BMW 3 Series

Sharper styling and chassis, plus new engines

NATHAN PONCHARD

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

FOR fashionistas, the greatest thing about the updated ‘LCI’ (Life Cycle Impulse) F30 3 Series will be its more glamorous appearance. For others, it’ll appearance. For others, it’ll be the more generous spec levels – in the new 340i’s case, offering $25K greater value than its 335i predecessor of a year ago – while for anyone aspiring to own a propeller-badged product, news that the 318i will start at $54,900 must be like Christmas. For us, however, it’s all down to the re-engineered suspension and two words – adaptive dampers.

Any modern Three’s chassis is beautifully balanced, but the 2012 F30’s fixed-damper suspension tune was underdamped and undeserved. But no more. From 320i and 320d, through new 330i and 340i, every 3 Series gets ‘M Adaptive’ suspension, tuned by BMW’s M Division, that reduces body roll, sharpens steering response and, best of all, transforms body control. Finally, a standard new 3 Series worthy of its ‘driver’s car’ reputation.

There are still four set-ups, however. The forthcoming turbo-triple 318i (due November) is the only model with fixed dampers, but they’re new, with two-way valving and more rigid mounts, combined with revised steering. ‘M Adaptive’ drops the ride height 10mm and adds dampers with adaptive Comfort and Sport modes, while a pair of ‘M Sport’ options also exist – a fixed-damper set-up for 318i (with M Sport pack), and ‘M Sport Adaptive’ for the rest of the range.

In a sign of the times, the base Three wears 18-inch alloys. On the adaptive-damped 320d, you can sense the exaggerated wheel size, but there’s decent ride quality in Comfort mode, combined with competitive refinement and strong performance from its 1995cc 140kW/400Nm turbo-diesel four. But its steering still isn’t crisp enough, and the happy medium for weighting lies somewhere between Comfort and Sport tunes.

The 330i picks up where the old 328i left off, sporting a new-gen 1998cc ‘modular’ turbo-petrol four with 185kW/350Nm and standard 19s. The test car was M Sport equipped, meaning a sportier chassis and a sexier cabin fit-out.

While its revised suspension is bloody good in Comfort mode, its Sport mode is far too stiff for craggy Aussie roads. And the (optional) Variable Sport Steering can feel synthetic and inconsistent when devouring country roads, almost as if it’s tramlining, though it works well on really tight bends.

So, as per usual, the finest 3 Series is one of mixed-option parentage, and in our opinion, it’s currently a 330i manual – possibly a Touring – with stock steering.

But we’re intrigued by the forthcoming 100kW/220Nm threecylinder turbo 318i. Stay tuned. m

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale BMW 330i M Sport 1998cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 185kW @ 5200-6500rpm 350Nm @ 1450-4800rpm 8-speed automatic 1470kg 5.8sec (claimed) 5.8L/100km $72,500 Now

PLUS & MINUS

Synthetic, inconsistent feel of Variable Sport Steering set-up More premium in look and feel; chassis balance; drivetrains; better value

Just one six-pack

THE flagship 340i ($89,900) gives you M Sport standard, as well as the flawed Variable Sport Steering set-up. Its allnew 240kW/450Nm 2998cc turbo six is the new 318i’s donk multiplied, and it’s a cracking unit, despite not sounding quite as seductive as we’d like. Still, it’s a better car than the old 335i, and would be delicious as a sixspeed manual (which is still available to special order).