First Drive | BMW 3-Series

BMW’s brilliant new 3-series has just moved the game forward. This outstanding all-rounder sets a new class benchmark.

BMW's brilliant new 3-series has just moved the game forward. This outstanding all-rounder sets a new class benchmark.

We've got our hands on the all-new BMW 3-series saloon (F30) and first impressions suggest that it's a big improvement in almost every area. BMW has never evolved the styling of its 3-series too much in an attempt to safeguard the success of its bread-and-butter model. However, the new 3-series now gets a stretched kidney grille and headlights, the bonnet is considerably more muscular and, with two bold swage lines running across the flanks, the new car looks much more athletic. The lower half of the chin gets vertical air intakes in the bumper that allow a curtain of air to flow around the front wheels. The rear is typically BMW, and the wider bootlid makes it easy to confuse this car with a 5-series from the rear.

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The new 3-series is now longer by 93mm, the wheelbase is stretched by 50mm and the front and rear tracks are wider too. The use of more exotic raw materials means that the new car is 40kg lighter and 10 percent more rigid. The new 3 borrows bits and pieces from everywhere; the electrically-assisted steering and double-wishbone front suspension are from the 5-series and the rear suspension is from the earlier 3-series. BMW's obsession with weight distribution has been carried over too — this car boasts a 50:50 front-rear balance.

On the inside, BMW has tilted the dash in towards the driver and a variety of textured surfaces give it a 'layered' 3D effect. The 328i's 'Sport' trim also 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 you can switch from Comfort to Sport in a second by using the 'Drive Performance Control' switch.

The longer wheelbase offers much more legroom in the rear, backed by fantastic thigh support and an accommodating backrest. 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.

Under the hood, the diesel 320d employs BMW's familiar 2.0-litre four-pot, which is regarded as one of the best four-cylinder diesels around. Even so, 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. However, it's always ready for action, and its willingness to rev hard is second to none. And considering its size and uprated 181bhp output (put to the rear wheels via the eight-speed auto), performance is nothing short of impressive which is further aided by the low kerb weight and a quick gearbox.

The all-new, 241bhp 328i uses a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol motor with a single, twin-scroll turbocharger. It loves to be spun hard and is torquey too, thanks to direct injection and the turbo. So, while there is a tiny bit of lag, this motor has a strong mid-range - which is now its strongest point - and it has an extremely strong top end too. Like the diesel, this motor doesn't feel refined at idle and it emits a coarse snarl at high revs. Performance, however, is sizzling hot. 0-100kph takes 6.4 seconds, 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 new 3-series manages to ride and handle beautifully. On the diesel, there's a suppleness to the ride not seen earlier, and you don't find yourself involuntarily wincing when you run over bad patches of tarmac. The 3-series does have an underlying layer of firmness, which at times does tend to make the suspension a bit noisy. Low-speed ride, though, is superb and there is almost no bobbing or pitching at speed. The new 3-series, especially the 328i, darts into corners with the agility of a jet fighter, particularly in Sport mode. All that's needed to change course is a flick of a wrist. The 320d's steering, in tune with the more relaxed character of the car, is understandably not as quick. There is a bit of roll initially, especially at the rear, and that takes a bit of getting used to. The electric steering is one of the best around; very accurate and reasonably feelsome.

In terms of fuel economy, 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, managed 11.1kpl and 15.5kpl in the city and on the highway respectively.

The new 3 is an outstanding all-rounder, delivering the best of all worlds. It's compact, yet spacious, fast yet frugal, incredibly fun to drive and we expect it to be competitively priced as well. It's a car that's going to be hard to beat and we are totally convinced it's the new benchmark in the compact luxury class.

Price 36 lakh/34 lakh (est. ex-showroom, Delhi)
Fuel Petrol/diesel
Installation Front, longitudinal
Type 4 cyls, 1997cc, direct injection, turbo-petrol/ 4 cyls, 1995cc, turbo-diesel
Bore/stroke 90.1/84.0; 90.0/84.0mm
Power 241bhp at 5000- 6500rpm/ 181bhp at 4000rpm
Torque 35.69kgm at 1250- 4800rpm/ 38.74kgm at 1750-2750rpm
Power to weight 168.53/127.46bhp per tonne
Gearbox 8-speed auto
Length 4624mm
Width 1811mm
Height 1429mm
Wheel base 2810mm
Boot volume 480 litres
Ground clearance 140mm
Weight 1430/1420kg
Tyres 225/45 R18/ 225/50 R17
City 7.5/11.1kpl
Highway 12.5/15.5kpl
Tank size 60 litres

First Published Date: 19 Oct 2012, 11:09 AM IST

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