In design terms, the F30 3 Series is a better looking and more distinctive shape than its ultra-conservative E90 predecessor. It’s a large car, longer overall than a 5 Series of 30 years ago and with a longer wheelbase than a 5 Series of 20 years ago.
Overall length has grown by 93mm compared to the E90, with over half of that being between the wheels. Yet proportionally the track has swollen even more, to give the car an unprecedented footprint. However, by using higher-strength steels, BMW has been able to reduce the amount of metal used while improving safety, increasing rigidity by 10 percent and dropping weight by a total of 40kg.
The changes in proportion don’t make the 3 Series appear as enlarged as it is actually is. Instead, it seems lower, sleeker and more sporting. This effect is enhanced by the front grille, which is lower and wider than ever, and narrowed headlamps giving a more gimlet-eyed appearance. There’s a double swage line at the side and strong horizontal creases at the back, all tasked with tricking the eye into disguising the car’s physical bulk.
The overhaul made to the 3 Series’ suspension has been made possible by a change to the way the car’s various combination of struts and links mount to the body. Anchored at three points previously, the car’s suspension is now secured at five separate points per corner, allowing for better rigidity and robustness from the suspension assemblies themselves and more effective support of the car’s weight.
The more solid mountings have in turn allowed BMW to increase the car’s suspension spring and damper rates without adversely affecting its refinement levels. So stiffer springs and new twin-tube dampers appear on the car as standard, with adaptive dampers continuing as an option that come in tandem with a 10mm drop in ride height.
As for the range itself, even if you’re not after one of the many different body types and restrict your trawl to the saloon only, you’re going to need to set aside a lot of time with BMW’s configurator, paper and pen to work out which is best for you. First up is engine choice, with a wealth of petrol and diesel options to peruse, as well as a hybrid option.
The range starts with the entry-level 318i SE, powered by a 134bhp 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged motor. Next up is the four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that comes in two forms. In the 320i it develops 181bhp and 199lb ft of torque, while in the 328i-replacing 330i it pumps out 248bhp and 258lb ft of torque.
A 3.0-litre, six-cylinder 3 Series will continue to be offered in the form of the 340i. It gets a new twin-scroll turbocharged unit producing 20bhp and 37lb ft more than the outgoing 335i, while the colossal 425bhp M3 still heads the range.
All of the four cylinder diesel engines are new and based around BMW's B47 motor in different states of tune. The entry point into an oil-burning 3 Series is the 114bhp 316d, followed by the 148bhp 318d.
However, the biggest sellers will almost certainly be the 188bhp 320d and the 161bhp 320d Efficient Dynamics; the former now cracking 0-62mph in 7.2sec when paired with the eight-speed auto 'box.
The automatic-only 330d churns out 255bhp and a hefty 413lb ft of torque, while the flagship 308bhp 335d sprints from 0-62mph in 4.8sec and offers combined fuel economy of 51.4mpg.
There’s also a plug-in hybrid version – the 330e iPerformance, which combines a electric motor to a 2.0-litre petrol engine which produces 249bhp and 310lb ft of peak twist combined with CO2 emissions of just 44g/km.