The new BMW 3-series is bigger, better and boasts many features

The 3-series has always been one of the best cars in its class and, thanks to its eager and efficient 2.0-litre diesel engine; it has been a popular buy in India. It has now been replaced by a new version that promises to improve on all the attributes that made the outgoing car such a success. We recently drove the new car, in the diesel 320d and petrol 328i forms available.

Compared to the old car, the new 3-series has grown in length by 93mm, the wheelbase is 50mm longer and the front and rear tracks are wider too. The use of more exotic raw materials means that the new car is both 40kg lighter and 10 per cent more rigid. While this car may be all new, bits and pieces have been borrowed from everywhere. The electric steering and double-wishbone front suspension are taken from the 5-series, the rear suspension is carried over from the earlier 3-series and bits such as sub-frames and the prop shaft are reworked as well.

To give it more of a youthful exuberance, BMW has tilted the dash in towards the driver, there are myriad surfaces for that ‘layered’ 3D effect, and the 328i’s Sport trim includes a bright red stripe running across from one side to the other.

A widescreen infotainment display sits above the central console, the new iDrive system is even more intuitive and useful, and you can switch from Comfort to Sport in a second by using the ‘Drive Performance Control’ switch. Some buttons and knobs, however, are still too small and there are still a few shiny plastic bits present. Also, the tunnel for the gearbox that sits at the base of the central console continues to be massive — BMW engineers have pushed the engine and gearbox as far back as possible for that aforementioned perfect weight distribution.

The longer wheelbase, however, means there is much more legroom in the rear of the car, and because you sit slightly higher, visibility is better as well. In addition, thigh support is fantastic, the backrest is supportive and, unlike the earlier car, there’s plenty of room for your feet. The big front seats offer good shoulder and lateral support with just the right amount of suppleness. The 3-series finally has four useable bottle-holders — two ahead of the gear lever and two in the big door pockets.

Four-cylinder diesel

Under the bonnet of the diesel 320d is BMW’s familiar four-pot — one of the best four-cylinder diesels around. Carried over from the old 3, the 5, the X1 and X3, this worked-upon and more powerful motor still isn’t the most refined of units. There is a hint of buzz at start-up, it gets a bit vocal when you extend it, and it never really turns silky smooth like many other modern diesels do. What you get in return, however, is performance that is quite un-diesel-like. It’s always ready for action, its willingness to rev hard is second to none and that, in effect, makes it the perfect companion for the sporty new 3-series. Of course, the light kerb weight and quick gearbox do help to give the diesel an extra kick.

The all-new, 241bhp 328i turbo-petrol in-line four gets even more of a leg up due to these two factors. This big-bore motor loves to be spun hard just like a BMW straight six, but unlike a naturally aspirated six, it’s torquey too, thanks to direct injection and turbocharging. So, while there is a tiny bit of lag, this motor has a strong mid-range and an extremely strong top end. In fact, far from being deficient, the mid-range is now this motor’s strongest point.

And the faster you spin it the harder it wants to go, and that enthusiasm is infectious. Like the diesel, idle isn’t the most refined, and it emits a coarse snarl at high revs too; it’s not quite as smooth as a straight-six. The performance is so addictive that the 328i just sucks you into the driving experience. On the diesel, there’s a suppleness to the ride not seen earlier, the longer-travel springs seem to take large craters better.. Low-speed ride is impressive and there is almost no bobbing or pitching at speed, meaning, all-round performance is class leading.

The new 3-series, especially the 328i, darts into corners with the agility of a jet fighter, especially in Sport. All that’s needed to change course is a flick of a wrist.

The 320d’s steering, in tune with the more relaxed character of the car, is understandably not as quick. There is a bit of roll initially, especially at the rear, and that just takes getting used to. But the overall poise is quite impressive and you soon find yourself pressing on. The electric steering is one of the best around, very accurate and reasonably feelsome.

The new 3’s low weight, eight-speed gearbox, automatic stop-start and intelligent Eco Pro mode all contribute significantly to making this the most efficient car in its class. The 328i returned 7.5kpl in the city and 12.5kpl on our highway test. The 320d, on the other hand, travelled 11.1kpl and 15.5kpl in the city and on the highway respectively, making both BMWs fast and frugal.

So the new 3 (Rs. 36 lakh/ Rs. 34 lakh – estimated, ex-showroom, Delhi) impresses in all departments — more space in the rear, more fuel efficient in both diesel and petrol forms and improved ride.