The new BMW 3 Series was launched by none other than Sachin Tendulkar. The batting maestro has since retired, but we reprise a drive in the 3 Series, arguably BMW’s single most important model in the country. The new BMW 3 Series is available in a total of 5 variants, with two engine options. Here, we’ve driven the BMW 320d Sport Line.
Design & Engineering
Sachin or not, the new BMW 3 Series has made an impact right from day one. As always, the first impression inevitably is how the car is styled, and with its latest 3 Series, BMW has produced a design which is classic, succinctly detailed and full of character. It is a proper 3-box sedan design, but in the way BMW’s design team has combined elements like the seductively long bonnet, taut skinning over the wheel arches and a compact rear end, it has infused the 3 Series with a sporty character that many sedans aspire to, but rarely achieve. Forgive me if I repeat myself in this road test, but sporty is the adjective that best describes this car.
The detailing is spot-on too, with the headlights stretched inwards to meet the twin-kidney grille, slim chrome detailing in the lower front bumper and the L-shaped taillights with their intricate lenses. A strong crease builds along the sides of the car, beginning from below the A-pillar and rising along the car’s belt-line, taking in the door handles, before meeting with the tail lights at the rear corners. This character line is a now a classic BMW design signature.
If there is a criticism of the design, then it has to be the ugly square shut-line of the bonnet. To ease manufacturing and repair costs, the bonnet does not meet the edge of the kidney grille, but instead meets the plastic surround of the front grille and bumper, which is a single constructive element. I agree with the contention it may be more practical, but it does not look pretty.
Built out of ultra-high strength steel, the BMW 3 Series continues to focus on the sporty business, with a lightweight suspension set-up and perfect 50:50 weight distribution. If there ever was a car which was styled around what the chassis engineers set out to achieve, then the 3 Series is it. The front suspension continues the classic tradition of double joints, with the wishbones, struts and swivel bearings being made of aluminium. The choice of material brings about a reduction of unsprung weight, while also contributing to better elastokinematics, which is a fancy word for better-controlled and more progressive damping.
The rear suspension features a five-link design, again optimised for the best possible wheel articulation, ensuring maximum tyre contact patch and a consistent response no matter what the road conditions are like. The locating arms are even longer on this 3 Series than on the out-going model, which pays dividends in both handling and ride quality.
The longitudinally-mounted engine drives the rear wheels through an 8-speed automatic gearbox. All three engines offered on the BMW 3 Series displace 2.0 litres and utilise its Twin Power Turbo technology.
BMW 320i – 184 PS, 270 Nm
BMW 328i – 245 PS, 350 Nm
BMW 320d – 184 PS, 380 Nm
Of the three engine versions listed above, we got behind the wheel of the BMW 320d, which is the highest-selling version of the new 3 Series. The trim version of our test car is the Sport Line, which has high-gloss black accents for the front grille and bumper, an exhaust pipe finisher in black chrome, and door sills with the words “BMW Sport” embossed.
Interiors & Comfort
BMW’s Sport Line trim embellishes the new 3 Series with coral red accents on the dashboard, including contrast red stitching on the sports steering wheel and sports seats. The car’s key fob also has a coral red strip.
In typical BMW fashion, the dashboard is angled towards the driver, and the chunky sports steering wheel feels lovely to hold, instantly making the driver feel one with the car. The Sport Line does get the coral red strip across the length of the dashboard (the Luxury Line has a pearl chrome strip) which accentuates the width of the cabin, but it is a snug cabin nonetheless. BMW has successfully managed to create an airier ambience compared to this 3 Series predecessor largely thanks to a bigger glass house area. However, rear seat legroom and headroom is just about adequate for someone up to 6 feet tall, although taller passengers would be better off seated at front.
Boot space is claimed to be over 400 litres, but the awkwardly shaped boot means that fitting two large suitcases is difficult, despite the depth of the boot. So, in case you’re planning to receive people at the airport or train station, you might be better off in your X3 instead!
Where the new 3 Series shows the greatest step forward compared to the earlier car is in its ride quality, which now can actually lay claim to be being pliant. Of course, trick dampers play their part here, but the hard-edged ride of the earlier car has been done away with, which is a critical functional improvement on Indian roads. It still is not the most resolved ride in the luxury segment, with that praise being the purview of arch rival Mercedes’ C-Class, but no longer can the BMW 3 Series’ ride be said to be its Achilles heel.
