Car reviews - BMW - 3 Series
318i Executive sedan
318ti Sport 3-dr hatch
320i Gran Turismo
Compact 5-dr hatch range
Coupe and Convertible
Coupe and Convertible diesels
M3 and M4
Rewarding driving dynamics, punchy petrol engine, modernised interior, handsome looks, equipment levels in 330i
Room for improvement
Extensive options list can mean a pricey total, equipment disparity between diesel and petrol
BMW resets premium mid-size sedan benchmark with cracking new-generation 3 Series
15 Mar 2019
By TUNG NGUYEN
PLEASANT to drive, punchy performance and premium appointments: these have been the three pillars which have made the BMW 3 Series such a success.
However, competition has never been more fierce, with the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4 driving better than ever before, not to mention increased opposition outside Germany from the likes of the Jaguar XE and Alfa Romeo Giulia.
Now in its seventh-generation iteration, BMW is hoping to rise above them all with a new platform, increased technology and – maybe most importantly – engaging driving dynamics.
FORGET SUVs, plug-in electric vehicles or halo sportscars, the seventh-generation 3 Series is arguably BMW's most important model launch this year.
Why? Well, as a flag bearer for the brand, the 3 Series has long championed engaging driving dynamics and premium packaging for which the BMW name was built on and, in a market that is increasingly becoming SUV-centric, it’s the former that has started to become a rarity.
Though the front-engine, rear-drive recipe remains as before, the new 3 series gains a substantial lift in technology, in-cabin refinement and driving fun in the new-generation switchover.
Even the entry-level 320d, with its 140kW/400Nm 2.0-litre twin-turbocharged diesel engine, is fun to push around the bends thanks to that winning formula.
While the diesel engine can feel less eager to rev and be a bit slower to pick up when coming out of a corner, where it succeeds most is delivering frugal fun around town.
Gone are the days of rough-sounding and unrefined diesel engines, this mill is an absolute gem at low speeds and will even quietly hum along at the national speed limit.
Even the eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission shifts smartly and smoothly, and while we are sad to hear there will be no manual option in Australia, the two-pedal version didn’t present any problems to us.
Steering is well weighted and communicative, allowing drivers to tackle the bends or supermarket car park with confidence and aplomb.
However, settings can also be tweaked with a standard mode selector, with either Eco, Comfort or Sport on offer to soften steering or sharpen throttle response as desired.
Stepping up into the petrol-powered 190kW/400Nm 330i however, is where BMW really nails the sports sedan brief.
While the 330i is peppy around town, it’s out on the open road and long winding corners where the 2.0-litre engine can really stretch its legs and shine.
With more power on tap, and the same sharp steering and smart-shifting eight-speed automatic in play, the 330i carves up corners like a surgeon.
Tip in, square up and hit the throttle for instant thrills.
The added poke in the 330i means that there is enough under the bonnet to provoke the rear end with a stab of the go-pedal too, and when the back does let go, the new 3 Series delivers that wonderful feeling of the car pivoting around the driver.
Maybe that last part has to do with the amazing seating position that hunkers drivers down low, but the wonderfully rewarding driving sense is also likely due to the new platform switch, which also sees wider front and rear tracks for increased grip and high-speed stability.
With the 320d costing $67,900 and 330i priced at $70,900, it might seem like the diesel is the goer for those that just want a handsome and dynamic sedan, but equipment levels sadly vary.
Though the cheaper 3 Series is kitted out with goodies such as a 10.25-inch infotainment system, all-digital instrumentation and no-cost M Package that includes a bodykit, black exterior accents and lowered suspension, as well as advanced safety gear including forward collision and lane departure warning, it’s the top-tier sedan that gains appointments such as adaptive suspension and radar-guided cruise control.
In fact, if you were to spec up the diesel 3 Series to the same levels as the petrol, it would add around $10,000 to the cost, and for that you don’t even get the more powerful and rev-happy engine.
As with most BMWs though, buyers can choose from a list of individual options to personalise their vehicle, or opt for a pack that keeps costs down, but be careful what you go for as ticking a few boxes can really bring up cost.
Luckily, the standard equipment and in-cabin ambience is already up to scratch.
With a large central infotainment system now running BMW’s 7.0 operating system, menus are clean and intuitive, while the HVAC controls are made easier to use too thanks to a new readout displaying temperature and fan speed.
Even with just a brief taster in Victoria’s country roads, we can already tell that the new BMW 3 Series sets a new high watermark for the premium sedan segment.
Its proven rear-drive dynamics, updated safety and in-cabin technologies combine for what is, in our opinion, the best 3 Series for nearly two decades.
And one has to wonder, if the base car is this good, just imagine how much fun the high-performing M3 will be.
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