Updated BMW 3 Series to bring frugal new engines and plug-in hybrid model and a higher-quality cabin when it goes on sale this summer
30 January 2015

The BMW 3 Series will be given a mid-life facelift in late summer as it moves to fend off challenges from the new Jaguar XE, an updated Mercedes-Benz C-class and the new Audi A4, expected to be revealed later this year.

Chief among the developments will be a new diesel model that emits less than 100g/km of CO2, the addition of three-cylinder engines to the range and a super-frugal hybrid. To read Autocar's first drive review of a prototype of the 2016 BMW 3 Series eDrive click here.

BMW has long dominated the compact executive class, and even the decision to rename its coupé and convertible models ‘4 Series’ last year did not end the 3 Series’ sales domination.

However, speaking to Autocar, sales and marketing boss Ian Roberston said: “We will never underestimate any current or future competition, because in this industry there is always a moving agenda. But the 3 Series is ahead of the competition today and we have built that success on generations of successful vehicles that have attracted customers time and again.

“You can be sure BMW will do everything to stay out front — and I know we have plenty of exciting stuff in the pipeline.”

BMW sells more than 500,000 3-series a year, but Jaguar has targeted modest annual sales of 80,000 cars with the XE, enough in itself to double Jaguar’s sales total.

However, Jaguar has undercut rivals by targeting company car drivers with its lowest-emissions XE, which is powered by a 161bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine. This XE model averages 75mpg and emits 99g/km of CO2 when linked to a manual gearbox, rising to 104g/km with an eight-speed automatic ’box.

Those figures are best in class, eclipsing the most efficient equivalent BMW, the 320d Efficient Dynamics, which emits 109g/km. However, BMW insiders have hinted that the uprated 320d ED will produce less than 100g/km when linked to an automatic ’box.

BMW is also preparing a 2016 debut for a plug-in hybrid 3-series that will emit 50g/km and officially average about 150mpg, as well as launching a new range of turbocharged three-cylinder diesel and petrol engines. Details on the plug-in hybrid remain scarce, but reports suggest that it will offer performance in line with the 328i for a similar £30,000 price. That means a 0-62mph time of under 6.0sec.

The 1.5-litre three-cylinder units will supplant the existing 2.0-litre and 1.6-litre engines in the 316d and 316i. They match or exceed the power and torque figures of today’s equivalent engines and bring a reduction in kerb weight, improved crash protection and fuel savings that BMW puts at up to 10 per cent.

A more powerful variant of the three-cylinder petrol engine, with 228bhp at 5800rpm and 236lb ft at 3700rpm, has been confirmed by BMW, but it is unclear if it will get an airing in the 3-series.

As well as a lead on efficiency, Jaguar has targeted class leadership for the XE on exterior styling and handling agilty, with the latter particularly aimed at BMW’s reputation for building the ‘ultimate driving machine’. Even before the XE’s launch, BMW insiders were hinting that a firmer, sportier suspension set-up is being planned as an option for the revised 3 Series.

Styling tweaks for the new-look 3 Series range are said to be minor and focus on revised headlamp and bumper arrangements. Inside, the wider use of chrome and other high-quality materials is designed to improve cabin quality. New ambient lighting options are reported to be on the way to lift the perceived quality of the interior. The multimedia options are also said to have been extended as part of BMW’s commitment to offer more in-car features.

Outside of company car buyers, Jaguar also faces stiff competition from BMW, whose scale allows it to more readily discount list prices. At present, discounts of more than £6000 are available on the 3 Series, with buyers even able to haggle up to £4000 off even the best-selling 320d SE. The launch of a facelifted car is expected to lessen those discounts, but Jaguar does not expect to be able to compete.

“At the end of the day, we are not looking to be a volume player,” said Jaguar Land Rover CEO Ralph Speth. “Our goal is to build one vehicle less than there is market demand for. We want our customers to want the XE and for that demand to be aligned with our production. We are confident that will be the case and it will pay off in terms of boosting residual values and reducing lease costs.”

