The reason for the more harmonious approach is simple: new models don’t come any more important for BMW than this. Despite increased competition on all fronts, the 3-series remains the cornerstone of its business, accounting for a whopping 57 per cent of global sales last year, with 528,258 units sold worldwide. BMW knows that it cannot afford to be too extreme with the look of this car, otherwise it risks sending buyers elsewhere. With the 1-series now firmly established at the base of its line-up, BMW has seized the opportunity to take the 3-series up in size. At 4520mm in length, 1817mm in width and 1424mm in height, the new car is 49mm longer, 78mm wider and 9mm higher than before. The increased dimensions now make it just 6mm shorter (but 89mm wider) than its arch executive-class rival, the Mercedes-Benz C-class. An extended wheelbase, up 35mm to 2760mm, is designed to answer criticism of the outgoing model’s cramped rear quarters. The extended wheelbase and widened tracks have liberated greater interior space in a move BMW claims will see the 3-series more closely challenge rivals like the Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-class for overall versatility – something today’s model cannot do. A higher rear end and longer rear overhang also contribute to a 20-litre improvement in boot space, increasing it to 460 litres.‘It offers nearly as much interior space and luggage capacity as the old 5-series,’ says BMW’s development boss Burkhard Goeschel.
Four engines will be offered – a 150bhp 2.0-litre four in the 320i, a 218bhp 2.5-litre six in the 325i and a 258bhp 3.0-litre six in the 330i, as well as a 163bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel four in the 320d. All are mounted longitudinally under the new car’s long contoured bonnet, and all come with a standard six-speed manual Getrag ’box.
A six-speed auto from ZF with a Steptronic push/pull function and an SMG sequential unit with buttons on the steering wheel will be optional. Also under development is a dual-clutch gearbox, though it isn’t planned to appear until 2006. With an added 27bhp and 221lb ft of torque at 2500rpm – some 500rpm lower than before – the new 330i outguns today’s 3-series flagship, completing the 0-62mph dash in a claimed 6.3sec for a gain of 0.2sec. Top speed remains pegged at 155mph, though combined fuel consumption is 2.2mpg better thanks to a broader spread of gear ratios, longer final drive and improved aerodynamics at an impressive 33.2mpg. In line with recent developments at BMW, the 330i’s engine now has a lightweight magnesium block that shaves 10kg off its weight compared with the older aluminium block unit. A similar arrangement will also be incorporated on the upgraded 2.5-litre six that will make its debut in the 325i before appearing in other models throughout 2005. The new line-up will expand to include a 330d with a 218bhp 3.0-litre turbodiesel six in September next year. Also in the works is a storming 335d using BMW’s extraordinary 268bhp twin-turbo 3.0-litre turbodiesel six.
The big news, however, is the return of turbocharging for its petrol engines. In a bid to go one better than the executive-class competition, BMW is planning to introduce a 340bhp turbocharged 3.0-litre six in a sporting 330 Ti model.
A gutsy new 400bhp 4.0-litre V8 engine from BMW’s M-division will crown the line-up in March 2006 as an eagerly anticipated follow-up to today’s M3. BMW is also developing a limited number of four-wheel-drive 3-series models using the electronically controlled xDrive system featured in the X3.
BMW knew that if it was to successfully apply its ‘sheer driving pleasure’ tag to the new 3-series it would need to elevate its dynamics beyond those of its much-lauded predecessor. The result is a new lightweight chassis, shared to a large extent with the 1-series. MacPherson struts remain up front, but they are now made from aluminium for an even keener response. The rear end adopts a complex five-link arrangement in place of today’s well-proven four-link system, although it is still made from steel for durability. Along with the standard suspension, there’s an optional sport set-up that lowers ride height by 15mm and adds firmer springs and dampers. BMW’s Dynamic Drive system (which automatically counters body roll) will not be available on the new Three due to its weight and cost.