New BMW 3 Series saloon - best just got better

The new 3 Series saloon went on sale in Ireland recently with prices starting at €35,600 on the road for a 316d ES. In all cases the standard specification of the car has been significantly enhanced.

The 3 Series saloon is the heart of the BMW brand, responsible for one-fifth of the company’s global sales. BMW believes its latest incarnation will build on the current model’s position as the ultimate driver’s car in its sector. It also believes it is the most logical business proposition, thanks to new powertrains and additional efficient dynamics fuel-saving, emissions-reducing technologies.

The new model is larger and more spacious than the model it replaces, but lighter; quicker in many cases, but more fuel-efficient; and more nimble and agile while even safer. There have been big steps forward in style, quality, comfort, and specification for a minimal price increase.

3 Series saloon buyers are extremely diverse in their preferences and tastes, with a growing demand for greater personalisation, and BMW says the new model range has been configured to reflect that. A wider choice of trim levels and an extensive personalisation programme will allow 3 Series buyers to order virtually a bespoke car.

The new model features a stiffer body and a new chassis based on a longer wheelbase and wider tracks. Increased in overall length by 93mm, it has the characteristic BMW design proportions of short overhangs for maximum agility.

Compact BMW saloons have always appealed to the emotions of keen drivers because of their outstanding driving dynamics, but with the advent of the company’s efficient dynamics technologies to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions in the middle of the last decade, they also present a compelling business case. That advantage is set to increase with the introduction of the new 3 Series saloon.

By March 2012, when additional engines of the 316d, 318d and 320i have been added, BMW will have seven versions of the new 3 Series saloon with CO2 emissions at or below 120g/km, while, it says, competitors can muster only one each.

All versions of the new 3 Series saloon feature drive performance control as standard - a switch which allows the driver to swap between up to four driving modes, varying from sporty to extremely economical. The four modes are Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport, and Sport + (Sport + is included only on sport models or with selected optional equipment ).

In Eco Pro the throttle mapping changes so that a firmer push of the accelerator pedal is needed to extract the power that is delivered with a lighter touch in the other three modes, thus encouraging a more economical driving style. Eco Pro also alters the manual gearshift points advised by the optimum shift indicator, modifies the gearshift strategy on models with automatic transmission, and even adjusts the power consumption of features such as the climate control and heated mirrors and seats.

The efficient dynamics technologies which gave the previous BMW 3 Series saloon a competitive advantage remain very much in place, and have been supplemented with new ones. Auto stop-start is fitted to all versions, manual and automatic, along with brake energy regeneration, on-demand control of engine ancillary components, and tyres with less rolling resistance.

Weight has been reduced by up to 50kg compared with the previous model, while the drag coefficient (Cd ) is down to as low as 0.26, thanks to optimised aerodynamics. The new 3 Series saloon features a streamlined underside, covers which create a diffuser effect at the rear, and aero curtain air channels in the front apron which reduce the turbulence created by the revolution of the front wheels in their arches.

The new BMW 3 Series saloon is fitted with electromechanical power steering which consumes no energy when the car is being driven in a straight line or in steady-state cornering. This has been achieved with no loss of the steering accuracy or precise feedback that is such an essential part of the BMW ‘ultimate driving machine’ ethos. Servotronic speed-sensitive power assistance is standard on the 328i and 335i derivatives and optional on all others.

With its rear-wheel-drive layout, near-perfect 50:50 front-to-rear weight distribution, agile chassis set-up and responsive engines, the BMW 3 Series has always been the benchmark for driving enjoyment among compact premium saloons. That position has been strengthened in the new model.

Big demand for diesel versions is catered for by an improved 2.0-litre 184bhp 320d and the acclaimed 163bhp 320d efficient dynamics, which features longer gear ratios, reduced friction components, and revised electronics to generate an outstanding 68.9mpg fuel consumption and just 109g/km CO2. Previously only available as a manual, the 320d efficient dynamics is also now available with the new eight-speed automatic transmission, while retaining the same 109g/km emissions level.

All engines in the new 3 Series saloon feature BMW twin power turbo technology. They include a new four-cylinder 2.0-litre petrol unit, developing 245bhp and 350Nm of torque in the 328i. It replaces the six-cylinder 3.0-litre engines in the previous 325i and 330i, with inherent advantages for weight and fuel consumption, yet with a 0-100kms time of 5.9 seconds in manual form, it is quicker than either. Efficiency is also significantly improved and both manual and automatic versions of the 328i have fuel economy of more than 44mpg and CO2 emissions below 150g/km. The new unit features high-precision direct injection, BMW’s new twinscroll turbocharging, double-VANOS variable camshaft timing and Valvetronic variable valve opening technology.

BMW Ireland confirmed that towards the end of 2012 it will introduce four-wheel-drive and hybrid powertrains to the 3 Series saloon for the first time in Ireland. BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system has been available on the 3 Series in some markets previously, and has now been engineered for right-hand-drive cars. It will be of particular benefit to owners who live in areas prone to extremes of bad weather, and will be available with selected petrol and diesel engines.

The ActiveHybrid 3 will arrive at roughly the same time, and will use the powertrain recently announced for the ActiveHybrid 5. This pairs the 335i’s 306bhp six-cylinder engine with an up to 40kW electric motor in a particularly intelligent and efficient way.

I am looking forward shortly to a full Irish test in the new BMW 3-series saloon on Irish roads. It does not look good for the competitors, because the best just got better.

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