The BMW 3 Series is a phenomenally successful model, and the six previous incarnations for sale in dealers have sold over 15 million examples between them. So it’s a car that’s vitally important for BMW, and 2019 sees the arrival of the seventh-generation G20 model. While the full range is not yet available, our initial reaction is that BMW has done it again and is at the top of the compact executive sector.
When BMW first launched the 3 Series 43 years ago, it had the junior executive market more or less to itself. But over the years key rivals such as the Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class have played catch up. Plus there’s the Jaguar XE, Lexus IS and Alfa Romeo Giulia to consider, along with upmarket family cars like the Skoda Superb, VW Passat and Peugeot 508.
Where the 3 Series has always scored highly is for its driver appeal, offering engaging handling and sure-footed road holding. When combined with its premium badge and frugal engines, BMW has often been at the top of the class. However, with the last generation of 3 Series it had fallen behind rivals from Audi and Mercedes in terms of refinement, comfort and technology.
All that’s changed with the new model though, as it retains its driver appeal, punchy performance and impressive frugality, but has added increased refinement, more interior space and an impressive array of technology to its arsenal.
For the time being there are just two engine choices, the diesel 320d and the petrol 330i, but both offer class-leading performance combined with excellent economy and emissions. The latest generation of 3 Series is currently only available as a saloon, but a Touring estate model will make its debut later, as will further engine offerings. Two of these have already been confirmed – the plug-in hybrid 330e and the M340i, which promises to be a performance powerhouse.
The 320d has a 187bhp 2.0-litre diesel, while a 254bhp four-cylinder petrol is found in the 330i. Despite the diesel downturn, we still expect the 320d to be the big seller. And with WLTP economy figures of up to 56.5mpg it’s an impressive engine, especially when you consider it can accelerate from 0-62mph in 7.1 seconds, or 6.8 for the automatic version. The six-speed manual is good, but the eight-speed automatic is truly excellent, offering super-smooth changes at all times.
The 320d can also be paired with BMW’s xDrive four-wheel drive system, but only with the eight-speed automatic. The petrol 330i is also only available with the auto, but it’s still a seriously quick car, recording a sub-six second 0-62mph time, yet still capable of up to 41.5mpg.
Three trim levels are available – SE, Sport and M Sport – with the entry-level SE trim only being offered on the 320d. All cars are well specified with sat nav, adaptive LED headlights, three-zone air conditioning, cruise control, Apple CarPlay and heated seats. BMW’s new Intelligent Personal Assistant is also included, and this allows you to operate many of the car’s functions via voice control.
Sport models add more aggressive front and rear bumpers and exterior trims, along with sports seats and leather upholstery. The range-topping M Sport has always been a popular choice in the UK, and if you can stretch to this model it offers a host of additional equipment including an M Sport bodykit, more advanced sat nav with a larger central display and increased functionality, as well as BMW’s new Live Cockpit Professional which has a 12.3-inch digital instrument display that apes Audi’s Virtual Cockpit.
Prices for the new 320d start from around £33,750 for the SE model and around £35,000 for the Sport. While this represents a price increase over the previous 3 Series, there’s considerably more standard equipment and, crucially, in Sport trim the 320d is priced within a whisker of both the equivalent A4 40 TDI Sport and C220 d Sport models.
There are a range of options, but to avoid this being a confusing list of individual items, BMW has opted to group these together in attractively priced packages. There are six to choose from, embracing visibility, technology, comfort and driver safety among others.
However, it’s the strides BMW has made in refinement, comfort and passenger accommodation that impress most. A new damper system brings a supple ride whether the car is unladen or fully-loaded, and improvements in noise suppression along with acoustic glazing mean it’s quiet and relaxed on the motorway. Extra leg and head room in the back is welcome too, although the boot stays the same size as before.
But above all else, it’s the 3 Series’ driver appeal that separates it from the chasing pack. There’s lots of grip along with the poise and balance you expect of a 3 Series. And while the steering is a little lacking in feel, the steering rack is responsive, allowing the car to be placed accurately on the road. That BMW has managed to retain the driver appeal of the 3 Series yet made strides in ride, refinement, interior quality and its technology is a very impressive achievement.