BMW 3 Series (2019) Launch Review

BMW3 6

The eagerly-awaited G20-generation BMW 3 Series has been launched in South Africa. The 3 is BMW's bread-and-butter model, which means it was critical for the Bavarian brand to build on the strengths of its business class sedan (as well as address the F30's shortcomings). Does BMW's newcomer now stand well clear of its rivals? Read on... 

What's changed?

Following on from the successful F30, the BMW (G20) 3 Series offers 50:50 weight distribution, a lower centre of gravity and a wider front track. Apart from notable mechanical changes, the 3's wheelbase is a tad longer, which benefits interior space, and the newcomer is based on the brand's CLAR platform, which has led to increased body rigidity (torsional stiffness). The design is unmistakably BMW, mostly due to the imposing grille and striking side profile. The look is upmarket and smart, and when adorned with large rims and an eye-catching paint finish, the new 3 looks the part!

BMW sold in excess of 15 million units of the G20's predecessors, therefore it's imperative that it continues the 3 Series' tremendous run of form. The German manufacturer is claiming its 8th consecutive year of record sales and is predicting a similar performance for 2019...

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The new-look 3 Series is unmistakably BMW, yet shows off an advanced look

South African 3 Series strategy

Sadly, South Africa no longer produces the 3 Series (the E30, E36, E46, E90 and F30 generations rolled off the line in Rosslyn). The G20 is sourced from BMW Group's plants in Munich, as well as San Luis Potosi, Mexico. BMW now produces the X3 executive SUV on local soil, however. 

From launch, there are 2 derivatives available: a 320d and a 330i. From September 2019, the BMW 3 Series line-up will be expanded with the introduction of a 320i, M340i xDrive, and 330d. The introduction of a plug-in hybrid 330e is unconfirmed at this stage. There has been no confirmation from BMW in terms of the ETA of the M3, but we estimate a reveal in 2019, with a South African market introduction in 2020.

The BMW 3 Series has always been referred to as the dynamic leader in the luxury sedan segment and the G20 simply has to deliver.

Engine line-up

We had the opportunity to sample both the petrol-powered 330i and turbodiesel 320d. Long gone are the days when a 30i designation meant there was a straight 6 under the bonnet... Instead, the 330i is powered by a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged mill, assembled using BMW's modular engine architecture. Power is rated at a healthy 190 kW and 400 Nm, which is sufficient to sling this Bavarian from 0 to 100 kph in a claimed 5.8 seconds. The diesel-powered 320d is a brisk performer with its 140 kW and 400 Nm, and will achieve the same sprint benchmark in a claimed 6.8 seconds.

Both variants are driven by their rear wheels and power is channelled to the tarmac via an 8-speed automatic transmission. Now in its 3rd iteration, the ZF-sourced transmission has received updates in the form of shorter gearing for the lower ratios, faster shift times, and an improvement in overall refinement. Fear not, the satisfying thud as you click through the gears using the steering wheel-mounted paddles has been retained.

While the engines are not all-new, BMW claims they've been refined and deliver more power and torque, reduced fuel consumption and emissions, and are physically lighter. Speaking of fuel consumption, the 330i is said to consume 6.4 L/100 km, but the 320d is your economy champion, with a claim of just 4.6 L/100 km. Granted, we were pressing on during our test route and didn't use the Economy mode, yet we still achieved mid-5s.

The digital dashboard is a massive step up for BMW and we love this look!

The cabin and tech

One area in which BMW really needed to improve dramatically on the F30-generation 3 Series was the business-class sedan's cabin execution. Outgunned by the Audi A4 with its Virtual Cockpit digital instrumentation and solidly-made, minimalist layout, as well as the technology on offer in the revised Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the outgoing 3 Series' cabin felt underwhelming and outdated. This has changed and now we'd argue that BMW has taken the digital dashboard concept and leapfrogged its rivals to boot. The traditional round dials have been replaced by some fresh and modern looking gauges and while our OCD was mildly tweaked by the idea of a counter-clockwise rotating rev counter, it really looks the part. 

