The 3 Series is one of BMW India’s best-selling cars, and the seventh-generation model launched recently is armed with tech gadgetry like smartphone entry, auto-reverse and an in-car assistant that learns drivers’ routine and driving style. But what truly defines the 3 Series is not gadgetry; it’s the design and driving dynamics.
What defines its design?
The new 3 Series is marginally bigger than its predecessor. The bodywork has precisely drawn lines. At the front, the large BMW kidney grille—thankfully, it’s not as huge or as disproportionate as in the X7 or the new 7 Series—and the headlights leading off it are dominant themes. It has a longer wheelbase and shorter overhangs compared to the sixth-generation model. The rear has a sporty look thanks to the distinctive spoiler, slim L-shaped taillights with LED, and two large tailpipes.
Despite larger dimensions, the car is now lighter than before, by 55kg. The rear seat is comfortable for two passengers, not for three (there is a central transmission tunnel that takes away the leg-space of the middle passenger). But for two people, it’s extremely comfortable—the thigh support is good.
Overall, its design—both inside and out—is such that it builds up on all the six generations of the 3 Series (the first was launched over 40 years ago, in 1975) and you can see decades of automotive design in the bodywork.
What gadgetry is inside?
The new 3 Series has features that help make the occupants feel more connected to the car—like sport seats with electrical memory function—and a host of BMW ConnectedDrive technologies, including gesture control, wireless charging and wireless Apple CarPlay.
Gesture control, in particular, is interesting. For increasing or decreasing multimedia volume, all one has to do is place the elbow on the central armrest between the front two seats and move the index finger (pointed towards the infotainment screen) clockwise or anticlockwise, respectively. Similarly, if there is an incoming phone call, you can swipe your hand in the air to accept it, or point your finger towards the screen to reject it. But this technology is only available in the more expensive 330i petrol model, not in the 320d diesel.
Also making its debut in the 3 Series is the BMW Virtual Assistant, a digital personality of the vehicle that responds to voice commands. It can be addressed by saying “Hey BMW” or a wake word you define. Essentially, by saying Hey BMW or a wake work you may ask the car anything—for example about the previous service or climate control—and it replies as a personal assistant. However, as is the case with these new-age technologies, it fails to understand every now and then.
The spread of driver assistance systems is extensive—the reversing assistant, for example, keeps a record of the last 50 metres driven and assists by taking over the steering. It actually works like magic. If, for example, you enter a narrow street where you cannot turn around the car, all you need to do is activate the reversing assistant and take your hands off the steering wheel. The car will automatically reverse 50 metres on the exact path you took when moving forward (fear not, if the car detects an obstacle while reversing, it will stop).
How does it drive?
The new 3 Series gets both petrol and diesel engines. The 2.0-litre petrol engine (330i) produces an output of 258bhp and maximum torque of 400Nm, accelerating the car from 0-100kph in just 5.8 seconds. The 2.0-litre diesel engine (320d) produces an output of 190bhp and a maximum torque of 400Nm, accelerating the car from 0-100kph in 6.8 seconds. Both are mated to the eight-speed Steptronic Sport automatic transmission.
We drove the diesel. The cabin is so quiet at idle that you might mistake you’re sitting in an electric car. And, surprisingly, like electric cars, it’s almost as quick, from any speed to any speed. The mid-range performance of this engine, in particular, is quite good. In fact, from initial acceleration to coasting, from low speeds to high, from bad roads to good, the new 3 Series is an absolute dream to drive. In addition, the steering feedback—the mechanical signals that the front tyres send to the steering wheel—is so accurate that you feel every bump and dip in the road, even a pebble under the front tyres, through the steering wheel.
How much is it priced?
The new 3 Series has three variants: 320d Sport priced at Rs 41.4 lakh, 320d Luxury Line priced at Rs 46.9 lakh and the 330i M Sport petrol priced at Rs 47.9 lakh (ex-showroom). Comparable cars are Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4 and Jaguar XE, and of these three only the C-Class comes close to the 3 Series in terms of luxury and utility, and none in terms of driving fun.