We get behind the wheel of the BMW's answer to the new C-Class
1 September 2008

What is it?The facelifted version of BMW’s fifth-generation 3-series. BMW says it has made 2500 changes to its predecessor, which has been on sale since 2005. But this is still a facelift and not an all-new model.Each of the steel body panels on the new 3-series apart from the newly contoured bonnet has been carried over unchanged, BMW’s designers have still done enough in altering the look of the fifth-generation 3-series to make sure the facelifted model is clearly recognisable.

Up front, there is a new interpretation of the classic kidney grille, along with bold new headlamp graphics that include LED indicators and BMW’s signature corona rings as well as an edgy new bumper.

The rear has also been reworked, with redesigned LED tail lamps combined with a re-profiled bumper to introduce a fresh new look with visual links to the BMW’s equally new range-topping 7-series.

Unfortunately, the 3-series saloon and touring won’t be getting the seven-speed double-clutch gearbox that has been fitted to the cabriolet and coupe variants.

The basic design of the interior remains unchanged. There’s a new, redesigned driver’s arm rest, and reworked switchgear in combination with BMW’s second-generation iDrive system, which now includes four individual menu buttons nestled around the a reworked rotary controller as well as a ‘back’ function to ease operation.

The 3-series has never majored on space, but the facelifted model now highlights more than ever just how much roomier the A4 and C-class have become in their latest all-new incarnations.

What’s it like? As engaging as ever. The 3-series remains a car you could seriously consider buying on entertainment value alone thanks to the agile handling and inherent balance of the chassis, both of which provide a key part of the overall appeal.

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The standard steering (a hydraulically assisted system) remains unchanged, but the suspension (BMW’s traditional MacPherson struts up front and multi-link arrangement at the rear) has been altered slightly on the six-cylinder models such as that driven here, with the rear track widening by 24mm to 1529mm.

The inherently precise feel and engaging nature of the standard steering encourages enthusiastic driving, while an impressive resistance to body roll and strong levels of grip make it fun to operate near the limits of adhesion.

There is a price to be paid for this dynamic excellence, however. Although the 3-series now runs fourth-generation run flat tyres, it can’t match the composure and sublety of the C-class for overall ride comfort.

At speed it feels nicely settled, but around town it tends to get a little ragged owing to the firm spring and damper rates and stiffness of its tyres.

We tested the 330d, with its all-new turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel engine.It adopts the same cylinder bore spacing and internal design as the German car maker’s excellent 2.0-litre four-cylinder oil-burner, including the latest piezo injector system and an aluminium block that shaves 5kg from the weight of its old iron block predecessor at 185kg.

Power is up by 14bhp to 245bhp at 4000rpm with torque extending by 15lb ft to 383lb ft, delivered on a band of revs between 1750rpm and 3000rpm. Forget the numbers though. It is the tremendous flexibility and superbly linear delivery that mark this engine out as one of BMW’s finest.

You don’t quite get the silken smoothness and inherent balance of a modern-day petrol engine; some characteristic chatter remains at start-up and distant vibration through the mid range. But the new engine does combine huge low end thrust with a truly sporting top end in a way that no comparable diesel engine comes close to matching.

Power arrives in one potent surge, providing the 330d with the sort of real-world performance to make the 330i appear tame by comparison. Revs build solidly from just 1000rpm and they keep coming until the limiter cuts in at a high (by diesel standards) 5400rpm.

Channelling drive back to the rear wheels is the same Getrag six-speed manual as used in the old 330d. There is also an optional six-speed automatic, but BMW won’t be offering its new seven-speed double clutch ‘box in anything other than the top-of-the-line 335i and M3 coupe and cabriolet.

BMW’s figures put the 0-62mph time at just 6.1sec - a full 0.6sec inside the time of the old 330d and just 0.2sec slower than the more overtly sporting 335d. In fact, the 330d now beats the 330i in the benchmark sprint by 0.1sec.

An outstanding combined cycle average of 50mpg means that the 330d also undercuts its predecessor by 4mpg. With spirited driving the figure suffers a little, but we still managed to record 36mpg on a rapid run on one of the autobahns out of Munich.

Playing its part here is BMW’s EfficientDynamic initiative which brings features such as an electrical water pump, part-time alternator and active aerodynamics.

Should I buy one?

If you don’t mind swimming with the crowd, definitely. The facelifted 3-series is a car of predictable evolutionary improvement but it is still a blast to drive, especially in 330d guise. None of the changes BMW has brought to it represent a giant step in the design, conception or engineering. But taken as a whole they do help to make it a more rounded car.

Thanks to its new iDrive system and other detailed tweaks to the interior, it is also a good deal more user friendly from any every day point of view. They’re the sort of qualities that should ensure the 3-series returns to its traditional spot at the top of the executive car ranks.

Still, with its old protagonists, the C-class and A4 having undergone some major redesigns in recent times and the Lexus IS beginning to make headway, it’s going to take a proper comparison on UK roads to find out which one is best.



Join the debate


2 September 2008

So if it's only 14bhp more than the previous model how can it slash a massive 0.6 secs off the 0-60mph time?

2 September 2008

[quote sniff diesel]So if it's only 14bhp more than the previous model how can it slash a massive 0.6 secs off the 0-60mph time?[/quote]

There are probably a number of small contributory factors that achieved the rather surprising improvement. (Or maybe BMW supplied a non-standard spec for the road test, like some manufacturers traditionally do).

