The skinny: The BMW 3 Series isn’t just a standout-seller for the brand, it’s also the vehicle that pioneered the ‘sports sedan’ segment that many mid-size luxury sedans attempt to lay claim to.
The update brings small revisions to styling, suspension, equipment, and a range of all-new engines boasting power and efficiency improvements.
Vehicle Style: Luxury mid-size sedan
Price: $54,900 - 89,900 (plus on-roads)
318i: 100kW/220Nm 1.5 3cyl turbo petrol | 8spd automatic, 6spd manual
320i: 135kW/270Nm 2.0 4cyl turbo petrol | 8spd automatic, 6spd manual
320d: 140kW/400Nm 2.0 4cyl turbo diesel | 8spd automatic, 6spd manual
330i: 185kW/350Nm 2.0 4cyl turbo petrol | 8spd automatic, 6spd manual
340i: 240kW/450Nm 3.0 6cyl turbo petrol | 8spd automatic, 6spd manual
318i claimed: 5.4 l/100km
320i claimed: 5.8 l/100km
320d claimed: 4.4 l/100km | tested: 6.6 l/100km
330i claimed: 5.8 l/100km | tested: 8.2 l/100km
340i claimed: 6.8 l/100km | tested: 9.3 l/100km
In terms of mid-life updates, the 3 Series LCI is a minor one externally - certainly not as dramatic as the heavily restyled 1 Series that arrived earlier this year.
Instead, BMW has concentrated its efforts beneath the skin.
There’s an all-new line-up of engines from the EfficientDynamics range of modular engines, which bring a selection of new model names, as well as delivering improved fuel economy.
There are revised suspension and steering systems too, with the aim of maintaining BMW’s precise handling, while not diminishing comfort levels.
Specification levels have been upgraded, with the 318i scoring 18-inch alloys, LED headlights, and BMW’s range of high-tech ConnectedDrive services. Add in standard head up display, dual-zone climate control, 6.5-inch navigation system, and autonomous emergency braking.
Not too shabby for a ‘base model’.
Beneath the bonnet of the 318i lurks a 3 Series first - a three-cylinder engine that matches the outputs of the previous four-cylinder 316i it displaces. (Deliveries don’t start until November so we haven’t had the chance to drive one yet.)
We did however get hands-on with the 320d, 330i, and range-topping 340i. All it took was a couple of days on some fantastically demanding roads to prove to us that BMW has lost none of its sporting verve, despite the sensible four-door packaging.
- 318i: Sensatec artificail leather seat trim, dual-zone climate control, sliding front armrest, auto lights and wipers, heat reducing glass, head up display, LED headlights, 360 degree camera, front and rear park sensors, leather wrapped multi-function steering wheel, push-button start, 18-inch alloy wheels
- 320i and 320d (in addition to 318i): electrically adjustable front seats with driver’s memory, LED interior lighting including ambient lighting in the doors and dash, Adaptive M suspension, DAB+ digital radio, gearshift paddles
- 330i (in addition to 320i): Dakota leather seat trim, proximity key, automatic tailgate (wagon only), upgraded navigation, 19-inch alloy wheels.
- 340i (in addition to 330i): M Sport package, electric rear sunblind, manual side rear sunblinds, Harman Kardon audio, heated front seats with lumbar support, leather wrapped instrument panel, adaptive LED headlights and LED fog lights with high-beam assistant, active cruise control, internet connectivity.
- Infotainment: iDrive controller, 6.5-inch display, satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity (318i, 320i, 320d) or 8.8-inch display, 20GB storage, and DVD drive (330i, 340i) DAB+ digital radio is standard from 320i/320d and above, while 340i gains 16-speaker Harman Kardon surround sound.
- Cargo volume, sedan: 480 litres. Wagon: 495-1500 litres
Inside the 3 Series BMW has taken a few minor steps to improve presentation, but hasn’t gotten too carried away.
At long last there’s a sliding tray over the front cupholders instead off the old clip-out lid of old. There’s also new chrome framing for the air-vents, radio and climate control buttons.
Sensatec artificial leather leather covers the seats in 318i, 320i and 320d models, but opting for the Luxury Line or M Sport package adds Dakota leather trim.
Interior dimensions remain as before, meaning front-seat passengers get plenty of room, and the driver is treated to a sporty seating position with a low-set seat, and plenty of adjustment options.
Rear seats offer plenty of legroom, but a long seat cushion might not fit younger passengers as comfortably. Headroom is decent enough, but the middle seat is best kept for occasional use, thanks to the high transmission tunnel.
There’s a long options list, if you have the wallet for them. A variety of wood or metallic-finished interior trims, beige, black, or red leather seats, sunblinds, alloy wheel upgrades, audio and nav upgrades, or just about anything from a higher grade car can be added to a lower spec model for a price.
ON THE ROAD
- 318i: 100kW/220Nm 1.5 litre turbo petrol three-cylinder
- 320i: 135kW/270Nm 2.0 litre turbo petrol four-cylinder
- 320d: 140kW/400Nm 2.0 litre turbo diesel four-cylinder
- 330i: 185kW/350Nm 2.0 litre turbo petrol four-cylinder
- 340i: 240kW/450Nm 3.0 litre turbo petrol six-cylinder
- Eight-speed automatic, rear wheel drive. Optional six-speed manual
- Aluminium double-joint spring strut front, five-link independent rear. Adaptive M suspension for 320i/320d and above
- Four wheel ventilated disc brakes, single piston floating calipers front and rear.
