The three box saloon or sedan is being squeezed by the relentless rise of the SUV as a body style. Not so long ago BMW had just one SUV, the X5, and now saloon cars are in the minority on its price list with the X-1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7!
Fashion can be fickle but the growth of SUVs and crossovers has taken sales from traditional cars. BMW’s 3 Series has been the benchmark for driving dynamics in its premium sedan class but is that enough to keep buyers from migrating to an X3 or X4? We’ve been testing the seventh generation 3 Series to find out.
The once compact, nimble and naughty 3 Series has evolved over the years to be many cars in one. The sharpness of the early boxy versions, much loved by singletons, has eroded over time but behind the wheel of the new (G20) 3 that edginess seems to be back. Exterior styling is still a bit Marmite (love it or hate it) and unlike arch rival Audi that seems to make endless handsome cars the Bavarian ‘3’ takes a bit longer to warm to the eyes. Our test car is the 320d with the optional M Sport pack that makes it look at its sharpest. The 3’s bonnet is long with a prominent active grille ready to fill rear-view mirrors. Hardly pretty but functionally brilliant the active grille allows faster engine warm up and better cooling as needed via motorised slats. The flanks are sculpted while the rear styling with a deceptively small and short looking boot is well resolved. The M Sport blue calipers and tasty alloys give the 3 a nice assertive stance.
Inside the cabin there is room for five. The boot is big too. Up front you sit in and not on the car. German car makers are great for accommodating larger drivers but even my Celtic frame enjoyed being able to sit low and contribute to the car’s low centre of gravity. The dash layout is logical and the only annoyance was my smartphone’s connectivity which should be brilliant as BMW offers Wi-Fi CarPlay but it never really worked intuitively for me. With every new model the availability and greater level of connectivity and active driver assistance systems increases and BMW offers the lot. BMW offers a subscription service for on-line services. On first glance this method seems overly complicated and on second glance… well you don’t really give it a second glance – this is where a good sales person will earn their commission.
My 320d M Sport had 10 grands worth of extras fitted bringing its price to €59,286.82. M Sport Plus pack(€3,023), Technology pack including head up display and gesture control (€2,473), and Comfort pack at €1,360 were some of the big ticket options fitted.
On the road is where the Beemer starts to shine. The new car has razor sharp steering and on twisty roads the car is utterly precise and great fun. My 320d rear wheel drive 8-speed automatic diesel is quick when provoked. The unit is not the best engine match for spirited driving and as a motorway cruiser it is very economical and ‘torquey’. My preference would be for the 330i (4 cylinder 2 litre) petrol as it is truer to what the 3 is all about. I took the 330i for a few laps on the track and it was a hoot and ultra communicative. What I didn’t enjoy about the 320d was the lumpy stop start system, also the brakes were a bit grabby when near a complete stop although the very hand auto handbrake function might contribute to this sensation. Diesel, petrol and PHEV versions are available in power outputs that can be described as adequate 318d (150hp), healthy (320d 190hp/320i 184hp) right up to indulgent (330i 258hp & 330d 265hp) and of course the M3 will be utterly outrageous. Rear and xDrive all wheel drive is available.
Should you get a 3 over an SUV? The great debate is split with a definite yes for its driving dynamics – that are brilliant. The no is that once you’ve tasted the elevated driving position of an SUV/Crossover you will be less enamored with the low set position in the 3 Series. In bad weather, heavy traffic and tight country roads your all round vision is simply not as good. First World problems hey!