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New BMW 3-series review, test drive

19th Oct 2012 5:29 pm

BMW’s brilliant new 3-series has just moved the game forward.

  • Make : BMW
  • Model : 3 Series

BMW’s E90 3-series was the first to come to India in April 2007. You could initially buy either a 320i or a 320d, and the six-cylinder 325i came a bit later. The suspension systems on these early 3-series cars were sporty but rock hard. In 2008, BMW gave the 3-series a mild facelift and made the suspension more comfortable. The year 2010 saw the 254bhp 330i replace the 325i and BMW got the ride and handling balance right for the first time. Later on, green Efficient Dynamics editions saw the addition of electric power steering.

The 3-series is the bedrock on which BMW is founded. The 3-series also sets the philosophical standard of BMW’s core brand values. Understand what makes the 3-series tick and you’ll understand what makes every BMW so alluring. But can this new F30 take the game further in this era of greater efficiency and increasingly digital connectivity?

The new 3 has gone through a mini-revolution as far as the styling is concerned. This car makes a bold 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 headlight meet there is a solid band of chrome. The rear is typically BMW, but the wider bootlid 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. The electric steering and double-wishbone front 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. 

Under the bonnet of the diesel 320d is BMW’s familiar four-pot – one of the best four-cylinder diesels around. 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 none and that, in effect, makes it the perfect companion for the sporty new 3-series. And considering its size and 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 seconds 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 an 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.

And the faster you spin it the harder it wants to go. 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 230kph, 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!

The new 3’s low weight, eight-speed gearbox, automatic stop-start and intelligent Eco Pro mode, 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 11.1kpl and 15.5kpl in the city and on the highway respectively, making both BMWs fast and frugal.

BMW’s iDrive system is basically a car computer. The screen displays various functions like media, parking assistance and navigation, among other car- and engine-related settings. A new Bluetooth telephony system reads text back to you, you can catch up on your emails and the system can handle SMSes as well. Additionally, you can also access your personal music library from your smartphone or music player inside the car. You get an Aux-in port, a USB port and a six-CD changer. Another unique safety feature is the heads-up display, which projects speedometer readings and a wide range of information on the windscreen, so you can keep your eyes on the road. 

BMW’s ‘Eco Pro’ setting puts the car into its most fuel-efficient mode at the touch of a button. The system modifies the powertrain management and the programming for the heating and air-conditioning systems to help deliver the highest level of efficiency. It also customises the engine response by altering engine maps, so that you get only as much power as you need when you step on the accelerator. Even the gearbox’s shift pattern is altered so that engine speed is kept low. BMW claims Eco Pro lowers the average fuel consumption by up to 20 percent.

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. 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 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? 

New BMW 3-series review, test drive
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