1. In it's sixth generation, the new 3 Series continues to be the driver of volumes for BMW. In 2011, over 32.4 per cent of all BMWs sold were the 3 Series and its various iterations. The sporty-exec has always been a hit with young professionals and the new one intends to continue the same trend by becoming more relevant to a new generation of 'men in suits'.
2. Longer by 93 mm than the outgoing E90, the new F30 also has a 50 mm longer wheelbase and is taller by 9 mm. Incidentally, the front-track too has improved by 37 mm and the boot gains 20 litres in volume to become 480 litres.
3. The looks may appear evolutionary at first, but a close look reveals a lot of new details. Like the new clamshell hood - ala BMW Z4, the lack of a bulge on the bonnet, instead two, Z4 like creases running from the edge of the kidney grille to the pillars. The headlamps fuse into the kidney grille in an i3/i8 sort of fashion, while the airdam is more in tune with improving efficiency while looking the part.
4. The profile of the car is distinctly 3 Series with the long bonnet and short, stubby tail. The rear is inspired by the 5 and 7 Series with its LED band tail lights, except that there are fewer bands.
5. BMW has tried to make the relatively mass produced 3 Series appeal to all sorts of individuals, which is why it gets three trims - Modern, Luxury and Sport while a fourth M Sport is also in the offing. As the names suggest, they get slightly different front airdams, differently treated kidney grilles and interior colours and trim options. The Sport for instance gets blacked out mirrors, a sportier front air dam, black slats for the kidney grille that are fewer in number than the Modern or Luxury trims. The dials on the inside light up slightly differently, there is a colour coded band between the two halves of the dash and the leather treatment is slightly different too in terms of colour (our test car had red exteriors with black leather seats and red thread double stitching). Every trim gets its own colour coded key to make the car more individualistic.
6. There are lots of improvements on the inside. There is more legroom at the rear (about 15 mm more) and while the seat does continue to have less under-thigh support on first impressions, there is more headroom and kneeroom on offer. The iDrive is even more loaded than before and with BMW Connected Drive, one can access Facebook and Twitter on the go. The GPS system is also linked to the heads-up display, that apart from directions and your current speed also informs you about speed limits and other traffic information. Build quality is good as always, though some of the plastics do appear tacky and slightly poorly finished.
7. Under the hood of the new 3 Series are three engines for the moment. The 320d Efficient dynamics with 163 bhp and the 320d with 184 bhp. Both produce 38.5 kgm of peak torque. The 328i replaces the naturally aspirated straight-six 3.0-litre petrol and produces 245 bhp and 35.3 kgm of peak torque. This motor is a 2.0-litre four-pot motor with a twin scroll turbocharger and has nearly similar performance to the highly revered and outgoing NA straight-six petrol. The 335i rounds it up as the performance 3 for the moment and is identical in all aspects to the motor on the last car. A 316d and 318d will follow in the coming months as will a 320i while a hybrid will arrive next fall with over 340 bhp. An eight-speed automatic is the standard auto transmission across the board while you can also opt for a six-speed manual. For India, expect the 320d and 328i to be offered for the interim.
8. We managed to drive the new 328i and boy does it do a good job. The 2.0-litre turbo motor is strong and you don't exactly miss the straight-six after driving it for sometime, though purists may miss some of the high-strung nature of the six, this one doesn't sound half bad either. While it revs up all the way up to 6800 rpm, the 328i has bags of torque available all the way from 1250 rpm. It translates into tremendous driveability in town. The eight-speed automatic does seem overkill at first, but that alone translates into a 5 per cent fuel saving, before you add the aero bits, improvements in reducing friction etc. The gearbox feels a bit slow on the downshifts and isn't as good as the dual-clutch units found on Audis, but it's nevertheless very good on the upshifts.
9. Four new driving modes are available. EcoPro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+. Eco Pro is linked to the energy regeneration systems and it influences engine managements, shift patterns, throttle responses and power management of electrically operated functions, i.e. it cuts out the air-con and the electrically heated seats sometimes don't function in the quest to save fuel. There is even a display to tell you how many kilometres you've added to your potential range by driving in this mode. The Sport and Sport+ functions influence throttle and damper rates as well as the way the steering tightens. In Sport+, the DSC is completely switched off.
10. The steering is lighter than the previous car and you can immediately feel it while parking or driving at low speeds. Yet, there is good weight and there's feel around the centre. The handling may be a touch less sporty, but the upside is the improved ride quality. A new generation runflat tyre has improved ride quality by making the sidewalls less stiff and to say that it nearly matches the ride of some of its competitors won't be wrong. It no longer feels as firm as the last car and it saves your back the blushes.
11. Deliveries of the new 3 Series in Europe begin in February 2012 while India will probably see the first cars roll out by June-July by which time the right hand drive version will be available. Expect prices to start in the range of Rs 28 to 35 lakh and we assume that both Luxury and Sport trims will be offered.
12. From our first impressions the new 3 Series is an improved car in every way. It's more comfortable, has more features, drives just as well as the last car and is efficient too. It may not be as hardcore as the last car, but it finds a compromise that should keep the 99 percentile happy. It still remains one of the best cars in the world and appreciation doesn't come any better than that.