The BMW 3-series has been unveiled to the North American audience at today's Detroit motor show.
The roomier, faster and more economical BMW 3-series saloon - know internally as the F30 - is new from the ground-up, has been four years in the making, and is tasked with continuing BMW’s dominance over key rivals such as the Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-class and Volvo S60.
So thorough has the design and development been that BMW R&D chief Klaus Draeger, describes it as ‘BMW’s most ambitious engineering program to date’.
Holding true to a front-engine, rear-drive layout, the new 3-series will initially be sold with the choice of three engines in four models – the 320d, 320d EfficientDynamics, 328i and 301bhp 335i.
Following the launch cars into the showrooms a month later, in March next year, are the entry-level diesels and a petrol model: the 320i, which gets a 181bhp 2.0-litre four-pot, and the 114bhp 316d and 141bhp 318d, both of which use versions of the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit. Later in the year comes the rest of the cavalry, including the 318i petrol and the 325d, 330d and 335d diesels.
And in a move mirroring that of the 1-series, the new 3-series will introduce three new trims – Sport, Luxury and Modern — to complement the usual ES, SE and MSport.
Also being readied for late next year is the 3-series ActiveHybrid that mates a turbocharged 3.0-litre petrol engine with an electric motor combined into the automatic ’box housing. It will produce 335bhp and 332lb/ft and return 44.4mpg. A UK-first late next year will be four-wheel drive models.
Styling/Dimensions/WeightBMW’s design team, headed by Adrian von Hooydonk, was charged with delivering more models and a greater styling variation than ever before.
The starting point is von Hooydonk’s distinctive long-bonnet, cab backward proportion, chosen to emphasise BMW’s rear-drive running gear.
In that sense the 3-series follows the 5 and 7-series, but the departure is the details to avoid the ‘salami-sliced’ family look that BMW was once criticised for.
Shapely headlamps positioned close to the near-vertical kidney grille accentuate the width up front, while double swage lines along the bodysides emphasise the wedge profile and break up the visual bulk of the flanks.
This adds up to a more individual look than before, particularly necessary on the new F30, because the model range will eventually stretch to six body styles.
The new saloon has also grown – but not every dimension. Length is up by a considerable 93mm to 4623mm, some 50mm of which has been dedicated to increasing the wheelbase, now 2810mm.
Width is down by 4mm at 1811mm but height is up by 9mm at 1429mm. The wide track, a long time 3-series design touch, has also been enhanced, with the front gaining an added 37mm at 1543mm and the rear up by 47mm at 1583mm.
Despite the increase in size, BMW claims weight of a lightly-trimmed model has decreased by an average of 40kg. Although increased equipment levels have pushed it back up again. For example, BMW quotes the new 320d at 1420kg, the same as the old model.
Platform/Chassis/SteeringUnderpinning the new 3-series is a ground-up new, unitary steel platform with increased rigidity and, in combination with longitudinal mounting of its engines, a perfect 50:50 weight distribution.
“It is the fundamental element to ensuring the 3-series retains its reputation for outstanding dynamics and supple ride,” says Draeger.
Sharing various architectural elements with the structure of the 5-series, it features aluminium and steel body panels and an aluminium intensive chassis that, for the first time, uses double wishbone (front) allied to multi-link (rear) suspension with variable damping control.
The new set-up replaces the MacPherson strut and multi-link arrangement of old, providing what BMW describes as considerably reduced unsprung masses, improved response and greater agility.
The stretch in wheelbase, together with wider tracks provides the new 3-series with a larger footprint than ever before, while buyers will be able to specify four different sizes of wheel — 16, 17, 18-inch — and as part of an optional M package, 19-inch.
Also new is electro-mechanical steering – first fitted to the Z4 and now standard on the 1 and 5-series.
Four-wheel drive has been engineered for the 320d, 320i and 335i models.
Interior/EquipmentDespite the bigger footprint, accommodation up front is virtually unchanged. Instead the new 3-series gets a more spacious rear cabin — 15mm more kneeroom, and 8mm more headroom than the outgoing model.
The increase in wheelbase has also allowed BMW to enlarge the rear door apertures to ease entry to the seats. At the bottom of the door, BMW says it has freed an extra 18mm to make access easier.
Boot capacity, never a 3-series strength is up by 20 litres to 480 litres – still 10 litres less than the A4 saloon but now 5 litres better than the C-class saloon.
In styling terms, the interior follows the theme established on recent new BMWs with a more driver-orientated dash and improved-quality materials.
The hallmark rotary iDrive controller, now standard on all 3-series models, is imported from the 5-series, as are the instruments, switchgear and minor controls. This lifts the cabin ambience, which BMW deemed necessary, following criticism of the outgoing model’s uninspired design.
The adoption of a ‘free-standing’ infotainment screen, similar to that on the new 1-series, has also freed designers to lower the facia and reduce the bulk of the dashboard.
Standard safety kit includes a full roster of airbags, three-point belts for all seats, active headrests and flat-tyre warning. While a comprehensive list of safety kit, such as night vision and collision warning — usually reserved for executive and luxury cars — will be on the options list.
Also on the options list will be internet access for live music streaming, real -time traffic updates and Google Map sat-nav.
Engines/gearboxesThe heart of the 3-Series are its engines and the new model is no exception. The bulk are familiar, like the big-selling 181bhp 2.0-litre diesel, which is brought over virtually unchanged in the 320d and 320d EfficientDynamics. But there is one significant powerplant new to the 3-series — a four-cylinder turbo 2.0-litre, badged 328i.
The replacement for BMW’s fabulous naturally aspirated 3.0-litre six, the 328i employs a twin-scroll turbo, the latest piezo-valve direct-injection, Valvetronic variable valve control and double Vanos cam control to kick out a hefty 242bhp and 258lb ft of torque at a lowly 1250rpm.
Faster than the discontinued 330i and only a shade slower than the new 335i turbo-six, the 328i is 11mpg better than the old 330i saloon and promises to be one of the highlights of the new 3-series.
Likely to remain the best-seller is the 320d, which is as fast as the old model but benefits from 2mpg better economy and a 5g/km improvement in CO2.
Company car drivers will be attracted to the new 320dED, which offers exactly the same, highly frugal economy and tailpipe emissions as the old model, while suffering a 1mph drop in top speed.
Most powerful of the lot is a turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder. Carried over from the outgoing model with only minimal changes, it continues to produce a thumping 302bhp and 295lb ft at 1200rpm.
Acceleration is fractionally better (0.1sec), but the main improvement is a 2mpg economy lift and a significant emissions cut from the automatic version of 3g/km, now down to 169gkm — a number that used to be typical for a 2.0-litre diesel-powered family car.
As with its predecessor, there will be a choice of gearboxes, a standard six-speed manual or optional ZF eight-speeder – the latter with optional paddle-shifters.
All models benefit from a range of standard EfficientDynamics functions, such as oil and water pumps, that operate when required without consuming unnecessary power and brake-energy recuperation.
Oddly, given the increase in wheelbase, the capacity of the fuel tank has decreased four litres to 57-litres. Nevertheless, it provides the 320d EfficentDyanmics with a theoretical range of over 860 miles.