- Plenty of high-tech toys – both standard and extra
- Excellent driving position with lots of adjustment
- Design is cluttered and in danger of becoming generic
There is almost too much to take in the first time you step inside a fully loaded 3 Series – yet despite this, the overall dashboard borders on the bland, as unless you know your BMW quirks there’s a slightly generic aspect to the design that makes you feel like it could be found in any modern premium car.
No complaints about this – there’s lots of adjustment in the seats and the steering wheel, and you can sit very low if that’s your thing.
BMW has also carefully considered the positioning of its central screen – which is hunkered down enough to avoid disrupting the view out of the windscreen, but not so far down that you have to drag your eyes a long way from the road to look at it.
Where fitted, the head-up display option delivers the most crucial driving info directly onto the windscreen in front of you.
Infotainment to excess
There are two levels of media system in the UK: BMW Live Cockpit Plus and BMW Live Cockpit Professional.
Plus, fitted on SE and Sport models, features an 8.8-inch central touchscreen and an instrument cluster with a 5.7-inch full colour display. Based around BMW’s long-standing iDrive system, it includes sat-nav, Apple CarPlay ‘preparation’ (BMW now charges you a subscription fee for this), a touch-sensitive rotary controller, two USB ports and Wi-Fi.
Live Cockpit Professional is standard on M Sport, and jumps to a 10.25-inch central display plus full digital dials on a 12.5-inch screen. The satellite-navigation system is smarter, and the newer ‘BMW Operating System 7.0’ not only looks more impressive, it has downloadable apps and other extra features, including a ‘Personal Intelligent Assistant’.
This means you can speak to the car – simply say ‘Hey BMW’ and give it tasks. How well it will respond to those tasks seems to vary (on our early drive in Germany the whole thing was very laggy), but over time the assistant is supposed to learn your habits and should come to understand you better.
Unlike other car-based systems we’ve encountered before, BMW even allows you to give it a unique name – so now you can not only name your car but have a (slow and somewhat frustrating) conversation with it.
Build quality and design
Generally speaking, the quality is up to scratch with what we’d expect from this level of BMW, although some of the trim choices seem a little tacky.
The design is more problematic. Despite all the screens there are still a lot of buttons on the centre console, and it may take you some time to get used to where they all are.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter so much, though, as with the ‘Hey BMW’ option there is now such a ridiculous number of ways to input instructions in this car it might be irrelevant. These include regular buttons, steering wheel buttons, the touchscreen, the rotary controller, gesture control (now with seven available gestures for different functions) and the ‘intelligent’ assistant.
No wonder BMW has made the row of numbered buttons below the climate control customisable shortcuts to a wide range of different commands, such as opening specific menu screens and loading sat-nav destinations (so they’re not just for bookmarking radio stations).
The options list for the Touring is unsurprisingly extensive, but one extra that stands out is the BMW Drive Recorder.
This is essentially a built-in dashcam, which operates via the on-board camera systems already in place. This means as well as a forward view it can capture things behind and to the side.
Where fitted it automatically records 20-second loops that overwrite each other unless you manually command it to make a recording or are involved in a crash – at which point 20 seconds before and 20 seconds afterwards are saved for analysis.
The data can only be removed from the car by downloading it onto a phone or USB stick.