2015 BMW 3 Series facelift gets 3-cylinders, hybrid models

THE new 2015 BMW 3 Series has been shown at a special event in Munich, Germany.

The mid-life update of the Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class rival was revealed to journalists with confirmation of a three-cylinder engine as well as a new more affordable hybrid model to follow in 2016. "We are absolutely confident that the new vehicles will provide further momentum for our global sales," said BMW board member and sales and marketing chief, Dr Ian Robertson.

The new 3 Series isn't a step change, but a smart nip and tuck as you'd expect. The facelift of the F30 model, released in 2012, has been given new front and rear bumper and with subtle body tweaks. "When you're  asked to design the new 3 Series, it's something one does as a designer with a lot of respect," said BMW head of design, Karim Habib. "One thing we've tried intensively to do with the new 3 Series is to strengthen the aspect of precision."

Up front there's a new larger air-intake that allows the radar sensors to be hidden more effectively for a smoother look. "We've also made the line-work a little bit more technical, a little more precise," said Habib. "The surfaces as well are a little more taught, so all-in-all just trying to strengthen the aspect of precision.

It's at night that you'll be able to spot the updated BMW 3 Series from the current F30 model. "We've really taken the design further with the headlamps; we have full LED headlamps, the first time on a 3 Series," Habib said. "So you go away from the rings and tubes ... the 3 Series was the first car in our line-up to connect the headlamps to the kidneys, but now we've connected it to the lights as well, so you not only connect the graphic but you also connect function."

The light signature is also stronger at the rear, where there's a new rear bumper with higher reflectors that are also further apart to give the 3 a wider stance while also differentiating between lower-spec and higher-grade models.

Inside, those open cupholders in the centre console have been blessed with a lid, smartening up the cabin, as has the replacement of matte finish for more gloss and chrome. New contour lighting and redesigned air vent frames wrap up the interior changes.

The biggest mechanical news is that the BMW 318i now comes with a 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine that we've already seen in the Mini, and makes an identical 100kW/220Nm as the 1.6-litre turbo currently offered in the base 316i in Australia that it will replace.

The smaller unit brings several key advantages: the new engine produces its peak torque at lower revs, and its 9.1sec 0-100km/h claim is 0.1sec faster, while fuel economy betters the current model's by 0.5L at 5.4L/100km for the eight-speed automatic.

It's not the most efficient 3 Series though: at launch, the 320d EfficientDynamics boasts a 3.8L/100km claim for the automatic, a significant improvement over the current 320d's best of 4.5L/100km. This model is not confirmed for Australia, but the regular 320d also has better economy, improving to 4.0L/100km.

Fuel economy has improved by up to 13 percent, and that average will get even better when the BMW 330e plug-in hybrid arrives in 2016 with a combined 2.1L/100km figure. That's far more efficient than the six-cylinder ActiveHybrid 3, which was a technical showcase rather than a genuine eco-warrior with its 4.1L/100km figure.

The 330e will benefit from trickle-down tech from the BMW i division. It will be powered  a 135kW four-cylinder engine, and an electric motor, for a combined 185kW output, with a 35km range on zero-emission electric power – a meagre 4km more than the forthcoming BMW X5 xDrive40e PHEV's 31km.

The flagship 335i has been replaced by the 340i, with power increased from 225kW/400Nm to 240kW/450Nm and a corresponding improvement in acceleration, with 0-100km now in 5.1sec compared with 5.2sec.

Australian pricing and specification of the new BMW 3 Series facelift will be confirmed closer to its launch late this year, but if the Mercedes C-Class is anything to go by, expect prices to remain static, starting from $55,000.

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