Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 February 2020

Road test: the new model in BMW's 3 Series has raised the bar for sporty compact sedans

The brand has reclaimed its place in pole position in this segment

The latest model in the BMW 3 Series range is once again the sporting benchmark in its segment. Gautam Sharma
The latest model in the BMW 3 Series range is once again the sporting benchmark in its segment. Gautam Sharma

BMW’s 3 Series has been the default choice for enthusiastic drivers on the hunt for an overtly sporting compact saloon. Over several generations – starting with the E30 model that debuted in 1982 – the Bavarian offering remained a cut above the rest of the Euro four-door horde and lived up to the company’s “Ultimate Driving Machine” mantra.

Time moves on, however, and in recent years the 3 Series’s reign as the king of sporty compact sedans was threatened, if not terminated, by the feisty Alfa Romeo Giulia and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, which has topped the sales charts ever since the accomplished W205 generation debuted back in 2014. In this context, the pressure was on for BMW to raise the bar with the latest iteration of the 3 Series (codenamed G20), and the good news for fans of the blue and white roundel is that the newbie answers the challenge.

Although the latest model looks distinctly evolutionary – so much so that it could be mistaken for a facelift rather than a new generation – what lurks underneath the skin is cutting edge, and this makes it a substantially better car than its predecessor in several areas. One much-needed improvement is that there’s now ample space in the rear seats even for tall adults, thanks to a wheelbase that’s 40 millimetres longer than the former model.

The new digitised instrument cluster does away with conventional gauges with needles. Gautam Sharma
The new digitised instrument cluster does away with conventional gauges with needles. Gautam Sharma

BMW’s traditional minimalism remains a hallmark of the revamped cabin layout, the centrepiece of which is the new digitised instrument cluster that does away with conventional gauges with needles. However, one curious aspect is that the virtual tacho needle sweeps counterclockwise. This takes a little getting used to, but the 8.8-inch screen otherwise makes it easy to take in all the information you need at a glance.

Our test car was a 330i M Sport Package with M Performance Aerodynamic Kit and 20-inch M Performance wheels. Pricing for this model starts at Dh214,400, but the added goodies raise the asking price to Dh230,000. The BMW designers could have been a bit adventurous with the styling of the G20 3 Series, but the aggressive body kit, big rims and striking Sunset Orange paintwork of our test vehicle endowed it with added pizzazz.

Where the new 3 Series really shines is in the way the whole car gels around you

Back in the day, ordering a 330i meant you’d get a 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine under the bonnet, but modern emission regulations mean this nomenclature now corresponds to a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine. It’s still a potent recipe, as 258 brake horsepower and 400Nm aren’t to be sniffed at, but what’s missing is the creamy smoothness and lovely exhaust note of the old six-pot. On the plus side, the 2.0-litre turbo engine has loads of torque and a 0-100-kilometre-per-hour split of 5.8 seconds is not shabby.

One much-needed improvement is there’s now ample space in the rear seats even for 1.8-metre tall adult. Gautam Sharma
One much-needed improvement is there’s now ample space in the rear seats even for 1.8-metre tall adult. Gautam Sharma

Where the new 3 Series really shines is in the way the whole car gels around you. The driving position is millimetre-perfect and there’s a wonderful sharpness to its responses whenever you make an input via the steering, throttle, brake pedal or aluminium shift paddles. The 330i lopes along effortlessly in ‘Comfort’ mode, or you can press ‘Sport’ to unleash the full dynamic repertoire of a lithe saloon that’s shed 55kg vis-a-vis its predecessor. It’s now ready to dance however you want it to.

Visually understated it may be, but the latest 3 Series is firmly back where it belongs. It’s once again the sporting benchmark in its segment.

Updated: January 29, 2020 05:40 PM

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