- Electric power steering, turning circle: 11.3m
All engines in the updated 3 Series range are new, and come from BMW’s family of modular ‘EfficientDynamics’ powertrains.
While the big news is the arrival of a three-cylinder engine, the same as you’ll find powering the 2 Series Active Tourer and i8 plug-in hybrid coupe, it doesn’t land in Australia until November. We weren’t able to drive it at launch, but will review it as soon as we can.
In terms of green performance, every engine now boasts an official fuel consumption figure of less than 7.0 l/100km, meaning the entire range qualifies for the higher Luxury Car Tax threshold (meaning less tax) and allowing BMW to pass the savings on to customers.
Starting out in the 320d, it’s clear that this diesel motor has been set the same lofty refinement benchmarks as the petrol range.
From the outside there’s a hint of diesel-tick, but once inside the cabin the 320d feels and sounds much like a petrol engine.
On paper, there’s 140kW of power at 4000rpm and a solid 400Nm of torque between 1750 and 2500rpm
On the road the 320d gets along swiftly, with plenty of pull to maintain momentum. Run it to redline and the engine barely makes an out-of-place noise.
By relying on its low-end torque reserves, the gearbox feels less busy. It isn’t as swift to kickdown as a petrol 3 Series, nor does the engine rev as quickly, yet the car builds speed with the same unfussed athleticism.
The 330i, which takes the place of the previous 328i, stands to be the volume seller, and after a stint behind the wheel it isn’t hard to see why.
On the windiest leg of the launch route we found the high-output 2.0 litre engine a fantastic all-rounder.
Producing 185kW from 5200 to 6500rpm, and 350Nm stretching from 1450 to 4800rpm, the 330i provides a light and agile front-end feel, with serious fire-power at the back wheels.
On a scribbly section of tarmac the 330i flew from corner to corner, and in Sport mode mixed in razor-sharp downshifts and firmly controlled suspension.
Thanks to the Adaptive M suspension errant movements are kept at bay, roll and pitch is minimised, and comfort is maintained… particularly in Comfort mode (that’s what it’s for, after all).
The combination of sharp handling package, and wonderfully complimentary stability control tuning means you can thread through a twisty country road feeling like a rally ace. Sharp turn in, strong brakes, and genuine under-bonnet mumbo working in unison.
All of that before stepping into the top dog, the 340i, which supplants the 335i, and makes an even more ballistic 240kW between 5500 and 6500rpm, and a monsterous 450Nm between 1380 and 5000rpm.
To put that in perspective, when the E46 M3 bowed out in 2006 it made a touch more power (252kW) but was well short on torque (365Nm). The numbers under the bonnet here make the 340i a serious performance machine.
Officially the 0-100km/h sprint takes just 5.1 seconds. That power gets put down so cleanly that it can be a little too easy to trust the vehicle, even in a curly situation.
The included speed limiter is a must though - it’s such an effortless performer that you will otherwise find yourself cruising beyond the legal limit without breaking a sweat.
While the M3 above it is more animalistic, the 340i offers high-class refinement without taking shortcuts on driver enjoyment.
Across the range, tyre noise was less impressive. On a mix of both 18- and 19-inch wheels, there was plenty of tyre roar at cruising speeds, not helped by the condition of some of northern New South Wales finest rural roads.
As good as the eight-speed auto is, and 99 percent of the time it really is flawless, keener drivers will pine for a speedier kickdown when pressing on in Sport mode.
Thankfully the gearshift paddles mean you can pluck your own ratio if needed.
On the plus side, Eco Pro mode manages to maximise fuel efficiency, but doesn’t suck the fun out of driving. As for the fuel figures we recorded - all were the result of some (at times very) spirited driving; more controlled progress is sure to net you closer to the figures at the top of the page.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 36.67 out of 37 possible points. Without any major structural changes, the 3 Series carries the same rating from its initial test in 2012
Safety features: Six airbags (dual front, dual front side, full length curtain), rear view and 360 degree cameras, dynamic stability control and traction control, ABS brakes with brake assist and corner brake control, front seatbelts with load limiting pretensioners.
BMW Active Protection can also detect an accident situation and prepare the car by closing the windows and sunroof, and tensioning the seatbelts to better prepare the cabin against impact.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
BMW faces a stout battle in the premium mid-size class. Mercedes-Benz leads the market with the polished C-Class, and Audi is ready to drop a new A4 soon.
Jaguar has just introduced its new challenger, the XE, but Lexus isn’t sitting idle either, having just added a turbo four-cylinder to the IS range.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
There really is more to the 3 Series update than meets the eye. While it might look similar on the outside, the few small detail changes to the bumpers and lights give it a clean and modern touch-up.
Beauty is more than skin-deep however, and, beneath the surface, BMW’s engineers have made a series of subtle changes that build on the 3 Series’ sports sedan reputation.
Alert steering, responsive handling, and a range of eager engines live up to the expectations of 'the drivers' car'.
As do the well-crafted interiors, passenger comfort, and distinct style thanks to the Sport Line, Luxury Line or M Sport packages.
Across the range, price reductions and fattened equipment lists make the 3 Series a leading contender in the premium mid-size market.
It may not be an all-new car, but the updated 3 Series has lost none of its charm nor ability. It impresses every which way, both in showroom style and out on the open road.
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