BMW 3 Series

Has BMW done enough with this vital update?

ALEX INWOOD

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

THIS is one of the most important cars BMW will launch this year, and not just because the 3 Series is the brand’s most popular model worldwide.

The F30 range, originally released in 2012, now faces stiff competition from newer rivals like the Mercedes C-Class, all-new Audi A4 and incoming Jaguar XE and Alfa Giulia. So this mid-life update needs to be good.

Visually, though, changes are minor. Up front are new LED running lights and optional full- LED headlights (a 3 Series first), while a tweaked bumper sports larger air intakes for a wider and more aggressive look. At the back, a new bumper includes LED taillights arranged in BMW’s latest L-shaped design.

Inside are lashings of highgloss plastics and chrome, plus new ambient lighting. Oh, and the central cupholders now get a lid.

Where BMW has really upped the ante is under the bonnet.

Every engine bar the six-pot diesels are new, with the entrylevel 318i now powered by a 100kW/200Nm three-cylinder petrol. It’s the same unit already used by Mini, or if you’re boasting to your mates at the pub, the one found in BMW’s i8 sports car, and it brings a 0.5L/100km fuel saving and lowers the 318i’s 0-100km/h time by 0.1sec.

Performance junkies will be most interested in the rangetopping 340i sampled here. It replaces the old 335i and its new 240kW/450Nm turbo 3.0-litre six is a gem. Smooth, strong and with a rorty exhaust note, it feels wonderfully linear, yet deliciously torquey from below 2000rpm.

A recalibrated, silky-smooth eight-speed automatic completes the drivetrain.

All three grades (Standard, M Sport and Adaptive) boast stiffer suspension, revised damping and fettled steering to provide sharper dynamics while improving body control and ride comfort. And the results are positive, at least on suspiciously smooth roads in Austria where the ride felt controlled and compliant. Another welcome addition is an increased difference between Comfort and Sport on Adaptive models.

Letting the package down is the optional ‘Variable Sport’ steering, which when matched to the 340i’s sporty 18-inch Michelins feels inconsistent and artificial off centre.

Disappointing steering aside, the new 3 Series is more than just fresh tinsel on an old tree.

New engines that provide greater efficiency and new technology broaden its appeal. And, while its visual changes are hardly groundbreaking, they do result in a sharper, more aggressive look to give the 3 Series facelift the showroom sizzle it needs against newer rivals.

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale BMW 340i 2998cc 6cyl, dohc, 24v, turbo 240kW @ 5500-6500rpm 450Nm @ 1380-5000rpm 8-speed automatic 1530kg 5.1sec (claimed) 6.8L/100km (EU) $90,000 (estimated) October

PLUS & MINUS

Artificial steering; only minor visual changes Sharper dynamics; improved ride; creamy turbo six in 340i

Three pots rock

BMW says it has no concerns about the sales potential of a three-cylinder 3 Series, expecting buyers to embrace, not reject, the smaller engine.

“There’s no doubt in our minds given we have a three-cylinder engine that’s selling really well in other models and it still provides excellent performance and better efficiency,” BMW Australia communications manager Lenore Fletcher said.

“We actually expect it to be a shining light, with no power-to-weight issues.

Three-cylinder engines are now accepted in Australia.

The mindset of ‘I need a big engine’ is long gone.”

SPOT THE DIFFERENCE

Use the free viewa app to scan this page to see the 3 Series in action.