Their biggest single innovation, however, are the new ‘lift-related’ dampers fitted to all versions of the 3 Series as standard (which you can swap out for adaptive dampers at extra cost). These clever shocks use structures within their reservoirs to provide extra damping support at the extremes of wheel travel, allowing BMW to fine tune the car for a slightly more fluent ride over the smaller imperfections in the road that all suspension systems most commonly deal with. They work quite well; the car doesn’t feel tetchy or aggressively damped – although it’s certainly now plainly a firmer-riding prospect than the average German saloon. But we’ll come on to all that.
Firstly, to the justification for adding so much bulk to the car: the new 3 Series' interior, which does indeed seem a more spacious, inviting and expensively hewn place than was the F30's. The car's driving position is low by default but generously adjustable, and is almost impossible to fault. The fascia materials both look and feel more rich and upmarket than those of its predecessor, with quite a lot more matt chrome garnish on display - but not so much that, unlike in some rivals, the ambience risks gaudiness.
There's been an evident effort made to tidy up the car's control consoles, and so buttons are grouped in neat little islands rather than being scattered about. The car's instrumentation and infotainment screens dominate proceedings at the cabin's upper level. I didn't go a bundle on BMW's stylised digital instrument design with its anti-clockwise rev-counter, and thought it was a shame the instrument screen doesn't offer the flexiblity to change the dials back to a more conventional, easily readable layout.
There is a lot to like, however, about how usable the car's infotainment system is; how quickly you can perform routine functions like adjusting the climate control settings or audio system volume (because there are physical controls for both); and how slick and graphically appealing it's all been made to look.
The new 3 Series will launch next March with a range of five engines, ranging from 148bhp 318d turbo diesel up to 255bhp 330i turbo petrol – with both a range-topping M340i xDrive and a plug-in hybrid 330e coming along before the end of 2019. The big-selling four-cylinder diesel engines have seen the most under-bonnet change, switching from twin-scroll turbo induction to sequential twin-turbocharging; and it was the 320d we elected to test, whose headline power and torque outputs are exactly as the equivalent ‘F30’-gen 320d’s were (187bhp, 295lb ft). The engine’s alleged to have made decent strides on both fuel efficiency and throttle response, though – allowing this 3 Series to become rated at better than 60 to the gallon on the ‘NEDC combined’ fuel economy lab test but also (in eight-speed automatic form, at least) making it capable of getting to 62mph from rest in less than seven seconds.
It’s hard to take issue with the performance of a car of such wide-ranging strength that it can do both of those things. If you were out to find fault with the 320d’s new four-pot diesel, you might observe that it’s still not the quietest or smoothest of its kind – remembering to note that four-pot diesels still aren’t particularly quiet or smooth. Just like the -20d motor in the ‘F30’, however, this one’s considerably more willing than most to spin beyond 3500rpm, allowing you to get very close to the 5000rpm redline before wishing the auto 'box had already shifted up. It does seem a little bit keener to respond to your right foot at low revs than the old ‘B47’ four-pot used to, although I’m still not sure you’d know this was a sequentially turbocharged engine if you hadn’t been told. There’s no detectable flat spot or sudden rush in the power delivery when the bigger turbo wakes up: just a really linear and usefully wide spread of torque.