My first glimpse of BMW’s latest 3 Series was a preproduction model to demonstrate what the finished car would probably look like, writes Trish Whelan. Such models never end up being the finished article as many tweaks and turns are made to the exterior and interior before full production models roll off the line and find their way to showrooms.
But this preproduction model was drop-dead gorgeous in every respect, both outside and in. Since then, changes have been made to make it even more attractive.
This is the seventh generation of the ‘globally successful ambassador for driving pleasure in a premium midsize car’, to quote BMW.
It benefits from significantly enhanced sporting prowess, a new design language, extensive refinements to its premium ambience and what the brand call ‘trailblazing driver assistance, control & operation and connectivity technology’.
Exterior highlights include a modern design with precise lines and contoured surfaces, with sporty proportions, a large BMW kidney grille with single surround for the two elements, a new interpretation of the LED twin headlights, sporty T-shaped air intakes, and a twin-pipe exhaust system.
The car comes with wider front and rear tracks, a longer wheelbase, lower weight (up to -55kg); body rigidity has been increased by up to 50pc, has new shock absorber technology, and M Sport differential (optional).
The cabin is upmarket and inviting. And snug. The layout is beautiful and the cockpit driver-focused. The use of high class materials with very precise workmanship is very evident throughout. Newly designed leather seats hold you in nicely and the driver’s has power adjustments.
There’s more front shoulder and elbow room, it’s easy to get in and out of the rear as doors open wide, and there’s now greater legroom there. But very tall people find it difficult to sit comfortably in the rear and there’s very little room in the middle seat and there’s a high tunnel to contend with.
Features include a new sports leather steering wheel, a new panel of buttons for light functions, new design for the gear selector and the control panel around it which includes the iDrive Controller knob that is easy to use for media, communications, navigation, maps etc. The colourful navigation takes up the whole central console screen and you can also see your directions displayed on the instrument panel in front of you.
Other highlights include a larger Head-Up Display, a digital key.
The car has an expanded range of digital services from BMW Connected and Connected Drive. Buttons can be used to call up menus or to select menu items and settings. Some functions of the iDrive can be operated with the touchpad of the controller.
Remote software upgrades keeps the car up-to-date and you can access the car and start up the engine via your smartphone using the Digital Key.
LED interior lights are standard, ambient lighting with a welcome light carpet comes as an option. Six speakers are also standard but there’s an optional Harman Kardon surround sound system with 16 speakers. Two USB ports and Bluetooth interface are provided but a wireless charging area is an option.
The spec also includes the instrument cluster with screen size up from 2.7 to 5.7 inches and Control Display with screen diagonal up from 6.5 to 8.8 inches. You can opt for the BMW Live Cockpit Professional which comes with a fully digital 1.3-inch instrument cluster and 10.25-inch Control Display.
Boot capacity is 480 litres and there’s a storage area below the boot floor as the car is fitted with run flat tyres.
Inside, you sit low in the car which makes for a more exciting drive. There’s plenty of oomph in the engine and you’ll just want to keep on driving. A small crib, though, is the thickness of the steering wheel. However, it gives great feedback to the driver when on the road.
New powertrains have higher output, greater pulling power and improved efficiency. Six engine variants are offered, four-cylinder petrol models, four-cylinder diesels, plus six-cylinder diesel unit with outputs ranging from 150hp to 265hp.
My car was the ultra-sporty 320d M Sport saloon with 190hp and matched to an eight-speed Steptronic transmission, max torque is 400 Nm, 0-100km/h takes 7.1 sec, top speed is 240km/h; combined fuel consumption is around 4.7-4.4 L/100kms, Annual Road Tax is €200.
The dynamics are noticeably sharper due to the upgraded chassis technology, new damper technology, the stiffer body structure and suspension mountings, wider tracks (front and rear), the car’s weight loss, low centre of gravity and even 50:50 weight distribution. There are five driving modes to choose from.
An array of driver assistance systems paves the way to automated driving. Some come as standard, but others are optional extras and the car can park itself with the Parking Assistant system.
While the 320d M Sport is priced at €49,213, my car came with a big amount of extra options and packs which took the car as tested, to €59,286.82. Prices include VAT and VRT.