Mercedes’ updates are expected to focus on engine efficiency and refinement upgrades. The new A4 has 
been delayed while Audi hones it to ensure that it can beat 
its opposition. In response, Jaguar is already said to be testing plug-in hybrid and 
all-electric versions of the XE for launch at a later date, as well as investigating incremental gains for its new range of Ingenium engines.

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The 3-series remains strong in the areas it has always excelled but now it's more rounded than ever

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Comments
33

21 August 2014
Having run a 4yr old 3 series for a year, i can say only that it's been something of a let down,compared to my previous 5 series,my 3 series feels a bit low rent,slightly less use of quality materials inside,a bit remote with the steering,i was surprised because i thought all BMW's were built to the same standard,lets hope the next 3 series corrects this.

Peter Cavellini.

21 August 2014
I've gone from an F10 520d to a new 330D in the last 5 months.

The 330 is a fabulous drive - supple, comfortable, great steering and composure, but the 5 was also this albeit too big to throw around. 330d engine is sublime, smooth, great noise, and very quick. 520d engine was a bit loud on idle though.

The biggest difference is in interior quality and design. The 3 series is quite a bit behind in materials and perceived quality vs the 5 series. In truth I'm not happy with the 3's interior, with a fussy centre console, truly terrible seat adjusters that feel flimsy and uncomfortable to use, and in the case of the seat back angle adjuster it would be out of place in a French car let alone a BMW. Despite being an April 14 build it doesn't work with an iPhone 5 without a £60 cable, and even then it doesn't do half the things the 5 series did with connectivity - reading again, you probably have to opt for the extended Bluetooth pack to get proper functionality (BMW charging for something that used to be free!). Love the 330d, but disappointed by some of the things I'd expect to be better.

22 August 2014
Paul Dalgarno wrote:
I've gone from an F10 520d to a new 330D in the last 5 months.

Hi Paul

I'm looking to upgrade from my F30 320d next year (I'll probably wait until the updated cars are launched) and was strongly considering a 330d or 430d.

I'm wondering if you went for xDrive over RWD and if you considered or road-tested a 335d, and if so why you settled on the 330?

Although I'll test-drive a few before I settle on one, there are that many options within a single BMW model series that it's difficult for my local dealer to source each of the various combinations I'd like to try. So I'm always happy to hear other opinions! I'm concerned that xDrive might corrupt the steering and handling a bit, and that the 335 might be overkill - given that ticking a few boxes can bring the price up to £50k quite easily, and it's not that much more to get an M3/M4!

Also, road tests in Autocar have been a bit inconsistent: 435d gets a ho-hum write-up (but still manages 4 stars?!?), while 335d Touring gets showered with hyperbole and 5 stars...

My impressions of the current 3-series interior are somewhat opposite to yours, but then I moved up from a Mark V Astra! I do concede that not all materials are a tactile delight, but in general it's pretty plush and solid feeling. And BMW have to do something to differentiate the 3 from the 5, because there's probably not that much in it when it comes to size/space.

Hopefully, given the praise that has been directed towards the quality of the C-Class's interior, and that expected on the XE and new A4, this facelift for the 3-series should address a few of those issues - and maybe add a bit more standard kit for the money too.

22 August 2014
I tried the X-Drive, but it didn't feel as agile, and I consider a set of rear winter tyres a better option if it's winter traction you're after. Better for cost and grip as the X-Drive still has sporty summer tyres as standard, and they're likely to be useless in snow. If you're struggling for traction to get out of side junctions the X-Drive's for you though - just grips and goes with no scrabble.

Couldn't justify the 335d cost-wise vs the performance gains personally, but if you have the money then why not? Try both though - it's a large spend and the dealer had better be accommodating! TM3/M4 would have significantly higher running costs than even a 335d. The 330d is seriously rapid, great oomph when you need it, and lovely sound. Only downside of all the torque is in the wet of course, but if you've got an semblance of self control it's never an issue as the controls are perfectly calibrated.

