CRA Motoring News – South Africa
By DENIS DROPPA
It’s an executive sports sedan with the thirst of a small hatchback
Having notched up more than 15-million sales in just over 40 years, the 3 Series sedan is BMW’s most successful model and, not wishing to fix what ain’t broken, the company has spared the car from the recent experimentation with controversial, ultra-sized kidney grilles.
The seventh-generation 3 Series (internally dubbed the G20) arrived last year with styling that was a gentle evolution of its predecessor, leaving its more recently-launched 4 Series coupé cousin to garner all the love-hate attention with its fearless design.
Without getting nearly as daring as the bucktoothed air intakes on the new 4 Series, the 3 Series grille does get the regulation corporate upsizing. The dual intakes now extend all the way to the headlights, giving the sedan a wider and more pressed-down look than its predecessor.
The new 3 Series is physically wider by 16mm, while under its refreshed sheetmetal the car has grown a substantial 76mm in length too, providing more coughing room in the back seat. In its enlarged size and all-round more sophisticated and grown-up feel, BMW’s junior sedan edges ever closer to feeling like a shortened 5 Series, but at heart it is still a driver’s car like its forebears.
An increased wheelbase and track width have improved both ride comfort and handling stability. Our test car rode with finesse even on its optionally-fitted low-profile 19-inch rubber, while the essential 3 Series driving experience is delivered through the car’s light-footed cornering performance.
It’s a car with substance and heft, without feeling heavy. In fact the new car is up to 55kg lighter than the outgoing model.
Different driving personalities can be summoned by choosing the Eco Pro, Comfort or Sport modes. In its most playful setting the steering delivers the typically meaty, direct feel of 3 Series repute, and the thick-rimmed steering wheel plays a large part in the sporting feel of driving the car.
Having recently sampled the range-topping all-wheel drive M340i xDrive with its 285kW and 500Nm of petrol power, the rear-wheel drive 330d on test here is the top diesel model in the line-up. It’s powered by a six-cylinder turbo 3.0l with 195kW and 580Nm, and while it isn’t quite as fast as the M340i, it packs an impressively hefty punch while being much kinder to the fuel budget.
It’s a gem of an engine that flexes big muscles while sipping fuel like a small hatchback, our test car recording just 6.9l /100km.
Displaying minimal lag, the car is quick out of the starting blocks, taking just 5.5 seconds to 100km/h, and cruises with an easy, long-legged lope. It does this all with finesse, and the smooth diesel engine has shed all vestiges of agricultural origins. There’s even a playfully sporty acoustic undertone when the horses are summoned.
Eager throttle inputs in tight corners get the rear-wheel drive car playfully wanting to whip out the tail, though safely reigned in by the stability control.
Rival premium brands like Mercedes, Jaguar and Audi don’t offer such powerful diesels so the 330d has this corner of the market basically to itself. Its primary competition will come from petrol-powered sports sedans like its own M340i stablemate and the Mercedes-AMG C43.