- First chance to sample production-ready 3 Series Saloon
- Petrol and diesel tested; plug-in hybrid 330e to follow
- Touring estate model will arrive later along with sizzling M3
The BMW 3 Series is one of the German firm’s most recognisable models. Since its launch in the mid-‘70 more than 15 million cars have been sold, and the UK is a seriously popular market for this executive saloon.
BMW 3 Series 2019 – click to jump to:
Roughly 70% of 3 Series are used by business drivers in Britain, and its main competition comes in the form of the formidable Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class pairing. Other, less-popular rivals include the Alfa Romeo Giulia and the Jaguar XE – both great to drive, if flawed in other respects.
We’ve had a chance to sample two production versions of the new 3, along with a brief blast in a prototype of the M340i xDrive – a performance model we’re expecting to join the range later to take on the Audi S4 and Mercedes-AMG C 43 4Matic, and keep keen drivers happy until the full-fat M3 arrives in 2020.
Furthermore, during 2019 we’ll see the introduction of the 330e plug-in hybrid – a model that promises impressive electric-only driving range as well as 100mpg+ fuel economy, ultra-low CO2 emissions and a 0-62mph time of just 6.0 seconds. That sounds suspiciously like the best of all worlds for a lot of drivers, so we’re expecting it to prove pretty popular – especially with company car drivers.
In the main it’s very impressive indeed. We’ll set out the different versions we’ve driven shortly, but a few things are common to all cars.
The first thing that struck us was the lack of noise and vibration in the cabin. BMW claims it has done a lot of work in this respect, and the latest 3 feels like it’ll match Audi now for interior quality. That’s no mean feat. Standard kit includes an acoustic windscreen and foam-filled cladding around the window shuts to keep unwanted road and wind roar at bay.
Another thing that surprised us was the handling. It’s a much nimbler-feeling car than ever before, with a new-found sense of agility and lighter-but-sharper steering that rewards careful inputs. Drivers of previous 3 Series models will notice the controls don’t require as much effort to operate, and that’s going to cut down on fatigue on a long drive.
The suspension on both production cars we’ve tested was M Sport non-adaptive, and we felt the ride was just a little firmer than we’d have preferred, though also this contributes to how well the 3 Series corners. If this is a concern, you’ve got the option of extra-cost adaptive dampers, but we’ve yet to try these on the road.
Now, let’s break down the drive into the individual cars we’ve tried so far.
BMW’s expecting this to be the volume seller in the 3 Series range, despite diesel’s demonisation by mainstream press and Government alike.
You’ve got 190hp from the 2.0-litre motor, with 400Nm of torque meaning 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds with the automatic gearbox most buyers will specify.
The thing is, we didn’t think the 320d felt as fast as that. In fact, our initial drive had us suspecting it was slower than the previous car, which always felt like it exceeded expectations in this sense.
And at low speeds it’s a noisy powerplant as well, with an old-fashioned rattle that only settles when you’re on the move.
We didn’t get as long to try this engine, but it didn’t take more than a few seconds to find we preferred it to the 320d above.
Unlike some older 330i models, this one uses a four-cylinder engine instead of a six, but it’s still very smooth and responsive, if not sounding quite as interesting.
It produces 258hp and 400Nm, so 0-62mph takes 5.8 seconds, and it does this with an eager exhaust note to accompany the drive.
Most buyers will be happy with the way this car drives, but the next car is another step up…
We’ve only had a chance to sample this model in pre-production form on a racing circuit. That means the surface was glass-smooth and it was at very high speed, so not exactly indicative of what you’ll experience on a wintery UK backroad.
Still, we were impressed with a number of aspects of the way the M340i drives. Push the starter button and immediately it’s clear this is the best engine in the new 3 Series line-up. It’s a six-cylinder turbocharged petrol that is also used in the Z4 sports car, though it’s been tweaked slightly for use in the 3. It sounds fantastic, with a purposeful rumble at low speeds that builds in excitement along with the revs. We were impressed with its throttle response, too – particularly in Sport mode where everything is sharpened up.
With 374hp and 500Nm of torque available, it’ll cover 0-62mph in 4.4 seconds (provisional figure) and feels every bit as fast as that thanks to the traction of the xDrive all-wheel drive system.
As standard this car comes with a six-speed manual gearbox, but we tested it with the optional eight-speed automatic that shifts quickly and smoothly between its ratios. On circuit we had this ‘box in its manual mode, using the paddleshifters behind the steering wheel, and it performed very well indeed, with only the very slightest of reluctance to change down on some of the quicker corners.
Another optional feature was the adaptive suspension, which allows the driver to choose between a softer ride or a harder, flatter chassis for better cornering. This works in conjunction with the electrically controlled locking rear differential to help when turning into a bend, effectively tightening the car’s trajectory and pushing the back end around, making the 3 Series feel even more agile than in the other two versions above.
Once you get the hang of predicting what it’s going to do, you’re able to set the M340i to work at angles you’d previously never imagined – especially once you’ve push the traction control button once to enter into Traction mode. This commands the xDrive system to divert more torque rearwards, meaning it feels more like a rear-wheel drive car and thus is more enjoyable at speed.
There’s a huge amount of technology on the new 3 Series. It starts with standard BMW’s 8.8-inch digital cockpit, which includes built-in sat-nav. You also get Connected Package Plus, opening up Apple CarPlay preparation, Microsoft Office 365, real-time traffic information and remote services through a concierge.
A set of parking sensors and a rear-view camera will come on every 3 Series.
Then as you move up the trim hierarchy you can order all manner of other kit. BMW now has its own Personal Assistant, which is a voice-activated system using the internet and artificial intelligence to learn to answer your queries. While we’ve seen this before from Mercedes and a number of other firms, this one’s unique in that you can name your own car. If you’ve called it Bob, then simply say ‘hey Bob’ and the voice activation will begin to function.
You’re also able to park the car from outside it using a 360-degree camera and a screen displayed on the rather oversized car key, making squeezing into tight spaces and garages much easier. Other options will include larger wheels, M Sport parts for non-M Sport cars, high-spec headlights, a larger fuel tank, and a range of interior trims and finishes.
While we didn’t get much chance to test these systems at length, we were impressed with the speed at which the processors worked and equally how intuitive the menus and functions are. Wireless smartphone charging worked well too, topping up our device quickly without too much excess heat.
It's very close to the previous version in terms of cabin and boot space.
It has the following dimensions:
- Length: 4,709mm
- Width: 1,827mm (not including door mirrors)
- Height: 1,442mm
- Boot size: 480 litres
- Rear seats fold down in 40:20:40 split for loading longer items
The Parkers Verdict
Its looks may suggest that BMW hasn’t reinvented the wheel with the new 3 Series, but in pretty much every other aspect big improvements have been made. It’s different to drive – though no less involving – and much quieter inside, while the latest technology is employed for multimedia and drivetrain functions.
The BMW 3 Series remains among the best in its class. A thorough evaluation in the UK alongside its main rivals is the order of the day now, to find out which one’s best overall.