The 3 Series Saloon is the heart of the BMW brand, responsible for one-fifth of the company’s global sales. When the latest incarnation of 3 Series goes on sale next February it will build on the current model’s position as the ultimate drivers’ car in its sector. But it will also be the most logical business proposition, thanks to new powertrains and additional EfficientDynamics fuel-saving, emissions-reducing technologies.
The new BMW 3 Series Saloon is a car of contradictions: 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 only a minimal price increase. A wider choice of trim levels and an extensive personalisation programme will allow 3 Series Saloon buyers to order virtually a bespoke car.
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 EfficientDynamics 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 BMW 3 Series Saloon. By March 2012, when additional engines have been added to the four at launch, BMW will have eight versions of the new 3 Series Saloon with CO2 emissions at or below 120g/km while competitors can muster only one each. This brings clear benefits to owners in terms of Benefit-in-Kind company car taxation and Vehicle Excise Duty, while the 320d EfficientDynamics model, with CO2 emissions of less than 110g/km, allows businesses which outright purchase, to write off 100 per cent of the cost of the car against tax in the first year.
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 EfficientDynamics technologies which gave the previous BMW 3 Series Saloon such 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.
An eight-speed automatic gearbox, giving a wider spread of ratios than the former six-speed unit without taking up any more space in the engine bay, is available as an alternative to the standard six-speed manual. It is also now offered with every engine to significantly improve efficiency. For example, the new 318d automatic model now emits 22g/km less than the previous 318d automatic model. Automatic versions of the new 3 Series Saloon are also now as fuel-efficient, or more so, than their manual equivalents.
The clear drivers’ choice
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.
Demand for diesels will be catered for by an improved 2.0-litre 184hp 320d and the acclaimed 163hp 320d EfficientDynamics, 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 EfficientDynamics is also now available with the new eight-speed automatic transmission – whilst retaining the same 109g/km emissions level. Less than a month after launch, three new engines will be added. There will be 316d and 318d diesels, powered respectively by 116hp and 143hp variants of the 2.0-litre diesel engine.
Bigger and better by design
The new BMW 3 Series Saloon features a stiffer body and an all-new chassis based on a longer wheelbase (now 2,810mm, an increase of 50mm on the previous model) and wider tracks (by 37mm at the front and 47mm at the rear). Increased in overall length by 93mm, it has the characteristic BMW design proportions of short overhangs for maximum agility. All-independent suspension is by aluminium torque struts, wishbones and swivel joints at the front and an improved and refined version of the proven five-link arrangement from the previous 3 Series Saloon at the rear. BMW engineers have managed to improve upon the already outstanding handling qualities of the outgoing car so that it delivers even greater agility and directional stability with noticeably improved comfort. State-of-the-art electronic control systems ensure the new car’s dynamics can be enjoyed with complete peace of mind.
Light-alloy wheels of at least 17 inches in diameter and shod with Run-flat tyres linked to a Tyre Puncture Warning System are now fitted to every version apart from the 320d EfficientDynamics, which has 16-inch aerodynamic alloys and non-Run-flat tyres. The rolling resistance of the tyres has been reduced by 15 per cent compared with those on the previous model, with no loss of dynamic performance. Optional Variable Sport steering and Adaptive M Sport suspension with electronically variable dampers will also be available – both interacting seamlessly with the Drive Performance Control and adding the ‘Sport+’ mode to this switch.
The bespoke compact executive car
BMW 3 Series Saloon buyers are extremely diverse in their preferences and tastes, with a growing demand for greater personalisation, and the new model range has been configured to reflect that. It offers more trim levels than ever before – six – and a wide range of packages and individual options which customers can add to the already significantly increased standard specification of every model.
Common to all versions is a new-found sense of style, higher interior quality standards and much improved packaging. The new 3 Series Saloon is simultaneously more sporty and more elegant than its predecessor. Improved proportions, pronounced wheel arches, headlamp units which blend into the double-kidney grille to form a continuous band across the front of the car and air inlets beneath the headlights visually stretch the width and make the new 3 Series Saloon look low, wide and sporty. This is echoed by the strong horizontal design language at the rear and the forward-pressing nose, long bonnet, rising swage lines and large wheels visible from the side. At the same time, the coupé-like profile, distinctive double round headlights, L-shaped rear light units with LED light bars and the decorative trims chosen for the grille and around the windows give an athletic and yet elegant appearance.
The new BMW 3 Series Saloon is 93mm longer than the previous model and 6mm narrower, excluding door mirrors. It also has a 50mm longer wheelbase. This has clear advantages when it comes to internal space. There is 18mm more feet entry freedom, 15mm more knee room and 8mm more headroom in the rear, while the height of the rear door and its opening angle have both been increased to make entry and exit easier. None of this is at the expense of luggage space, which has increased by 20 litres to 480 litres.
Befitting the BMW 3 Series’ renowned driving dynamics, the interior control and switchgear layout is totally driver-focused. The elegant and dynamic new interior design language, with twisting and merging surfaces arranged in a series of layers, all angle towards the driver. The centre console itself is angled at seven degrees towards the driver.
So that the passenger does not feel excluded, the iDrive controller used to access many of the car’s functions and the 6.5” display monitor which accompanies it (both standard on all models) are arranged centrally, within equal reach and view of both front occupants. What is immediately apparent to all who enter the new BMW 3 Series Saloon is the significant improvement in trim quality and ambience. This is emphasised not only by the appearance and feel of the interior surfaces, but also by the choice of colours and materials to reflect the different trim levels.
