When three’s company

When three’s company
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First Published: Tue, Dec 13 2011. 09 21 PM IST

Bigger, better: The 3 Series sedan is very different from the ‘usual’ BMW styling
Bigger, better: The 3 Series sedan is very different from the ‘usual’ BMW styling
Updated: Tue, Dec 13 2011. 09 21 PM IST
I arrived in Barcelona expecting to catch some of the carnival-like atmosphere that the Spanish city is famous for. After all, it is one of Europe’s party capitals, isn’t it? But the Germans would have none of that; instead I was whisked off to a hotel way outside the city limits for my tryst with the new 3 Series sedan from BMW.
Bigger, better: The 3 Series sedan is very different from the ‘usual’ BMW styling
Now I have to admit that when I saw the first pictures of the new car a few weeks ago, I was somewhat impressed. And when I saw it in front of me, being deprived of Barcelona’s hot spots suddenly seemed worth it. That’s also because BMW had laid out some fantastic routes of mountain and motorway driving through the gorgeous Catalonian countryside—including a route that took us to the stunning Mt Montserrat.
On the road
The 3 Series has grown—it is 93mm longer than its predecessor, with a whole 50mm extra in the wheelbase. This means enhanced rear legroom; it no longer feels cramped, as the outgoing car did. The car looks very much a BMW, but uses a headlamp that stretches from the ends to the flared characteristic twin-kidney grille in the centre. Very different from “usual” BMW styling—yet it works, in my opinion.
I chose to begin with the 328i, the in-line 4-cylinder petrol offering which will be the mainstay of sales globally. This car came in a superb shade of red (BMW calls it Melbourne Red), which made my decision to choose it over the brown-grey diesel 320d a bit easier!
The petrol car uses the first of a new family of engines from BMW, and what you get is a 2-litre unit, with healthy power (245 bhp) and torque (350 Nm) figures. There is also a 335i model that will be made available close to the global market roll-out, which begins in February, and that variant is strictly for those who believe you need to have 6 cylinders to really have fun. Well, those people can shell out the extra money if they want to, but just a few minutes in the 2-litre car was enough to convince me that this version was pretty ample in itself.
The last 3 Series was already an industry benchmark in many ways and improving on it was never going to be easy. Remarkably, BMW has. The 328i drove like a dream—punchy, sporty and very planted. The steering and handling were extremely precise, and the ride a lot more comfortable than the almost too-hard feel of the outgoing 3 Series.
Having said that, the car may not be as stiff as you’d want a 3 Series to be—which could go against it in some ways. But it’s certainly got a stiffer ride feel than rivals like the Mercedes-Benz C Class and the Audi A4. It’s taut, feels bigger and is still just so satisfyingly precise. But the ride feels a touch bumpy, especially at the back—and the blame for that stays squarely with the standard run-flat tyres (tyres that can run even when punctured)—a BMW mainstay.
Light beige dominates the interiors in the Modern line
The new 3 Series inherits all the goodies and gadgets that the 7 and 5 Series brought to the party, so now you have sensors and cameras for everything from adaptive cruise control to lane departure warning, and blind spot warning too. There’s also an updated iDrive infotainment system. The car also has head-up display, so the driver gets inputs that are reflected on the windscreen, within his/her field of vision. This is very cool since it comes complete with traffic warnings, speed limits, navigation alerts, song selection menu—basically just about “everything” you could possibly want when you are out on a drive. This is indeed a huge improvement over previous BMW head-ups, and tops what Audi managed to put into the new A6, for instance.
The next day began bright and early, and I got my hands on the 320d in Havana, a brown-grey shade. Just a few minutes in the car and I was aware of just how far diesel engine technology has come. I had to remind myself that this 2-litre block was a diesel. Effortless acceleration, seemingly no turbo-lag, and very responsive character. It’s almost incredible how the engineers at BMW have managed to top the last 320d—another driver’s delight. This car is the one Indian buyers are going to love. It’s smart, efficient, responsive and yes—diesel. The power output stands at 163 bhp, while torque is a very healthy 380 Nm.
I managed also to get the chance to drive the 320d as well as the 328i on the track at the Circuit de Catalunya—simply put, the same track as the Spanish Grand Prix. If I’d been impressed out on the twisting mountain roads and the highway straights, the car simply came to life on the track. It’s so direct and punchy—and yes, surprisingly enough, the diesel too—that I could have stayed there all day if I didn’t have a flight to catch
The add-ons
With the new 3 Series, BMW has also gone into a whole new direction when it comes to trims and variants, and I expect these will also make an appearance on some of its other model lines. So unlike the earlier 3, which had the highline trim which was its top-end variant, now you get different trim lines with variants within them. The trims are called Sport, Luxury and Modern—with each representing a different character and feel.
The headlamp in this version stretches from the grille to the ends.
The Sport, as the name suggests, gives you an edgier car—with sharper bumper and light trims, sportier alloy wheels and black interiors. You can opt for leather or fabric seats, and dash and door finishes include either brushed metal or piano black enamel. The car also features a characteristic red line through the dash, which is complemented by red stitching in the seats and steering wheel.
The Modern line uses a colour palette that reflects modern living—with soft colours and minimalist design themes. So light beige dominates inside, while you can choose between light metal or wood finishes too. The front grille is also finished in a lighter silver tone, and even the car’s key is finished in beige in this case!
Finally, the Luxury line indeed spoils those who want the classic feeling of money well spent. So you get rich tones in the leather and wood, polished chrome and deeper colours. The bumper and exterior finish is also classical and lacks any performance-oriented embellishments.
Each trim line has basic and fully-loaded variants within. So you can get a basic car without all the features offered within that line, and then keep adding to it. Pretty innovative, and likely to snare more buyers!
The sixth-generation 3 Series from BMW manages to surprise, impress and yes, definitely improve on what was already a great car. The 3 Series already tops its segment even in India—outselling everything from a Honda Accord and Skoda Superb, to its typical German rivals. I expect the new car to add to that success once it launches in India in June. Expect prices here to remain similar to the current car—between Rs 27-35 lakh.
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is Editor (Auto) NDTV.
Write to Siddharth at roadrunner@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Dec 13 2011. 09 21 PM IST