New-car launches don’t come much bigger than the 3 Series, BMW’s top-selling model globally.
WHAT IS IT?
The most important model BMW will launch in 2015, and not just because the BMW 3 Series is such a sales juggernaut. With newer and potentially better rivals from Mercedes, Audi, Jaguar and Alfa Romeo in the mix, the facelifted 3 Series needs to be good.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
BMW sells more 3 Series worldwide than any other model and this updated version offers new engines, a sharper look and the promise of better steering and handling.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
New engines, a smoother ride and a sharper look boost the 3 Series’ showroom sizzle, but improved dynamics are let down by artificial steering.
Plus: Sharper dynamics; improved ride; creamy smooth turbo six in 340i
Minus: Artificial steering; only minor visual changes; newer, potentially better, rivals
THE WHEELS REVIEW
THE Alps are glowing, the champagne flowing and the cars are shining, yet still a question raises its ugly head: Has BMW done enough?
I’m in Austria for the launch party of the updated 3 Series LCI, which stands for Life Cycle Impulse in BMW-speak, or mid-life update for the rest of us. It’s one of the most important cars BMW will launch this year, and not just because the 3 Series remains the brand’s most popular model worldwide.
The F30 3 Series, originally released here in 2012, is suddenly facing stiff competition from newer rivals like the Mercedes C-Class, all-new Audi A4 and incoming Jaguar XE and Alfa Romeo Giulia. So this mid-life update needs to be good.
Visually, though, changes are minor. Up front there are new LED running lights and the option of full-LED illumination (a 3 Series first), while a tweaked front bumper also sports larger air intakes for a wider and more aggressive look. At the back, a new rear bumper includes standard LED tail-lights arranged in BMW’s latest L-shaped design.
Changes to the interior are equally restrained, bringing lashings of high-gloss plastics and chrome, plus new ambient lighting. Oh, and the central cupholders now get a lid.
Where BMW has really upped the ante is under the bonnet. Every engine in the updated range is new, bar the six-pot diesels, with the entry-level 318i now powered by a, wait for it, 100kW/200Nm three-cylinder petrol. It’s the same unit already used by Mini, or if you’re boasting to your mates at the pub, the one used in BMW’s i8 sports car, and it brings a 0.5L/100km fuel saving and lowers the 318i’s 0-100km/h time by 0.1sec.
An even more efficient 185kW 330e hybrid will debut in Europe in early 2016, though performance junkies will be most interested in the variant sampled here, the range-topping 340i.
It replaces the old 335i flagship and its new 240kW/450Nm turbocharged 3.0-litre six is a gem. Smooth, strong and with a rorty exhaust note, it’s a unit that manages to feel both wonderfully linear, yet deliciously torquey from below 2000rpm.
A recalibrated, silky-smooth eight-speed automatic completes the drivetrain, with BMW’s engineers working tirelessly to ensure this new 3 Series is “sportier than ever”.
All three grades (Standard, M Sport and Adaptive) boast stiffer suspension, revised damping and fettled steering to not only provide sharper dynamics, but improve body control and ride comfort. And the results, at least on these suspiciously smooth roads in Austria where the ride feels controlled and compliant, are positive.
Another welcome addition is an increased difference between Comfort and Sport on Adaptive models.
Letting the package down is new steering that, despite BMW’s efforts to make feedback more linear, feels inconsistent and artificial off centre, at least on the 340i with its sporty Michelin-shod 18-inch wheels.
Disappointing steering aside, it’s clear the new 3 Series is more than just fresh tinsel on an old tree. New engines that provide greater efficiency and new technology only broaden the car’s appeal, as do the promises of even greater performance and improved dynamics.
And, while its visual changes are hardly groundbreaking, they do result in a sharper, more aggressive look to give the 3 Series facelift the showroom sizzle it needs against newer rivals.
Model: BMW 340i
Engine: 2998cc in-line 6cyl, dohc, 24v, turbo
Max power: 240kW @ 5500-6500rpm
Max torque: 450Nm @ 1380-5000rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Kerb weight: 1530kg
0-100km/h: 5.1sec (claimed)
Fuel Economy: 6.8L/100km (EU)
Price: $94,000 (estimated)
On sale: October
Click here to read the full range review of the BMW 3 Series