BMW’s 3 series star enters roaring 40s
EXCLUSIVE: WE’RE IN AUSTRIA FOR BMW 3 SERIES LAUNCH
BMW has revealed the facelift 3 Series just as the premium sedan celebrates the 40th anniversary of its launch.
Since it went on the market in 1975, 14 million 3 Series have sold worldwide and it’s BMW’s top selling vehicle, accounting for a quarter of all of the company’s sales.
It’s sold in 130 markets with most sales in the US, China and Germany, with the German market the top seller for the 3 Series Touring.
In New Zealand, the 3 Series accounts for 20 per cent of BMW sales and is among the top three models sold here, alongside the 1 Series and X5.
The 3 Series facelift (or Life Cycle Impulse as BMW calls it) has only a few major exterior changes, the company said feedback from customers indicated they liked the current model’s appearance.
Put this LCI and the outgoing 3 Series next to each other in a carpark and it would be hard to tell them apart. But to prevent a mid-life crisis the medium-sized premium sedan gains new LED front and rear lights, a slight touch-up to the bumpers and twin tailpipes.
Inside the car gets flashy trim on the dash, rear camera as standard and ambient lighting to the centre console and doors.
But what BMW has instead focused on is what’s under the bonnet, says the company.
The interior of the new 3 Series gets an update, but most of the significant changes occur under the hood.
The 3 Series project manager Klaus Huber, told Driven exclusively at the international launch in Austria that the company’s strategy was to focus on updating the engine and chassis.
“We decided to improve the body structure but of course you can’t see it, and the [chassis] is what is important,” Huber said.
“The 3 Series also has a very, very good engine and system set-up.”
The car has also had “damper control correction”, plus a change to the steering to give it more direct response.
The eight-speed ZF automatic transmission remains nearly the same, with the addition of soundproofing.
But the biggest changes to the BMW 3 Series as it hits 40 are the engine line-up and fuel economy.
The 320i petrol and diesel engines remain and still include the xDrive option, the four-cylinder 328i petrol will be badged 330i, while the 318 and 330 diesels are axed from our line-up due to low volume.
The original 1975 model (above) and the latest 3 Series (below) offer an impressive interior.
The new player, and star of the international launch, is the 340i petrol that replaces the 335i.
It has the all-new 3-litre twin-scroll turbocharged engine with 240kW of power and 450Nm of torque. Driven tested this variant at the international launch, leaving BMW’s Munich base and heading to Achenkirch, Austria, sticking mainly to the autobahn during unseasonally wet conditions for the Northern Hemisphere summer.
The day we landed in Munich, the temperature was in the early 40s and sunny, but the day of the main drive programme, fierce overnight storms saw the road conditions limited and driving speed restricted to 110km/h in many segments of the autobahn due to poor visibility.
But the 3-litre 3 Series performed well in these conditions, especially when it came to swift overtaking. On one occasion a van pulled out in front of the 3 Series during a downpour, but the instant response as I accelerated out of the situation was impressive and even my passenger, a usually cynical Australian colleague, praised the car’s notable power. Once in the Austrian countryside, and in clearer weather, Sport Plus was engaged to give the 3 Series a more energetic response on the road, especially when changing gears via the steering wheel paddles while navigating the winding roads.
We hit speeds of up to 130km/h on straight, narrow roads while overtaking slow locals, and the road holding was solid. Inside the 3 Series, the iDrive was notably easier to use and connect mobile phones to than previous versions, while the interior is still impressive, something we were reminded of when we took a 1975 3 Series for a spin around Achenkirch.
BMW NZ will be launching the 3 Series LCI later this year, with prices to be announced then but according to the company there will be minimal changes to the cost, with the current 320i starting at $75,000.
What BMW bosses will have to be mindful of when they launch the facelift 3 Series in New Zealand is the increased European competition, with the Mercedes-Benz C-Class excelling in this category and more sales here every month.
BMW NZ will also be keeping an eye on the new-look Audi A4 that will be launched next year, while Jaguar will be joining the medium-sized premium sedan market this month with the launch of the XE.