In general though, power = top speed and torque =acceleration.


2 September 2008

They've finally restyled those nasty Chinese-knock-off-style rear lamps. PRAISE THE LORD! So much better!

2 September 2008

[quote Paul J](Or maybe BMW supplied a non-standard spec for the road test, like some manufacturers traditionally do).[/quote]

Wasn't a road test. Those are the book figures from BMW.

2 September 2008

With the combination of more power (albeit 14bhp) and torque it is quite possible to considerably improve the acceleration times on a previous model. With torque now available over a more useful range and recalibrated gearing to suit, 0-62mph probably isn't the best appropriation for measurement but I wouldn't think the new model has disappeared into the distance by 100mph.

5 September 2008

Possibly its a combination of the increase in torque and the decrease in weight.

8 September 2008

So here we go again...it's a BMW so is far better than anything every created since before time began. It will be vastly better than the impossible to improve last version, may end each journey with more in the tank than it had when it started and be able to lap the Nurburgring faster than a Black Hole but...it still looks awkward, still has a dashboard with the visual excitment of a washroom hand dryer and..who thought of teaming a sky blue metallic paint job with a jersey cow brown set of seats?

BMW..I wanted one so desperately in 1968 when they were just an impossibility to see let alone buy. In 1970 one of the local architects managed to find enough notes to buy a brand new 2500 in Fjord Green and it seemed so wonderful that I almost considered trying to steal it!. When our local Doctors wife got a new white 2002 Ti in 1972 she seemed more exotic than Raquel Welch, Bridget Bardot and Francoise Hardy rolled into one! Then..after years of planning..I got a new 520i in August 1985 which had rubbish brakes, then in October 1986 a new 325i Sport which..was wonderful..really wonderful then because I had to carry a wheelchair, in October 1989 a 525iSE which was so slow and a big disappointment so when requirements changed, in November 1991 a fully loaded 318iSE but by then BMW ownership was becoming a bit of a liability trying to stop it getting stolen. Since then, BMW ownership has lost vast amounts of desirability..every half successful widget salesman gets one free and hammers the thing around arrogantly in a fug of cheapo aftershave and testosterone..so now why would anyone want one and join a rather questionable club? Nice to drive..oh yes!..nice image?..not any more!

8 September 2008

Horatio, very good.

Couple of points to add to this sense that BMW has lost its attraction.

One, a recent test in Germany of cars claiming under 5 litres/100 km fuel consumption(>60mpg) on the official cycle produced the worst result for BMW group. A BMW 320d with stated 4.9l consumption produced actual consumption of 6.3l on a real-world test cycle of 100 miles, 25 miles city driving, 40 miles A and B roads and 35 miles motorway, an increase of 28.6%. A MINI Cooper D Clubman produced 5.7l consumption against 4.1l stated, an increase of 39%! By the way, VW and Peugeot turned out the most realistic consumption figures with increases of no more than 0.3l than stated.

Two, according to the latest monthly sales figures BMW sales in the UK were down by almost 40% compared to same month last year. Okay, word may have got round on the facelifted 3 series, so killing sales of the runout model, but would imagine that 1, 5 and 7 series figures must be well down too. Even MINI, which up till now was seen as runaway success for BMW and an offsetter of sales slowdown in BMW's own large models, due to the economic recession, was down a mighty 32% in sales compared to August last year. Maybe it's true that a lot of estate agents coveted the MINI like no other, and we all know what's become of estate agents in the UK.

9 September 2008

[quote Horatio Q Birdbath]BMW ownership has lost vast amounts of desirability..every half successful widget salesman gets one free and hammers the thing around arrogantly in a fug of cheapo aftershave and testosterone..so now why would anyone want one and join a rather questionable club? Nice to drive..oh yes!..nice image?..not any more![/quote]

You, Mr Birdbath, are spot on sir. To me, driving a BMW these days is no more exclusive than wearing a fake Rolex, and consequently is probably on a par, in the desirability stakes, with a genuine Burberry cap. With ownership of the aforementioned expensive designer headgear comes the gradual realisation that members of the public will now automatically assume that you're either an undercover football hooligan, or just some semi-literate, unemployed waster from the local council estate. Why? Because what started out as a desirable, exclusive and expensive fashion item has been seized upon by the all-pervading chav element in society, whose then insatiable demand for something appearing to be expensive and exclusive has resulted in the item being actually perceived as anything but, in the eyes of the original target market.

BMW has now reached the same point. I was given a bottom of the range brand new 316 SE company car in 1995 and everywhere I went it turned heads, sparked off conversations with admiring strangers and generally had an aura of 'specialness' about it. But what's special about BMWs these days? The 3 series is actually more commonplace than the Ford Mondeo, the 1 series is a mundane and cramped hatchback too small for use as a family car, the 5 series is just breathtakingly ugly, the 7 series the most unimaginitive way in the world to spend 50 grand on a car, the 6 series..... questionable at best, the X5 the absolute height of brash look-at-me status symbols, the X6 the absolute height of brash and hideous look-at-me status symbols, etc etc etc,

No one would deny that BMW build very well engineered car,that by all accounts are great to drive. In fact they may even be the best car you can buy, on a pound for pound basis. But the fact remains that they do have a bit of a 'Burberry' problem, to the degree that personally I would find it hard to choose a BMW nowadays.

14 September 2008

good god you lot do some moaning, would anything make you happy.


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