Popular ‘Lines’ specification, similar to BMW 1 Series, introduced
BMW in the UK will again offer the highly valued ES, SE and, in 2012, M Sport versions of the 3 Series Saloon, but there will also be Sport, Modern and Luxury models, each with a distinct character and increased opportunities for individualisation. Even the trim on the key fobs differs between the various versions. This increase in specification offer mirrors the popular ‘Lines’ range first showcased on the BMW 1 Series launched earlier this year. All of the new models will appeal to both retail and corporate customers. The popular ES and SE will be again available from launch, whilst Sport and M Sport are targeted at the more enthusiastic driver and Modern and Luxury are different takes on the exclusive and sophisticated compact premium saloon. By offering this enhanced range of trims, BMW is able to meet the needs of its increasingly diverse customer base which is demanding an increasing level of individualisation from their vehicle. With a broader choice of trims, 3 Series Saloon customers can better tailor their vehicle to reflect their personalities, attitudes, tastes and lifestyles. In addition to the enhanced range of trims, all models including ES (which is only available on 316d), will receive significantly enhanced levels of standard equipment, including 17-inch light alloy wheels, automatic air-conditioning, Bluetooth, BMW Professional radio with 6.5-inch colour screen and iDrive, keyless starting, USB, a multi-function leather steering wheel, cruise control and automatic boot opening.
SE is available with all engines except the 335i, and adds, among other things, different alloy wheels, rear Park Distance Control, two-zone air conditioning and a rain sensor with automatic light activation, for a premium of £850. Sport and Modern versions are priced £1,000 above the equivalent SE, while the difference between SE and Luxury is £2,500. Sport models build on the purposeful and athletic styling of the new BMW 3 Series Saloon and reflect its renowned agility and dynamic handling, through the use of both exterior and interior design cues. Sport has unique light alloy wheels, black high-gloss air intakes in redesigned bumpers and matching bars in the double-kidney grille, and a black chrome tailpipe finisher. Red stitching adorns the sport seats and leather-rimmed sports steering wheel. The interior is in high-gloss black with a red finisher, the instrument cluster has red highlighting and there is extended and switchable interior lighting with exclusive colours, chrome rings around the climate and radio controls and ‘Sport’ insignia on the door entry sills. Sport also comes with an additional ‘Sport+’ mode on the Drive Performance Control and is available on all four-cylinder models except the 328i and 320d EfficientDynamics. Modern models provide a natural, harmonic balance of colours and textures, whilst retaining a refined and elegant character. As well as existing BMW customers, this is expected to appeal to those who have not previously considered the BMW brand. Modern is available on all engines except the 316d and 320d EfficientDynamics and replaces the high-gloss black exterior embellishments of Sport with matt chrome and has its own exclusive 17-inch light alloy wheel and bumper design. It also has switchable interior lighting colours, the extended lighting package and matt chrome trim detailing and signature door sills. The standard seats are in part cloth and part leather, whilst there is a two-tone Oyster finish on the dash, with Dark Oyster on the instrument panel and multi-function leather steering wheel. As befits the name, Luxury models have a refined, sophisticated appearance, offer the finest quality materials and include an enhanced level of standard equipment. Luxury is available across the range apart from the 316d and 320d EfficientDynamics. Bright chrome replaces the high-gloss black of Sport models or the matt chrome of Modern, and there are exclusive 18-inch light alloy wheels as standard. Inside, the detailing is also chrome, while the upholstery is Dakota leather with an exclusive stitching pattern and the dash and door cappings are in Anthracite wood with a Pearl Chrome finisher.
M Sport will have lowered and stiffened sports suspension, unique aerodynamic body styling and ride on 18-inch M light alloy wheels. The interior will be trimmed in Aluminium Hexagon with a Blue finisher. The sport seats will be covered with Dakota leather, and the door finishers, steering wheel and shortened gearshift will reflect the car’s position as the sportiest 3 Series Saloon model. Prices will be announced nearer the 2012 on-sale date.
The six trim variants are just the starting point for a vast range of personalisation and individualisation possibilities for the new 3 Series Saloon. Many of the items on offer are new to the vehicle and include Park Assist, which allows the car to parallel park itself, with the driver controlling the accelerator and brake. A Reversing Assist camera and Surround-view cameras, which even let the driver see the car from above and the sides can also be chosen. Practicality can also be increased with a new 40:20:40 split-folding rear-seat option.
New safety options include a full-colour Head-Up Display which shows current speed limits, the car’s current speed and turn-by-turn instructions when a BMW navigation system is fitted. Dynamic Safety is another feature offered which tensions the seat belts and closes any open windows or the sunroof (if fitted and open) if an accident seems imminent. Internet access via the owner’s mobile telephone and BMW’s new Real Time Traffic Information service, which delivers faster, more accurate warnings of traffic hold-ups and even offers suggestions on how to avoid them, are among the media services available as part of BMW ConnectedDrive. Many of these features will be packaged to offer new 3 Series Saloon buyers related and desirable options at value prices.
The new 3 Series Saloon will appear in public for the first time at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January 2012. It is scheduled to go on sale in the UK a month later, on 11 February 2012.
Prices for the new vehicle start at £24,880 OTR for a 316d ES, with the increases over the previous model remaining low. The 320d sees an increase of only £180.
The road ahead for the new BMW 3 Series Saloon
BMW UK can confirm 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 the UK. 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 306hp six-cylinder engine with an up to 40kW electric motor in a particularly intelligent and efficient way.