The front sports seats are actually quite comfortable, and have a wide range of adjustment, including adjustable side bolstering, so you can tailor the seat to fit you.
Performance & Handling
Thankfully, the 3 Series has lost none of its verve from behind the wheel. BMW has long prided itself on making the THE definitive sporting sedan, and the new 3 Series proudly upholds that distinction. If anything, the new 8-speed gearbox has contributed to making the car even better to drive than before. Surprisingly, the 3 Series does exhibit some torque rock when you crank the engine, especially noticeable when cold, but thereafter the four-cylinder common-rail diesel engine is smooth and unobtrusive. The 8-speed gearbox surfs the considerable torque intelligently, allowing you to make quick progress without having to rev the engine too much. Use the button on the centre console to select ‘Sport’ mode, and the BMW ups the ante. The dampers become stiffer, the transmission holds on to gears longer, and the Servotronic steering wheel weights up nicely.
While all these electronic systems do conspire to endow the 3 Series with considerable ability on the road, it is the sound engineering principles of 50:50 weight distribution and well-tuned suspension that actually makes the biggest difference. Push on at ten-tenths and the fluidity and balance that the 3 Series displays makes you wonder why other car-makers don’t pursue the same approach. Anyway, to each their own, but rear-wheel drive, well-judged suspension and precise steering effort are the ingredients that make this delicious car a delight to experience. The tactile experience from behind the wheel is so consistent, that it soon inspires more confidence. It won’t squat at the rear under acceleration, and resists any tendency to stand on its nose when breaking hard, but best of all is the way it changes direction. The Igatpuri ghat where we sampled the car has some brilliantly flowing switchback curves, and the absolute lack of body roll and precise trajectory of the BMW 3 Series is eye-opening. If cars were to be judged solely by how they drive, then truly the BMW 3 Series is one of the best cars in the world. Period.
Let’s not forget for a moment that BMWs are designed in Germany, a country which has received fame and notoriety in equal measure for its roads which lack any official speed limits. So, Germans drive their cars hard. However, economic and environmental realities are not lost on ze Germans either, and they’ve successfully engineered cars which are fast and frugal. BMW claims the 3 Series diesel will travel 18.9 kilometres for every litre of diesel it gulps. While this will certainly be achievable on an open road at a constant speed, the realities of Indian traffic is glaringly different. Still, our real world test proved that the new 3 Series does not really have a drinking problem, managing a shade under 12 km/l. over the duration of its test, which included nearly 600 kilometres of city and highway driving combined. Not bad at all.
The BMW 3 Series is a global model, and it meets the strictest of criteria as far as its safety systems are concerned. Both active and passive safety systems abound in the car. The 3 Series range as sold in India makes no compromises, offering 6 airbags, anti-lock brakes, cornering brake control (CBC), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Dynamic traction Control (DTC) and impact-sensing pyrotechnic seatbelts as standard across the model range. Of course, there’s no substitute to not crashing in the first place, which the 3 Series’ active safety systems, including ABS, DSC, DTC work hard to ensure.
BMW’s 3 Series range spans from Rs 29.9 lakh to Rs 40.2 lakh. The 3 Series 320d Sport Line we’ve tested here costs Rs 34.5 lakh, ex-showroom. At this price, it is cheaper than the Mercedes C-Class C220 CDI, which retails for Rs 39 lakh, ex-showroom, but it is slightly more expensive than the Audi A4 2.0 TDI. However, car buyers in this segment are not easily swayed by a few lakh rupees either this way or that, and so the BMW 3 Series does not attempt to compete on price. What it does instead, is promise a great package of ride and handling, quality, fuel economy and safety which meets the highest standards of the class. The BMW brand has grown in stature in India and around the world, and the blue-and-white propeller logo today carries serious credibility.
But what makes the 3 Series truly stand out of course, is the way it drives. If you have the money, and you love being behind the wheel, then there are few nicer cars to own. Let’s not forget that the Indian customer for the 3 Series is surely a global citizen, a high-net worth individual who travels often, for business and leisure. For such a customer, owning a 3 Series will tick all those boxes of owning and driving one of the best cars in the world. It’s a mutual appreciation club that owning this car guarantees admission to. The positive persuasion of the BMW 3 Series is thus hard to ignore.
Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class