24 August 2014
Paul Dalgarno wrote:
I've gone from an F10 520d to a new 330D in the last 5 months. The biggest difference is in interior quality and design. The 3 series is quite a bit behind in materials and perceived quality vs the 5 series. In truth I'm not happy with the 3's interior, with a fussy centre console, truly terrible seat adjusters that feel flimsy and uncomfortable to use, and in the case of the seat back angle adjuster it would be out of place in a French car let alone a BMW. Despite being an April 14 build it doesn't work with an iPhone 5 without a £60 cable, and even then it doesn't do half the things the 5 series did with connectivity - reading again, you probably have to opt for the extended Bluetooth pack to get proper functionality (BMW charging for something that used to be free!). Love the 330d, but disappointed by some of the things I'd expect to be better.
Paul serious question, not a dig at BMW, if the 3 series is so disappointing apart from the engine, why did you choose it, did you try a C- Class or an A4 or do you just prefer BMW, I am not a fan to be honest, I think they are over rated to be fair, it just strikes me as strange that someone would purchase a vehicle they are not fully happy with especially when spending well over £30k, I am looking to trade my S80 in probably within 12 months, and was thinking of a C-Class, (hence my question), but might even wait to see what the replacement for the S80 is like, or let the XE go through its honeymoon period and then have a look at one of them.

16 December 2014
3 series was bought before new C-Class was properly seen in public. Might have considered it as I like it inside and out (apart from that awful stick on iPad thingy that most manufacturers are doing at the moment).

Audi A4, been there and done it 4 times, and while perfectly good I just prefer the BMW. Current Audi styling needs a kick in the backside before I put them back on my list. Always had at least one electrical probelm with each of my Audi's too! Dealer in Aberdeen is fantastic though, which kept me coming back.

XE - I'm a little underwhelmed by it, but I'll try it next time around. The XF was very nice to drive when I tried one before buying an F10 5 series 3 years ago. Couldn't convince my wife to have one though.

So I'll try the XE and C-Class, and maybe if something else comes out I'll look at that too.

Similar I'm not having a dig at you, but I have a Volvo V60 too at the moment, and in truth the thing is grating on me after only 3 months (it's a 2 year old one). Sadly I'll admit to buying it online after a very short test in a similar model locally. It's got rubbish steering (overly sensitive on initial application), a crashy ride, and a noisy engine that forced me to do a bit of chip tuning so that I don't have to extend the rpm. If my wife would let me I'd sell it tomorrow. Looks nice though in my opinion. I've never made such a large car purchase without borrowing a car for a day, and I'm still kicking myself.

16 December 2014
Surely you would expect a 3 series to feel less quality than a 5 series?? Hence the fact that the 5 series is a class above.

16 December 2014
d79m wrote:
Surely you would expect a 3 series to feel less quality than a 5 series?? Hence the fact that the 5 series is a class above.
Completely agree, it's one of the reasons I'd like to replace my F31 with a 5 series. I don't have any particular issues with the interior of my F31, it's as well made as an Audi I used to have, it has plenty of space and is easy to use. It's all just a bit dull and doesn't feel particularly special. The same applies to the way it drives; it's better in every quantifiable way than the E90 I used to own but while that car was a hoot to drive the F31 is just a but dull unless you really push on. I could have fun in the E90 just nipping to the shops. So I am a bit disappointed in it but I'd still take one over an A4 or C Class (just). Looking forward to seeing how good the XE is.

16 December 2014
d79m wrote:
Surely you would expect a 3 series to feel less quality than a 5 series?? Hence the fact that the 5 series is a class above.
I would tend to disagree. Isn't the whole point of premium car brands that they feel premium, irrespective of size?

 

16 December 2014
Daniel Joseph wrote:
... Isn't the whole point of premium car brands that they feel premium, irrespective of size?
Yes it is, but compared to the mass produced alternatives, not compared to their more expensive stablemates from classes above. You wouldn't expect the A-Class Merc to feel just as premium as the S-Class, when the S-Class costs more than three times as much, would you?

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