Driven - October 2015

Forever young: 40 years of the BMW 3-Series.

Driving the face-lifted BMW 3-Series.

Turning forty is big deal for many, it’s an interesting year because generally at forty years of age, many look back to see if they have done all that they strived to do in their lives. This is the case with BMW’s 3-Series. To begin with, one has to give credit where credit is due. The BMW 3-Series has for a very long time being the favourite of many South Africans in terms of the compact luxury sedan segment. This has been the case locally and to a large extent around the world. Now that forty years have passed, BMW have revitalised the range through a face-lifted version of the car. This update does not only affect the outward appearance of the new BMW 3-Series but the engines have gone under the knife too, and the results are very good.

In our previous article about the new BMW 3-Series, we discussed all the changes, you can read that article here. Now we want to discuss how those changes translate to the driving experience and if the update is something worth riding home about. First of all, let’s discuss aesthetics.

How does it look?

The face-lifted BMW 3-Series dons bright LED taillights and optional full LED head lights that sharpen the lines of the car very well. The new lights have the same impact that a bold frame has on an artwork, it makes the subject stand out and forces you to look. The revised bumpers add to the aesthetic appeal of the car too, giving the car a “fresh face” so to speak. Interior changes on the car are more subtle, with small trim changes added, but the cabin still retains its premium look and feel. Since the main focus on the updated BMW 3-Series was not the outside but rather under the bonnet, the biggest question we should ask ourselves is how the new car feels behind the wheel.

How does it drive?

The engines have all been reworked in this model, more power, more torque and different badges. As we mentioned in the previous article, the 316i, 328i and 335i are now models of the past. Welcome the 318i, 330i and 340i to the stable as their replacements with the 320i still remaining. On the diesel side, the 330d and the 320d badges remain too. We had the pleasure of sampling the top of the range 340i and the more humble 320i model, both of which were interesting cars to drive.

The 340i was fitted with the Sports Package, with all the extras you can think of. The best way to explain the power-train of the 340i fitted with the 8 Speed ZF Automatic (which is standard), is by likening it to double thick cream. You know the kind you get on desserts at very fancy places? The engine is a pleasure to drive on the road, it has a distinct smoothness to it coupled with boat loads of torque seamlessly distributed by the 8 gears onto the road.

What about the 320i?

The 320i on the other hand has a completely different feel to it. Since it’s the smaller 4 cylinder 2.0 litre turbocharged engine, it has a more youthful persona to it. You can grab it by the scruff of its neck and enjoy every bit of power it gives to you, whereas the 340i commands much more respect especially on the public roads we drove the cars on. Dynamically the 340i and 320i are very planted on the road, even at high speed. The setting you have the car in contributes greatly to the responsiveness, damping and steering feel of the car.

The Comfort setting is the one for everyday use, whereas Sport and Sport Plus are for those more rushed days and of course Eco mode is dedicated to making the car as efficient as possible. A very impressive point found in the revised version is how the damping on the car is never back-breaking, even in the “harshest” Sport mode. The steering feel of most modern cars is a topic that has led to many debates in the motoring world. Electric power steering has come a long way since it was first introduced to many cars a few years ago.

In the case of the BMW 3-Series, the weight of the steering in the car changes depending on the mode you’re in. More weight is added as well as more steering feel in the sportier modes, whereas the converse happens in the Eco and Comfort modes. Very enthusiastic drivers may long for the “good old days” of hydraulic steering, since that steering system provided more feedback to the driver. The same goes with manual gearboxes giving one the sense of being “one with the car”, but the reality is that future is here and the future likes automatics and electric power steering. That being said, what we have today still provides excitement on the road and comfort that we could have never experienced in the past.

The BMW 3-Series has matured with those that fell in love with it 40 years ago. The boy-racer mentality has been left behind for its less mature siblings, such as the 1 and 2 Series. This is a good thing considering that a new 3-Series will not cost you chump change, with a starting price R409 000 for the baby 318i and R656 000 for the 340i, any 3-Series client will expect a large measure of luxury and comfort. This is exactly what BMW gives those looking to buy in this segment. The majority of BMW 3-Series buyers are not going to drive these cars to their absolute limit on the road and BMW knows that. That is why the car’s set-up, that of being more comfort orientated makes perfect sense for the range considering the clientèle that will buy it.

A good 40 years indeed.

If the BMW 3-Series was a human being, it would surely have a smile on its face. It has accomplished a lot in forty years, selling over 14 million units since its humble days before features such as ConnectedDrive and Reverse camera were even thought of. The car has had good old days but it has better new days ahead of it too. The BMW 3-Series is the reason why we have such good cars from other brands in that segment, it has pioneered the way for many cars and even though the playing fields have levelled out in many ways, the badge is still part of the cream of the crop.