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First drive: 2019 BMW 330i (G20). Image by Uwe Fischer.

First drive: 2019 BMW 330i (G20)
It's our first taste of the G20 BMW 3 Series, and what a tasty taste it is...

 



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2019 BMW 330i (G20)

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

BMW brings the all-new 3 Series into a world that's mad about SUVs, not saloons. Can a trad four-door still cut it?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: BMW 330i M Sport
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Body style: four-door saloon
CO2 emissions: 135g/km (Band 131-150 - €515 year one)
Combined economy: 48mpg
Top speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 5.6 seconds
Power: 257hp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 400Nm at 2,000-4,500rpm

What's this?

Right, this is a big one, although quite how big kinda remains to be seen. It's the new BMW 3 Series, the seventh generation of slinky sporty saloon from Munich, codenamed the G20. It replaces the outgoing F30, a car that we had loved at first, but which it's fair to say had not aged all that well, especially in the cabin.

This model rides on a new platform (closely related to that of the current 5 Series and new BMW X3) and will get a bevy of new engines too. Those will eventually include 1.5-litre three-cylinder units borrowed from the MINI and 1 Series for the most basic models, plus two plug-in hybrid variants, a big six-cylinder turbo petrol, an M Performance variant and eventually a new BMW M3.

Today, we're concentrating on the 330i, which uses an updated version of the current 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder engine. While the diesel 320d has long been the default choice, don't discount the chances of this 330i making a significant dent in shopping lists, now that we all hate diesel. A 50Nm boost, to 400Nm, should help, as will small trimmings of the CO2 emissions and fuel consumption figures.

As for the all-new body, we can't really tell yet, as all our test cars were covered in lots of dazzle-style camouflage tape. From what we could tell, it looks like a gentle evolution of the current shape, slightly bigger in all directions, and with some nice details such as very, very slim headlights, and a more muscular boot lid and rear wings.

In the cabin, again it's very familiar, but with some new details. Peering beneath the heavy disguise panels that covered the cabins of our test cars, we could see a new all-digital display for the instruments (shared with the incoming new BMW X5, and which has main instruments that sweep, contra-rotation-style, around the outer edges of the screen), new switchgear (very similar to that found in the 7 Series), and a little more space in the rear.

How does it drive?

In a word, brilliantly. OK, that requires some caveats. First, it was raining, and I mean absolutely tipping down. Second, both cars we drove were in M Sport spec, which means lower, stiffer springs and dampers, 19-inch wheels and the optional electronically controlled differential sitting between the rear wheels. Oh, and progressive steering, which alters the speed of the rack as you turn the wheel.

Actually, let's deal with the steering first, as that's where the new 3 Series really shows its colours. It's amazing, the first electrically assisted rack we've come across that actually replicates the feel and feedback of a classic hydraulic steering rack. All of the little movements and nudges of the tyres, the road, the rack, are sent back to your fingertips, but not in a manner that seems twitchy nor intrusive. The weighting is spot-on too, perhaps a little too heavy in Sport mode, but really, this is one of the very best steering setups in any car right now. Its closest rival is not a competitor saloon, but the Porsche Boxster - and praise comes no higher.

As for the rest of the chassis, BMW has equipped the new 3 Series with Citroen style hydraulic bump stops. Replacing the simple rubber bungs of old, these theoretically allow the suspension a little more breathing space to deal with big, sharp intrusions, and a little more time to de-compress and recover for the next bump. We say 'in theory' as the stiffer suspension setup of the M Sport model was just possibly clouding our judgement of this new system a little. For the most part, the new G20 330i felt impressively supple and relaxed, but would occasionally jitter and bobble over really bad surfaces. We'll have to wait and try and SE version on familiar roads before giving a fuller verdict.

Refinement is definitely improved, though, especially in the areas of tyre roar and wind noise. The engine is smooth too, with just an occasional rough-edged four-pot sound making itself heard.

What the 3 Series does really well, though, is what it's always done well - make a journey feel that little bit more interesting, engaging and exciting.

It even feels at home on the mighty Nürburgring race track. BMW let us loose for a couple of laps and, while a soaking wet 'Ring might not be the natural home for a four-cylinder saloon, the 330i leapt up to the challenge, getting hilariously sideways at times, but always feeling controllable, enjoyable and loveable.

OK, so we still need to see what it looks like without the disguise, we need to see some prices and we need to see how the rest of the range shapes up. But on the basis of this single model and this brief test, it looks very much as if the new 3 Series is rolling back into town, looking to snatch back its sports saloon crown from the likes of the Mercedes C-Class, Audi A4 and Alfa Giulia.

Verdict

One wonders if it will all matter? BMW and its engineers have clearly put in the hard yards here, when it came to develop the new 3 Series, and thus far, the car feels the equal of those efforts, but will anyone really care in a market that's gone SUV-nuts? Hopefully, yes, and the fact that BMW still managed to shift 400,000 3 Series last year, in the model's runout, bodes well. This is a car that deserves to get the widest audience possible, a car of pretty rare talent and driver enjoyment. BMW might be getting good at building SUVs itself, but from the way this car feels, and the way its engineers talk, the new 3 Series is still the heart of the company.


Neil Briscoe - 15 Aug 2018









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2019 BMW G20 3 Series prototype. Image by Uwe Fischer.2019 BMW G20 3 Series prototype. Image by Uwe Fischer.2019 BMW G20 3 Series prototype. Image by Uwe Fischer.2019 BMW G20 3 Series prototype. Image by Uwe Fischer.2019 BMW G20 3 Series prototype. Image by Uwe Fischer.

2019 BMW G20 3 Series prototype. Image by Uwe Fischer.2019 BMW G20 3 Series prototype. Image by Uwe Fischer.2019 BMW G20 3 Series prototype. Image by Uwe Fischer.2019 BMW G20 3 Series prototype. Image by Uwe Fischer.2019 BMW G20 3 Series prototype. Image by Uwe Fischer.








 

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