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Bavarian bread and butter. Image by Richard Newton.

Bavarian bread and butter
BMW has given its best-selling 3 Series a mid-life facelift, which is more effective than you might first suspect.

 



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| First Drive | Munich, Germany | BMW 3 Series Saloon |

Entering its 33rd year of production, the BMW 3 Series and its numerous variants have found about 12 million homes to date. It's undoubtedly the company's bread and butter model and one that is relevant to most of our readers too. Some of you may be a little disappointed with the first images of the updated model, as its styling is only subtly different to the outgoing car, but if you know anything about the Bavarian car maker you should know that its process of gentle evolution works.

In the Metal

In isolation, the new car doesn't stand out on the road as anything particularly new, though BMW's designers have been busy tweaking the styling in a bid for a sportier, wider and longer appearance. The rear track has been widened by up to 24mm, with smaller increases at the front also adding to the car's stance. A more aggressive front bumper and sculpted bonnet complement the new headlights, which feature the use of LED technology for a distinctive appearance. The overall effect is somewhere between the previous generation's SE and M Sport models in terms of aggressiveness and the theme is continued in profile with more defined 'character lines' and new side mirrors. You'll notice the rear lights before any of that though, as they take influence from the fan-shaped design of the current 5 Series Saloon. LEDs also feature and the light has a very distinctive graphic at night.

If you think the exterior changes are subtle, you'll need someone to point out what's new about the new 3 Series' interior, especially if your car doesn't have the swanky new iDrive system on board. Some of the trim materials have been upgraded and much of the switchgear is now chrome-trimmed for an added feeling of quality, while detail changes such as new instrument needles and chromed kickplates ensure that the 3 Series maintains its upmarket feel in a market segment full of talented alternatives.

What you get for your Money

BMW UK had not yet announced full pricing details of the new 3 Series. However, we have been told that the new model attracts a modest premium of a few hundred pounds over the outgoing model, despite higher levels of standard equipment. The model range will be vast as ever, from the humble 318i and 318d models to the giant-slaying 335i and 335d. The only major engine update is to the 330d's inline six-cylinder turbodiesel, which allies 241bhp and 384lb.ft of torque with nigh on 50mpg and a respectable 152g/km of CO2.

Driving it

Within ten minutes of setting off in a 335i we easily hit an indicated 150mph on a derestricted autobahn near Munich and the car was utterly composed with acceptable levels of wind and road noise and peerless stability. No wonder the 3 Series copes with our lower speed limits with aplomb. The twin-turbo 3.0-litre petrol engine is unchanged and we wouldn't alter a thing about its wide, usable rev band, where meaningful shove is available at almost any engine speed from 1,500rpm to the redline. It's a gem. The new 330d doesn't fare too badly in comparison though, only lacking the top-end sparkle of the 335i and 335d, but more than making up for it with 384lb.ft of torque accessible from 1,750 - 3,000rpm. It's completely lag free too and sounds great in most situations. This engine will satisfy most drivers most of the time.

That comment could be applied to the driving experience in general in the new BMW 3 Series. The chassis changes are minimal, though the increase in track width should enhance stability and cornering prowess. We found both the 335i and 330d models huge fun in which to string a series of fast corners together in, with a rewarding rear-led stance on powering away from the apex. The new DSC system proved to be remarkably quick-witted too, tidying up the handling in the wet, but without the feeling of loss of forward motion. As you can see from our photographs the system can still be completely disengaged... Acknowledging that few owners of the 3 Series will breach the car's limits, it's an enjoyable car to drive regardless of your pace, though keen drivers will still bemoan the lack of real feedback through the rim of the steering wheel. We also think that the gear shift is still too 'springy', though it's quick enough in action and the brakes are full of feel. A shortage of bad road surfaces on our test route leaves the question of ride comfort unanswered, though it felt good and the body control exemplary for the most part.

Worth Noting

With the arrival of an updated 3 Series we fully expected a few additions to the range, such as the fitment of the 123d's fantastic twin-turbo 2.0-litre diesel to a new 323d model and widespread adoption of the stop-start function. Sadly, neither of these things has happened and though we were not given a definitive reason for the lack of a 323d model it is suspected that it would cost the company more to sell then the six-cylinder 325d version, while production of 2.0-litre turbodiesel engines is also at capacity.

The lack of start-stop in the six-cylinder models is apparently mostly down to the lack of a suitable starting motor (the four-cylinder cars now use the same motor as on the larger engines) and the suspicion that, further up the model range, buyers are less keen on the technology.

Summary

Not even BMW can deny that the updates to its 3 Series are modest. Nonetheless, the exterior and interior tweaks are successful, if subtle, though the highly impressive new iDrive system is not relevant to the majority of buyers. The new 330d engine is, though the 320d model will remain the best-seller in most markets. Fans of the current 3 Series will relish the new car's updates. They know which side their bread is buttered on.

Shane O' Donoghue - 3 Sep 2008









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2008 BMW 3 Series specifications:
Technical specifications for 2008 BMW 3 Series 330d Saloon
Technical specifications for 2008 BMW 3 Series 335i Saloon



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2008 BMW 3 Series saloon. Image by Richard Newton.
 

2008 BMW 3 Series saloon. Image by Richard Newton.
 

2008 BMW 3 Series saloon. Image by Richard Newton.
 

2008 BMW 3 Series saloon. Image by BMW.
 

2008 BMW 3 Series saloon. Image by BMW.
 

2008 BMW 3 Series saloon. Image by BMW.
 

2008 BMW 3 Series saloon. Image by BMW.
 

2008 BMW 3 Series saloon. Image by Richard Newton.
 






 

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