The sixth generation of the (dare we say) now iconic BMW 3 Series rolled out of BMW’s triple-towered plant in central Munich this afternoon to the applause of hundreds of employees and dozens of motoring media representatives.
It’s the first version of the car to have BMW’s new eight-speed auto gearbox, it represents an investment equivalent to more than R11-billion (roughly a third of the amount misappropriated, misued or simply stolen by South African government employees over recent years) and will continue an unbroken line of 4.25-million 3 Series spread around the globe since 1951.
TRAINEES IN CHARGE
The first examples of the cars to been seen (at least officially) by the public followed a procession of previous examples of the cars – the whole event broadcast worldwide over a live YouTube streaming channel to millions of viewers.
The new models were driven by BMW trainees, their super-bosses from the BMW management board riding as passengers.
While the 3 Series is a boon for European finances – both corporate and private - it’s also a windfall for BMW SA which, I was told, will be producing the cars in left-hand drive format for the huge US market and for the word’s right-hand drive buyers – particularly Japan.
The plant in Rosslyn, Pretoria will probably be taking on more staff – great news for the country’s employment situation – to handle production which will ramp up, starting early in 2012, from 50 000 to 80 000 a year, mostly for export, on the back of an initial investment in the country of R2.2-billion.
SA will initially assemble sedan versions of the 335i, 328i and 320d and, later, the 320i and 330d. The increase in production will service growing demand for the cars, particularly for the Japanese market.
Sales of the cars will start in South Africa around March, 2012.
NEW THREE, FRESH STYLING: The slash along each side of the new Three's flanks is new and twin tailpipes hint at fresh, more economical, engines.
The new cars, BMW says, emphasise dynamic and elegant design and will be produced in three equipment levels - Sport Line, Luxury Line and Modern Line. Sport sedans will feature a head-up information display projected on to the windscreen, sport suspension and twin-turbo technology – a performance enhancement once scorned by the German automaker.
Auto stop/start, a fuel conservation measure invoked whenever the car is stationary, will be standard.
The new BMW face, with flat headlights reaching along as far as the BMW kidney grille, emphasises the cars‘ perceived dynamism. The shell is longer by 93mm and front and rear track has been widened by, respectively 37 and 47mm and the wheelbase has been stretched by 50mm – with concomitant benefits for occupants‘ legroom.
The cars are, however, 40kg lighter than their predecessors
Each version of the new Three is, BMW says, an individual take on the character of the sports sedan with high-quality material combinations and superior build quality underlining the premium ambience of the range.
A choice of four engines will be offered. In addition to two further-optimised diesel units and the established six-cylinder petrol unit there will be a new turbocharged four-cylinder in the 328i.
The eight-speed auto box is, BMW says, the first in the premium mid-size segment and can be specified in combination with any engine. It’s claimed to be able to outperform models fitted with the standard six-speed manual gearbox in fuel economy and exhaust emissions.
Fuel savings, BMW adds, will be helped with the inclusion of brake energy regeneration, an optimum shift indicator for manual gearbox units and the cars‘ ability to disengage their aircon when accelerating. Comfort, Sport and Sport+ options are available as well as an Eco Pro mode for further fuel-saving.
YOU'LL BE SITTING COMFORTABLY: Deep, luxurious seats promise long-distance comfort and the stubby gearchanger governs an eight-speed auto box.
The 320d Efficient Dynamics Edition, whose peak output of 120kW aims for a claimed average fuel consumption in the EU driving cycle of 4.1 litres/100 km and a tax-saving CO2 emissions level of 109g/km. Joining the range in 2012 will be the first ActiveHybrid 3 model.
The optional BMW ConnectedDrive, BMW says, has taken driving assistance technology and mobility systems to new levels and uses a full-colour head-up display – another first for the premium mid-size segment.
Also available is all-round camera coverage for close-proximity manoeuvring – and watching out for children and pets in domestic driveways. Connected Drive also brings active cruise control, unintended lane departure warning and a collision warning system – more firsts for the 3 Series.
Should the car be in a collision it will call for help from the nearest BMW dealer.
The twin-turbo, two-litre 328i represents a new generation of light but powerful petrol engines and can muster 180kW and 350Nm from 1250rpm to reach 100km/h in 5.9sec with a claimed average fuel consumption of 6.4 litres/100km possible.
SIXTH DAWN FOR 3 SERIES: There'll be no confusing the next BMW 3 Series with its predecessors when it hits South African roads early in 2012.
The 335i is equipped with a straight-six engine – a BMW speciality – and also uses twin-turbo tech. Its three-litre displacement develops 225kW/400Nm – the latter from 1200rpm – and BMW promises it will flatten the performance of its predecessor on less fuel.
It won’t, of course, be as economical as the TwinPower Turbo four-cylinder diesel engine of the 320d which can serve up 135kW/380Nm but even more economical, BMW says, is the 320d Efficient Dynamics Edition – less power at 120kW but a claimed 4./100km of diesel.
Late in 2012, in some markets, will come the Active Hybrid 3.
All models will use similar body construction to offer high torsional rigidity and extensive active and passive safety crash protection systems.
Much was also made at today’s Munich launch event about of the cars‘ comprehensive cave system – a wide range of storage compartments and two large drink holders in the centre console ahead of the gearshifter which can be replaced by an oddments tray.
The front and rear door pockets now contain generous stowage surfaces and the front doors have space for litre bottles.
Boot capacity has increased by 20 litres, rear-seat through loading is an option and those same seats can fold in a 40:20:40 formation.
Wheels24 will bring you full driving impressions and local prices when the cars are launched in South Africa in March, 2012.