BMW has given four of its top 3 Series models a refresher course to ensure the luxury cars don't have to endure a mid-life crisis, with new looks and more equipment at just a smidgen more than the prices of the cars they replace.
Fresh styling for 3 Series Coupe, Cabriolet and Compact
The changes range from new tail-lights and side sills on the sporty Compact models and the addition of Dynamic Stability Control, to new headlights, Dynamic Stability Control, deeper front aprons and 6-speed manual gearboxes on the sexy 325Ci Coupe and 330i Convertible versions.
In addition the Coupe and Convertible models get a wider and more prominent kidney grille, while different alloy wheels are offered.
The design changes are aimed at both refreshing the 3 Series, and at the same time giving all the cars a sportier look.
In addition BMW wants to make greater differentiation between the 3 Series sedans and these more youthful cars.
In detail the changes on the Coupe and Cabriolet are as follows: Front and rear bumpers are more prominent and sporty. The front bumper incorporates a deep spoiler which foglights almost hidden in the aperture, while at the rear the bumpers have black beading and reflectors inset into them.
Redesigned front lights.
New bonnet with a prominent "power bulge."
New rear light design LED (light emitting diodes) taillights.
Lengthened luggage compartment handle (70 mm on either side).
Wider more prominent kidney grille.
New side panel and side indicator lights.
Specification changes include: Dynamic Stability Control (standard on both models)
6 Speed manual transmission (Standard on 330Ci)
Clear indicator lenses (standard on the 330Ci)
Bi Xenon lights with Adaptive Light Control (optional on the 325Ci and
standard on the 330Ci)
6-Speed SMG transmission (optional on both models)
Bluetooth compatible cell phone preparation (optional on both models).
The 318ti and the 325ti Compact models undergo some cosmetic tweaks combined with specification upgrades.
Design changes: The boot lid has a "character line" and a wider grab handle, making the rear appear wider and lower.
The new rear light design sees the clear covers replaced with a translucent red-orange cover and a high gloss black background. The lights are unchanged inside, which means their round shape is only visible when they are switched on.
The side sills have been profiled resulting in a longer look to the side profile.
Specification changes see: Dynamic Stability Control standard on both Compact models.
The 325ti Compact features a 6-speed manual gearbox which gives fifth a 1 to 1 ratio, closing up the lower gears to improve acceleration.
A new 6-speed SMG transmission is optional on the 325ti Compact.
Bluetooth compatible cell phone preparation is optional on both Compact models.
On the road
Wheels24 drove all the models in KwaZulu Natal and the Eastern Cape, and we can tell you the improvements are not just cosmetic.
The addition of DSC is quite marked, especially in tight cornering, using the ABS braking system to selective brake individual wheels to prevent loss of control. At the same time it is set at quite high limits, allowing a touch of tail-out before the computer takes over.
The 6-speed manual gearbox is smooth and slick, although we felt the ratios were still a bit on the long side - 6th is definitely a high-speed cruising gear.
The Sequential Manual Gearbox is a simpler version than that fitted on the top-of-the-range M3. This means one can choose between City, which allows a clutchless automatic mode (but doesn't "creep" like a normal auto 'box, as well as manual operation using either the normal gearlever or paddles on the steering wheel.
There are two modes in this application - normal and Sport, the latter making for quicker changes.
The gearbox was simple to use, and in City mode gave a reasonable auto change. In Sport mode the gearchanges are lightning fast without the "slurred" effect found on Alfa's Selespeed gearbox, and one can change without lifting off the accelerator - if you don't mind a jolt each time you do it.
Quite honestly I feel SMG will only appeal to a few diehard enthusiasts who want to drive like Montoya - the normal automatic gearbox, with Steptronic sequential manual function, is a better bet most of the time, and costs only R1 000 more than the R12 000 SMG option.
The addition of Adaptive Lighting to these 3 Series models is a significant move, bringing as it does this swivelling headlight system - which enables the driver to see around corners - to a larger proportion of the buying public.
It's standard on the Convertible and a R12 000 option on the coupe - not as expensive as it might seem since it comes bundled with Bi-xenon headlights, a headlamp washer system, and a rain sensor.
The new wheels see a very clean five-spoke design on the Compact and Convertible, and a more complex (and difficult to clean) cross-spoke pattern for the Coupe.
Another interesting addition is Bluetooth technology.
Essentially, this means the car will communicate with your cellular 'phone (provided it has the required Bluetooth bits, which most of the latest ones have) without any need for wires or cradles - the phone can even be left in the boot.
Your phonebook is displayed on a panel between the speedo and revcounter, and you can operate the phone using buttons on the steering wheel.
Microphones are built in, and you can hear your caller through the car's speakers.
It's not cheap, at R5 800, plus another R550 for an exterior aerial, but it does mean you won't have to upgrade your handsfree kit each time you change telephones.
Prices: 318ti Compact 5-speed manual R206 500; Steptronic 5-speed automatic R219 500.
325ti Compact 6-speed manual R278 500; Steptronic 5-speed automatic R291 500; SMG R290 500.
325Ci Coupe 6-speed manual R320 500; Steptronic 5-speed automatic R333 500; SMG R332 500.
330i Convertible 6-speed manual R476 000; Steptronic 5-speed automatic R489 000; SMG R488 000.