NEW 3 SERIES ARRIVES IN MZANSI: The facelifted BMW 3 Series, the automaker's most popular model, receives 5 new engines and styling tweaks throughout. Image: Wheels24/ Sean Parker
Pretoria - One of the first car launches I attended as a motoring journalist was the BMW 3 Series (F30) in 2012. I remember it for one notable reason - it was the first time BMW’s most popular model used turbocharged engines.
Three years later and with competition from rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Jaguar XE and next-generation Audi A4 (due in SA in 2016), BMW unleashes its new 3 Series in South Africa.
The September 2015 launch coincides with the 40th anniversary of the 3 Series.
Popular in SA
Wheels24’s Sean Parker drove the new 3 at its local production hub in Rosslyn, Pretoria.
Here are five things you need to know about the new model:
1 It has 5 new engines – The midlife facelift of BMW’s most popular model (14 million units sold since 1975) introduces five new engines including a three-cylinder 1.5 litre engine (318i). All engines, bar the 330d, now use B-Series units, which BMW says uses "less fuel and has more power".
New engines include a 2.0 litre turbo with 135kW/290Nm (320i) and the return of the 330i badge which uses same 2.0 litre engine as the 320i though tuned to deliver 185kW/350Nm.
Gallery: 2015 BMW 3 Series
The top-of-the-range 340i replaces the 335i and is capable of 245kW/450Nm (increase of 7% in power) from its 3.0 litre turbocharged engine. The 340i is only available in auto guise though it's arguably the best ‘box in the business - ZF’s eight-speed auto.
40 Years of BMW 3 Series
The 330d (190kW/560Nm) remains the top diesel model and is also available standard in auto form, while the likely oil-burner volume seller, 320d, benefits from a power increase now at 140kW/400Nm. BMW claims fuel consumption of 4.0 litre/100km for the 320d.
2 It drives better – I've always thought the F30 3 Series is the dynamic-driving benchmark in the premium sedan class. Jaguar’s recently-launched XE is a close second in terms of steering response. The latest iteration of the 3, now sporting damper technology, a stiffer suspension and sharper steering sets new standards in sporty driving dynamics, combined with the same level of ride comfort and retains its famed 50:50 weight distribution.
The 318i (with optional eight-speed auto) suffers from considerable turbo lag at pull away. I set the driving mode to Comfort as the roads in Rosslyn were pockmarked worse than a teenagers face. This default setting offers a plush ride however I opted to change gears manually as the 'box and engine felt a touch out of sync in Comfort mode for my liking.
The 318i proved to be rather frugal, indicating a range of 650km when I started driving the 150km test route, averaging 6.0 litres/100km. Expect this model to become ubiquitous faster than you can say: "I want a new 3 Series".
On variants equipped with six-speed manual, the engagement speed-control function automatically blips the throttle on downshifts.
The top-of-the-range 340i was waiting for me after lunch and I was keen to put this sporty sedan through its paces. Standard with an 8-speed auto, the 340i offers incredible pace (0-100km/h in 5.1 seconds) and is well up to task of handling fast, sweeping turns.
With Sport mode engaged, the engine felt as responsive as a fighter pilot and after knitting together a few bends it illustrated just how good the 3 Series is. In my book it remains the benchmark premium sedan and this midlife-facelift serves to reinforce its position.
3 There's a new special edition in SA – BMW SA apparently requested a special 40-year limited edition for local customers. What sets it apart from its siblings? The special edition gains an M Sport Package, exclusive paintwork, 19" light alloy rims, new leather-clad instrument panel, black interior trim, "40 Year Edition" badging and Harman/Kardon audio.
4 There’s a plug-in hybrid on the way – BMW says its second-generation 3 Series hybrid (now with plug-in capability) draws inspiration from its “i-Cars”, the i8 and i3. The new 330e will be available in South Africa in 2016.
Under the skin, it’s a 320i with a twist; by using technical wizardry tested in the i-Cars, the 330e offers a bespoke package in its class. Affluent eco-types will already have their eyes on order forms.
The plug-in hybrid drive system in the 330e has total system output of 185kW. BMW claims a combined fuel consumption of 2.1 litres/100km and emissions of 49g/km. BMW says the 330e has a range of 35km in electric-mode, a boon for city drivers. Top-speed in EV mode is rated at 120km/h. It's capable of 185kW/420Nm.
Watch: All you need to know about the new BMW 3 Series
5. It looks even sharper - The updated 3 Series sports new air intakes, widened to integrate the optional Active Cruise Control (ACC). Its new LEDs and striking daytime driving lights underlines the car’s sporty and powerful design. Full-LED headlights and adaptive LED's can now be specified as an option. Halogens are standard and xenon's are no longer available.
The high-performance M3 also receives styling upgrades.
The interior gains new materials and smatterings of chrome for the controls, air vents and central control panel. The centre console now has a sliding cover for cupholders (Coffee drinkers rejoice). I'm not sold of the 3’s interior and fascia as it has the personality of a CIA agent.
BMW's ConnectedDrive driver assistance systems and in particular the navigation maps can now be automatically updated free of charge for a period of three years via the nearest BMW dealership.
The new 320i and 320d sports twin exhausts, each 70mm wide. The tailpipe for the entry-level versions measures 75mm wide. Rims up to 19" are available with BMW's accessories range offering 20" variants.
318i - R409 000
320i - R443 000
320d - R472 000
330i - R516 000
330d auto - R596 000
340i auto - R656 000
40 Years of BMW 3 Series
Before I forget, this mint E30 3 Series was at the launch: