Every time a new BMW 3 Series comes along, it’s always rather a big deal, and rather a nail-biter as well. You see, a car wearing such a storied and revered badge at such an accessible price point is always going to be a big seller, even if sedans are falling out of fashion, so it’s important that BMW gets this thing right.
And while I wanted to avoid using the same opening line that ever other reviewer out there seems to have, the fact that you can feel just how great a car the all-new G20 3 Series is within 30 seconds of driving it off the showroom floor is so inescapable that it simply has to be mentioned.
German cars have, of course, always been well-regarded for their incredibly solid and reassuring feeling, and while the 3er has in all of its past generations been in keeping with this German penchant, the G20 feels it more than any that have come before it.
I’ve long been a fan of the 3 Series for a number of reasons – so much so that when I bought my first car upon getting my license I knew that I just had to get myself one. And I did – an E46 318i Executive. Sure, it was slow (okay, really slow) but there was a certain something to the way it felt. It’s that balance of luxury and sporting DNA – at least in regards to the way it steered and handled, rather than its straight line speed – that BMW has been associated with for so long.
The same feeling is clear in even older ones than the one I had, with plenty of my friends having owned E30s and E36s over the years for the exact same reason.
But the other key ingredients that help make the 3 Series what it is are a premium veneer both inside and out, and, of course, an added dash of fun. It’s that drop of Tabasco that really makes the dish, and the beautifully crafted piece of china that its served on. And when it comes to this new model, it certainly presents itself as one tasty dish.
Right off the bat, it’s got the perfect look – go for an interesting colour like the blue hue of my tester and it looks sporty, aggressive, and stands out; go for a standard shade from the typical German rainbow of black, grey, and white and it’ll look discreet and flies under the radar.
Unlike some other cars in BMWs current range – cough cough, 7 Series – the signature kidney grill is just the right size to give it some presence while not overpowering the rest of its handsome nose, meaning it’s a real looker from all angles, as the rest of the classic 3 Series shapes are there from the side and rear.
The new-generation interior is equally striking, too, with it feeling like a solid evolution of what the outgoing model presented.
All the positive attributes remain, like the crystal-clear displays and straightforward, driver-oriented layout, but are all updated significantly, with new graphics for the iDrive system and gauge cluster (including an Aston Martin-style reverse tacho), a clever new positioning of the climate control screen between the centre air vents, and refined and redesigned switchgear.
Everything has a certain sense of quality to it that feels a cut above the norm, from the top-notch materials to the plush carpets and the feeling of the buttons that lie in-between. As such, it’s a pretty fantastic place to spend time chewing up motorway miles.
And not only is the cockpit well-laid-out, but the whole interior space is utilised rather well. Compared to the outgoing model – and to my old E46 – in regards to the previously tight rear leg room, this new model feels far more commodious now if you’re the last to call shotgun.
Go for the 320d like I had on test and you’ll find a familiar 2.0-litre turbo diesel four-pot under the bonnet, which despite being common throughout the BMW range (I’ve previously tested it in the current 5 Series and X4) still manages to stand out as a fantastic little power plant.
With 140kW and 400Nm on tap, it’s not exactly the most powerful thing in the world, but what power it does make is easily accessible and it feels far less strained than you’d imagine when you’re wringing its neck. It doesn’t sound strained at all, either, as from behind the wheel the noise intrusion from it is minimal. Sure, there’s a hint of that typical clatter to be heard from outside the car on idle, but inside it you’d be forgiven for forgetting that it did indeed run on something as crude and repulsive as diesel.
It’s not like it needs much of the stuff to run it, either. A notoriously frugal engine that has given me good returns in the other models I’ve previously tested it in, I saw my best return from it yet in the 3er – an indicated 6.2L/100km, which is mighty impressive given the spirited manner I often drove this thing in, and even if it is more than the 4.5L/100km claim.
And on the topic of spirited driving, the 3 Series certainly feels to have been built with the old Ultimate Driving Machine motto kept in mind. The ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission is as good as a torque converter gets, with rapid shifts, smooth operation, and it being so good at choosing the right gear at the right time that you never want to use the paddle shifters as leaving it to its own devices is the best way to let it operate.
Plus, even though it might have an open differential, the fact that the 3 Series has remained rear-wheel drive at a time when the 1 Series is moving things forward means it drives with a certain swagger that comes from its balanced, confident, and reassuring feeling from behind the wheel.
With the M Sport package being standard for the Australian market, meaning things like bigger wheels, firmer steering, and adaptive dampers are all standard, it feels every bit a driver’s car – even with the diesel mill up front. It handles with that classic 3 Series poise, turning in sharply but without it ever feeling too firm, which owes to its excellent ride quality, which is both absorbent and informative.
While it’s not like the 3 Series has at any point been a bad car, this new one blows all that have come before it out of the water. The technology is better, the way it drives is better, the looks are spot on, and the overall package simply feels a cut above your average saloon car.
If it weren’t for the vast number of options that can quickly drive up the price, I’d be saying that the $67,900 price tag feels like the right sort of number to have up in the window as well, but given the fact that no one will ever actually pay so little for one – and the fact my tester came in at $82,000 and didn’t even have heated seats – means it will still retain that certain sense of prestige that it carries in markets like ours.
Pricing aside, however, and this 320d is a fantastic thing that feels true to the values and history of both the brand and the model itself. Luxurious, solidly-built, and still surprisingly fun if you go for this ultra-efficient diesel, it honestly feels like all the car anyone could ever really want for. There are no glaring omissions or design faults of any kind here – just one all-around great car. And that’s exactly what the 3 Series always has been.
2019 BMW 320d M Sport List Price: $67,900 | As Tested: $82,000
Pros: Drives just like a 3 Series should, one of the best-looking BMWs right now, solid build quality
Cons: Expensive options can diminish the value proposition, sedans aren’t exactly on-trend right now
In a nutshell: The new 3er is still one of the best all-rounders you’ll come across, as it truly does it all.
Full Disclosure: BMW Australia lent us the car for this review for a week with a full tank of diesel. All additional fuel costs were covered by the author. Additionally, our friends at MPF Detailing gave it a complimentary express detail for us prior to our photoshoot.
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