NEW BMW 3 SERIES DRIVEN IN MZANSI

An all-new BMW 3 Series has been launched in Mzansi and it marks an historic turn because this is the first 3 Series in decades to be fully-imported. With BMW’s plant in Rosslyn, Pretoria now producing the X3, the 3 Series is now sourced globally from Germany, China and Mexico. With over 15 million units sold worldwide, the 3 Series has become BMW’s main brand ambassador and looks set to continue this trend. I got intimately acquainted with this 7th-generation car during two days of testing in the Western Cape and came out with an answer to this question: is this the best car in the world?

BMW SA launched the 3 Series – codenamed G20 – with only two models; 320d and 330i – in Standard, Sport Line and M Sport trims – both of which share the same pricing. More on that later. First, what is the brand new 3 Series all about and does it cut it in today’s SUV-dominated world? At 4.7 metres long, 1.8m wide, 1.4m tall and with a wheelbase of 2.85m, the 3 Series is the biggest of all time. In fact, it’s as big as the E39 BMW 5 Series (1995 to 2003). Boot space is 480 litres.

Many will be able to spot the difference in exterior looks, although this is more of a design evolution than a revolution. In other words, the 3 Series can still be identified as one, even from a distance. Of course many of BMW’s usual cues are part of it, such as the double kidney front grille, the Hofmeister kink on the C-pillar and the L-shaped rear lights. BMW has gone full LED with the headlights, but Laserlights can be ordered as an option. These illuminate up to 530m away.

I found two interesting bits about the rear. Firstly, the 3 Series takes after the 2 Series Coupe. Two, both models available at launch – the 320d and 330i – feature two exhaust tailpipes, one on either end. Number two is of interest because in the previous-generation car (F30) such a setup was the sole preserve of the range-topping 335i and 340i.

When it comes to the new 3 Series interior, there is a lot to absorb. Fortunately there is already a lot of familiar spaces too. Of course the new iDrive-based infotainment system with ConnectedDrive is common to the new X5 which we have driven. Therefore it was a familiar environment. New screen grouping of the Control Display and instrument cluster for instance, is from that car. The display area is large, at 31.2cm in width, while the Control Display is 26cm. In addition to the iDrive rotary control – which I like and it works perfectly – driver and front passenger can also access stuff by touching the screen directly.

A really cool feature, apart from the well-known Gesture Control, is something called Intelligent Personal Assistant which you can access by just saying “Hey BMW” and giving instructions. It is still not 100% satisfactory, but can do many basic functions like change the radio station, load directions to a new destination on the satellite navigation, or explain how a certain feature in the car works.

Driving the new 3 Series over two days gave me quite a clear picture of where the car is pitched. Yes it has a stiff suspension and runflat tyres. This combo makes it a fairly tough ride to swallow, especially when driving on uneven surfaces, even in Comfort mode. Wheels are 17-inch standard, but can go up to 19-inch. But for a sporty feel, it works excellently when combined with the Servotronic steering, engines and standard 8-speed automatic gearbox. For example, I drove the 320d on the first day, and across curves and corners the car responded impressively, with gear changes and engine access to torque being seamless. You would swear it carries more than the stated 140kW and 400Nm of torque. That torque – sent to the rear wheels – comes in between 1 750rpm and 2 500rpm, a narrow band really, but one that feels quite long. BMW says this car can sprint from 0 – 100km/h in 6.8 seconds, top off at 240km/h and average 4.8 litres per 100km in normal, everyday driving. I got close to achieving just one of these figures.

While the 330i I drove on day two felt a bit more urgent in its application of its 195kW and 400Nm of torque between 1 550rpm and 4 400rpm, in certain instances it would not get too far away from the 320d in a straight fight. Both cars are powered by 4-cylinder, 2.0-litre turbo engines. The 330i is said to average 6.4 litres per 100km in fuel. Powertrain response is sharper from the 330i, due to its petrol nature. The car is planted well on the road and can carry a great deal of speed under different circumstances.

Interestingly both the 320d and 330i are priced the same across most of the packages available. A conundrum for the potential buyer, whose real question would then be “do I want more performance and less fuel consumption, or the opposite?” The more entry-level 320i (135kW and 300Nm) will be introduced in September. As will the 330d (195kW, 580Nm) and the stonking M340i (275kW, 500Nm).

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So, as to the question “is this the best car in the world”? The all-new BMW 3 Series ticks so many boxes that it would be realistic to answer yes. At the very least it is one of the best cars on the planet today, and certainly the best in a very competitive segment.

 

BMW 3 Series Prices

320d – R649 000

330i – R649 000

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