The headline that you've read is the total number of BMW 3 Series models sold ever since inception 40 years ago. That means that this is quite an important car for the brand as it accounts for one in five of all the BMWs sold worldwide. This then, is not only an important car for BMW, but an important car in the luxury saloon space. With fierce rivalry from the likes of Mercedes, Audi and Alfa Romeo, does the new 3 have what it takes? Or has it fallen into mediocrity amongst the crowd.
The 7th generation 3 series sheds 55kg than the last Three. When broken down, 15kg of that came from fitting an aluminium bonnet and front wings. 7.5kg was shed through the use of an aluminium front suspension, struts and engine subframe. With great lightness comes great stiffening too for handling, because after all this is a BMW, a car brand synonymous for sheer driving pleasure. Structural rigidity is up 25 and 50 per cent across the car, but don't worry, this doesn't mean the ride is terrible, no. It simply means the car is more stable, solid on the road and safer. Overall this may not sound like much but it makes a big difference, the new 3 Series is now 85mm longer and 16mm wider and now boasts a 480 litre boot, perfect for a family of up to 4 with small to medium size luggage. I say this with caution as some families can accommodate more, but respectively 4 adults with luggage can do a comfortable long distance journey in this.
On launch, BMW will offer the 320d and 330i for now, with the M340i, 330e Hybrid and 330d arriving later on. The 330i has 190kW and 400Nm, the 320d produces 140kW and 400Nm through a personal favourite 8-speed ZF automatic gearbox. Best in the business really. My opinion, the 320d is what you want, great power, the torque carries you very far plus being a turbocharged diesel means excellent fuel economy. On a claimed 4.8 litres per hundred, I managed an incredible 5.1 and on the 330i, while claimed at 6.4 litres per hundred I managed 9.1. Don't get me wrong, the 330i definitely has legs and incredible power, and if that's what you're after then look no further, but if you want a sensible daily that's literally perfect to run, the 320d is where you money is at.
I was flown down to beautiful Cape Town, South Africa to sample the new car. Ahead of me were some of the most beautiful roads ever made in the world, full of deep twisty mountain passes as well as typical city traffic, really the perfect way to find out more about the car. Upon the first few hundred metres I was immediately shoved back into my seat thanks to the 400Nm of torque, and thanks to the thick and newer designed M Sport steering the car feels very sporty. Speaking of steering, its very precise and sharp and thanks to the body being stiffer and the chassis being tuned better, there is very minimal body roll. I managed to conformably turn in sharply or change direction without me being moved in my seat, a vast improvement from the F Series. If you opt for the M Sport package, you'll get daptive damping and 19-inch wheels paired with a M Sport e-differential and upgraded brakes. Our car was fitted with it and it makes a huge difference if you're a spirited and enthusiastic driver. If not, opt out and save some pennies.
Keeping with the evolution of new Bimmers, the 3 gets a drastic overhaul. The new and enlarged active kidney grill which opens to allow air to cool the engine or closes to improve aerodynamics and efficiency, which many either hate or love now makes it way here. New and improved headlights have been made prettier thanks to the new style half-cut hexagon LED cluster. The whole front of the car looks a lot more aggressive and sportier even in standard guise with a much more tapered front to suit the sleek profile of the car. The rear gets cleaned up nicely thanks to a simpler rear light cluster with a distinctive rear break light which suits the new slimmer rear profile. While it may look like an Alfa Romeo Giulia when you squint, it has kept up with the times and I feel its a good direction to go in. You might also be happy to know that rear now accommodates two rear pipes on all models and not the dreaded 'I don't have money to spend on a faster version" single exhaust found on the old car. It's the small things that add up to make big changes.
The Big Change, Technology and The Inside
Big emphasis was made on the technology aspect of the new car and it comes as no surprise. If you fell asleep in new 5 or 7 Series and woke up in the new 3 Series, it would be hard to tell it apart beside the obvious dimensions. The cabin has been given a major overhaul, from plusher and softer seating, to a now fully digitised instrument cluster as option. The switchgear, vents and toggles have been given thicker plastics and finishes and the use of brushed aluminium really shows how far your money has gone. It was a vital upgrade from the dying interiors of BMWs past. You will also get a bigger infotainment screen, new sophiscticated gear-lever and start button which is now not on the dashboard. The manual handbrake has been ditched in favour of an electronic one which to many will widely welcome, but the first class touch is the abient mood lighting which can be changed at any given time. So when asked what's new, the proof is in the cabin. while feeling familiar look and feel wise, 90% of it has been upgraded in favour or premium and quality. Good job BMW.
The premium sedan segment has just been given a huge injection of competition thanks to the new 3 Series. It now sits way above the Alfa Romeo, C-Class and A4. It has come to the party in terms of luxury, looks and technology which is something it struggled with in the past and for the first time, the new car doesn't feel semi cheap, but rather worth you hard earned money. Speaking of which, the 320d and 330i will be priced equally. Starting at R649 000 all the way up to R684 000 for the M Sport, the car isn't too far off price from its old counterpart. Is it then worth it? Yes. Its always been a great car, but this now gives great argument to choose over the competition. My advice? Get a 320d M sport. It has the power and great fuel economy you need.