BMW 3 Series Review - Upping the Ante

BMW 3 Series Review - Upping the Ante

Over five generations, BMW’s 3 Series has become the world’s best selling premium sedan. The 3 has always offered a good balance between performance, practicality and technology. The sixth-generation 3 Series adds more to the offering in the form of efficiency and space. We take a look at the technologies that could help the new 3 Series hold onto its top spot.

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INTRODUCTION

 

The BMW 3 Series has widely been considered as one of the best driver’s cars in its segment, and the wide range of powertrain options make it easily accessible to a larger audience. In India, BMW is offering three engine options in the form of a diesel and two petrol engines. While the diesel variant is bound to outsell the petrol one, it’s the petrol that would score some bit of extra points in terms of performance and driving pleasure – a combination always offered in generous amounts by all the previous generations.

In line with BMW’s target to enhance efficiency, the new 3 Series features a number of technologies to extract more from every drop of fuel. Another major improvement in the vehicle is the increased space, something BMW customers will greatly appreciate as the 3 Series had earlier compromised space to an extent in favour of dynamics.

DESIGN & CONSTRUCTION – LIGHTER & SHARPER

Rear

As one would expect from a new generation vehicle, the new 3 Series looks significantly different from its predecessor. The first thing one would notice is that the vehicle now looks a lot sharper and streamlined. The new headlamps and a revised kidney grille design give the car an angry look, the visual results of which are quite pleasing. Bringing function to the design are vertical intakes on far ends of both the main air intake ducts. These intakes are claimed to create an air curtain, which improves the air flow around the front wheels, resulting in lower drag and higher fuel-efficiency at high speeds.

The short overhangs and a long bonnet add further to the sporty appeal, while the tail lamps at the rear lend a wider visual. From the side view, the vehicle is visibly longer, owing to an overall increase of 93 mm. The wheelbase is longer by 50 mm over the previous 3, while the front and rear track has gone up by 37 mm and 47 mm respectively.

Headlamp

In order to enhance efficiency and dynamics, BMW engineers used lightweight chassis components, which reduced the kerb weight by about 40 kg despite the increased dimensions. The brake system also uses lighter sliding-calliper brakes made from aluminium, which helps lower unsprung weight, translating into better dynamics.

The overall design language of the new 3 Series retains all traits one has come to associate with the product through its journey of over 35 years. And increasing global sales just seems to be confirming its premium position in the small saloon segment.

POWERTRAIN

Engine

We tested the 328i Sport Line variant, powered by a new 2 l four-cylinder engine, equipped with BMW’s TwinPower Turbo technology. The four-cylinder layout was chosen in favour of lower-weight and higher efficiency than the six-cylinder unit of the earlier generation. This engine combination is the same as found in the first-generation 3 Series in 1975. Power output is rated at 245 hp, while torque stands at 350 Nm between 1,250 and 4,800 rpm, primarily due to use of twin-charging. The engine channels its power to the rear axle through an eight-speed automatic transmission. The unit allows the driver to choose from four driving modes – sports, ultra sports, comfortable and economical.

The high power output and efficiency is possible due to an exclusive combination of twin-scroll turbocharging, high precision direct injection, Double-Vanos variable camshaft timing and VALVETRONIC variable valve timing. The availability of torque from low rpm helps in achieving impressive acceleration in all gears without any lag. The car is able to pull strongly all the way up till about 5,000 rpm, making it a joy to drive. The only missing point from the overall experience is the sound, which doesn’t go too well with the brilliant performance.

The engine is based on the existing reduced-friction core engine platform, which allows the company to achieve different power outputs just by tweaking the turbo and injection system. An aluminium crankcase lowers overall weight and the load on the front-axle, leading to better dynamics. Twin-scroll technology means that the exhaust from cylinder 1 & 4 and cylinder 2 & 3 are channelled through separate spiral paths to the turbo turbine wheel. This helps in lowering the exhaust back-pressure at low revolutions, which in turn allows for better utilisation of the exhaust gas force. It also helps throttle response, which is quick and lag-free in the 328i.

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The High Precision Direct Petrol Injection system is positioned between the valves and solenoid injectors to better control the fuel supply. The fuel is injected close to the spark plug at a peak pressure of 200 bar, resulting in cleaner combustion. An important benefit of this combination is better fuel-efficiency, which is claimed to be 14.79 km/l. NVH levels are impressively low and almost no unwanted vibrations or sounds make way into the cabin. This is helped by balancer shafts positioned at different heights to increase vibration absorption. Customers can also go for the 184 hp version of the same engine or a 2 l diesel engine with the same power output as its petrol counterpart.

INTERIOR & ASSISTANCE SYSTEMS

 

Interior

One of the major welcome changes in the cabin is the increased space. Rear legroom is up by 15 mm, while headroom is up by eight mm. The cabin of the new 3 Series features high quality leather and panels, which have been put together to offer a wraparound feel. Front and rear seats offer good overall support, while the increased space makes the new 3 Series more comfortable than its predecessors.

The latest generation of full-colour display Heads-Up Display (HUD) is standard on the 3 Series and displays information such as speed and navigation instructions. The iDrive now offers the ability to display text messages and e-mails in the display screen. The control layout is spot-on and at no time reaching out for a control requires the driver to take his attention off the road. While the 3 Series has offered high-quality cabins in the past, it did lose out on space marginally. With the new 3 Series though, BMW will attract family-oriented people along with the enthusiasts, who can now buy an even better driver’s car.

DYNAMICS

Alloy

With the expectations of delivering better dynamics than its already brilliant predecessor, the new model had a tough task. Engineers made use of multiple lightweight materials in order to offset the weight effects of the increased size. The retention of the basic layout also helped, rear-wheel drive, longitudinally mounted engine and a 50:50 weight distribution.

The front axle of the 3 Series features aluminium torque struts, wishbones and swivel bearings to lower the unsprung weight. The five-link rear axle too is designed to be compact in size, thereby reducing overall weight. The five-link design has been tweaked to incorporate longer spring travel and precise wheel location in any situation. In the real world, all these changes and numerous others come together perfectly and as a result the new 3 Series handles considerably better than its predecessor.

The chassis composure at high speeds is remarkable and around the corners one can’t help but admire the brilliance of the torsionally rigid chassis. Ride quality has improved significantly but still isn’t as plush as some competitors, partially due to the run-flat tyres.

OUTLOOK

The 3 Series is one of those few model lines that achieved an iconic status in a short span of time. While that is commercially good for the company, it is equally challenging for the engineers. With the sixth-generation 3 Series though, BMW engineers have proved their mettle by giving out a car, which betters its predecessor in every aspect. It’s one of those rare recent upgrades, wherein the new car outperforms the older one on each and every parameter.

From an Indian perspective, the car crucially adds space and new connectivity features to its offerings. A large advantage this model will enjoy is that two of its main rivals are in their mid-life cycles. This means that the 3 Series will continue to enjoy the technology advantage for some time. The new 3 Series also proves that BMW has mastered the art of balancing power and efficiency, something it names ‘Efficient Dynamics’.

The sixth-generation 3 Series is priced as mentioned below:

Variant

Price (In Rs lakh, ex-showroom, India)

320d

28.9

320d Sport Line

32.9

320d Luxury Line

32.9

320i

28.5

328i Sport Line

37.9

 

Text: Arpit Mahendra

Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay