if I think the styling’s a bit… fussy. Threes used to be clean, simple designs – find a cared-for, unmolested E21, E30, E36 or even E46 (you’ll have to try quite hard) and you’ve got something really quite timeless.

But this new 3 Series? Let’s start with a simple one: size. A big car means a large surface area to style. And there is a large surface area. Sure, every car is bigger than the car it replaces, but this new Three is around 200mm wider and almost half a metre longer than the original E21. In fact, it’s about as long as – and both taller and wider than – the very best 5 Series made, the E39. As big as an E39!

And while BMW proclaims this new 3er is up to 55kg lighter “than the corresponding predecessor model”, it’s still considerably heavier than older iterations. To be expected, of course, but the margins involved give you some idea as to how much modern cars have swollen. Again, using the E36 as an example, a regular 318i saloon clocks in at 1,310kg. Even with the new 3’s weight loss, an equivalent 318i would weigh 1,425kg. 

It’s not ugly, by any stretch. It is chock-full of lines and creases, though. Lines on the bonnet, creases in the complex front bumper, lines along the profile and creases down the rear sides. There’s quite a bit going on. BMW’s signature kidney grilles aren’t as big as they can be on other cars, but the lights adjoining them have unnecessary (to my eyes) notches underneath.

You might disagree. You probably will, and – to stress – it’s not an ugly car. Perhaps with time I’ll learn to appreciate how those lines translate in day-to-day situations, as all cars look different when going about their business in the so-called real world. Arguments about size and weight can also be countenanced by pointing to modern safety standards.

Perhaps too, if it drives as BMW promises – it’s stiffer and lighter than before, and perfectly weight-balanced – that might colour the looks somewhat; knowing it has proper tricks under its sleeve goes some way to alleviating other shortcomings. Maybe in M guise those lines will make sense.

And yet… it still leaves me a little cold. And I like a good BMW.

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