Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Alfa Romeo, Volvo, even Tesla – the list of 3 Series rivals continues to grow, but BMW has answered back in superb fashion
McDonald’s can mess about with their toppings and extras, and the burgers will still be solid enough to do the job.
The BMW 3 Series is similar – as one of the best-selling models in the compact executive class, it’ll be popular no matter what they do to it. But that isn’t the question we want answering here.
We want to know if it’s good enough to keep hold of the compact exec crown. If there’ve been enough changes to keep it fresh, whilst maintaining the features that made it popular the first time round.
The 3 Series still looks the part
If you close one eye, the new version isn’t overly changed, but on closer inspection you’ll spot a few tweaks.
The headlights now sit in a jagged casing and compliment the new model’s angular design, while the taillights sit higher up and contribute to a more muscular outline from behind.
And it has twin exhaust tailpipes, regardless of trim. Ours was the 330i M Sport, with the lowered suspension (10mm lower, to be exact) and sportier bodykit.
The tester we tried also had the optional M Sport Plus kit, which for around £2k throws in 19-inch rims and gloss-black surrounds, among other bits which I’ll get to in a bit.
No punches pulled
On the other hand, the interior’s been completely replaced.
There’s always a premium feel with the German manufacturers in particular, but BMW have gone above and beyond with the new 3 Series.
The dashboard and door panels are decorated with dark materials and textured silver panels, and the seats are full leather with a superb balance of comfort and support.
The analogue dials behind the wheel have been replaced by a digital instrument, with driver data and prompts displayed on a beautifully clear display.
The tech is on a new level
Your eyes are also drawn to the 10-inch iDrive touchscreen that sits just to the left of the wheel. Although it isn’t the shape of a standard dashboard screen – it’s wider and shallower – it works brilliantly.
The maps and menus are displayed in high quality and are operated by touch or using the rotating dial and buttons that sit just in front of the centre armrest.
If you opt for the Technology Pack, costing just shy of £2k, you can even use hand gestures to navigate the menus, change media volume and even load a pre-set satnav destination.
And if that wasn’t enough, there’s a new personal assistant that works with voice commands. It’s activated with a ‘Hey BMW’, but the name it responds to can be personalised. Keep it polite.
That tech pack also includes surround sound speakers, wireless phone charging and a head-up display that floats speed and direction prompts on the windscreen.
Performance doesn’t rank below all those bits
Right, you’ll have to bear with me. When it comes to performance, the 330i sits somewhere between the base 3 Series model and the slightly mad M3.
From July this year, that gap will be shared with the new M340i – although it won’t be as wild as the M3, it does sit at the higher end of the performance scale.
Such is the reputation of BMW’s M division, you might think the 330i would be a tad vanilla in comparison. But you’d be wrong.
It has 254bhp and clocks 0-60 in around 5.5 seconds, hitting the mark over half a second quicker than the Golf GTI – a car that has no lack of urgency.
Power comes from the carmaker’s new four-cylinder, turbocharged petrol engine. The turbo kicks in just over 1,000 revs, so there’s acceleration no matter where you are on the dial.
And it’s sent to the back wheels. If there was a recipe for rounding corners sideways, the 330i has the only ingredients needed – rear-wheel drive, and enough power to send you hurtling up the road like a Jack Russell on blue skittles. In line with the law, obviously.
It’s sensible as well
Despite that, though, it can be properly sensible too. Although rear-wheel drive is great for throwing the backend out, you have to really push it to persuade the car into sliding.
It’s still able to drive, quickly or otherwise, without losing grip on the road. And the steering itself is precise, with variable weighting depending on the driving mode you’re in.
That, together with the new 3 Series’ improved body control, has produced a superb drive. This new shape is wider and closer to ground, so there’s not much in the way of body roll either.
And the M Sport Plus kit mentioned before also adds an M Sport limited-slip differential to the rear axle. When cornering the diff sends more power to the side with better traction, to improve stability and agility when cornering.
There’s no ‘but’
Style often trumps substance. Skinny jeans, for example. I’m not talking slim fit, or even slightly hugging – I’m on about the sort that make you look like a soap bar smuggler if you pocket your mobile.
They can’t be comfy, and they probably aren’t ideal for circulation, but people wear them because they’re trendy and cool. Apparently.
You’d be forgiven for thinking the 330i had the same affliction. It’s rapid, only too keen to be thrown into corners, and in the case of our model, rides on 19-inch alloys. Stylish but uncomfortable, you might expect. Wrong.
The M Sport Plus kit comes with adaptive dampers, and they might be the best excuse for ticking that box on the order form.
No matter your driving style or the surface you’re driving on, it seems to glide along without punishing you for driving over a pothole or imperfection on the road. Although I haven’t tested a model without the dampers, I’d expect it to be more unforgiving.
The afternoon I spent in the Staffordshire countryside with the 330i was a hoot – it was the train back north that left me with an achy back.
The 3 Series you know, just better
What BMW offer here is comfort, performance and enough tech to fill an aisle in a department store electricals department. But, it performs so well in each, you’d struggle to name its main selling point.
It isn’t just a ‘solid’ burger – this is a sit-down burger. The type you might eat with a knife and fork, because there’s so much inside it’s falling out the bun. And also because you don’t want it to end.
Despite the competition from Audi, Mercedes, even Tesla, the new BMW 3 Series is a reminder that you can improve something that was already brilliant.
You’ll still find an impressively low CO2 figure, so it’s just as suitable for business customers as it is personal owners. And this model in particular, the 330i M Sport, is great for drivers. Top marks.
Find out more on the new BMW 3 Series at Lookers BMW today.