The cabin is well finished and luxurious

On the centrally-mounted infotainment screen, you're likely to immediately notice the all-new (7.0) user interface. Looking decidedly like (and offering a user experience akin to) a tablet device, it's clearly meant to woo tech-savvy users. The system boasts gorgeous graphics, a slick, intuitive interface and is receptive to both touch inputs and gestures, which means you can change tracks and adjust the volume by moving your left hand. A fair degree of semi-autonomous driving tech has been introduced as well, and while you can take your hands off the wheel for a few seconds and the car will automatically accelerate/brake and follow the road, the tech is still in its infancy and best used on highways (with clear road markings).

The cabin receives a massive makeover and can no longer be accused of being stale

What's it like to drive?

For decades, an engaging driving experience has been part and parcel of 3 Series ownership – we'd even go so far as to say it was a pillar of its success. While most premium-badged sedans in the market have prioritised luxury and comfort above all else, BMW maintained there had to be a fair degree of sportiness to the "3 Series driving experience", but without overtly impacting on comfort. As a result, the 3 has always been a suitably premium sedan with a rear-wheel-drive layout (in SA), a spirited engine, and suspension- and steering configurations tuned to facilitate dynamism.

Everything has been meticulously thought through, both inside and out

The good news for prospective buyers of the G20 3 Series is that BMW's business-class sedan is still a capable and spirited performer. Even in something as simple as a 320d, you can make the most of the punchy engine, which sounds most unlike a turbodiesel, by the way... BMW's engineers have all but dialled that nasty diesel clatter we've come to associate with oil-burners. With a wider track at the front and notably sharp steering, the car responds beautifully and the steering is reassuringly direct. The 'wheel rim itself is still a tad too thick for our liking, however. 

Switch from Comfort to Sport, and the steering firms up nicely. The Comfort setting makes the 'wheel's action nicely light for town driving, which we appreciate, but when you feel like wielding the 3 at pace (and you will), the Sport mode adds a weightier feel to the tiller. Grip levels are impressive; we frequently found ourselves approaching personal limits long before the car showed signs of losing grip, which speaks volumes of the sedan's inherent handling balance. Also, thanks to the 50:50 weight distribution and sporty suspension, the car feels agile and eager to respond to inputs.

Pick your tyres and wheel size carefully, as they can affect the ride quality. Or invest in the adaptive dampers.

The G20-generation 3 Series' general on-road refinement is good too, but we did notice something on our evaluation drive. The 330i demonstration unit was fitted with the M Sport suspension and shod with bigger wheels, which were, predictably, wrapped in low-profile rubber. On excellent quality smooth tarmac, the newcomer's ride quality is superb. However, on poor tarmac, which is rutted or cracked (or has tree roots burrowing underneath it), you'll feel some harsh jolts through the cabin. The ride is firm, so be mindful when speccing your wheels and although we haven't sampled it, we'd suggest ticking the options box for adaptive damping. There was also a fair amount of road noise, but that is a tyre issue, not a 3 Series one.

Is this the best business class sedan?

The pervading impression that the G20 instils is one of accomplishment. It seems everything (inside and out) about the 3 Series was meticulously thought out and engineered. Because the product brief for the new 3 Series was so... pernickety, ostensibly every decision affecting its development was finely calculated (almost as if with minimal emotional attachment). One does not simply mess with the formula for BMW's bread-winner model... 

We spent a considerable amount of time behind the wheel of the BMW 320d and 330i. 320d is our pick for now.

While we're really excited by the prospect of driving the M340i xDrive and, eventually, M3 derivatives of the G20-generation BMW 3 Series, we're happy to report that the volume-selling versions are more than capable of delivering driver-focused thrills, irrespective of their trims or powerplants. We have particularly fond memories of the 320d, which gently carved through some gorgeously-crafted ribbons of asphalt of the Western Cape. 

At times, we've encountered halo model derivatives that completely overshadow their base-spec brethren (we see you, Alfa Romeo Giulia), but, even though we've yet to sample the next-generation M3, which is still a while away, or a production version of the M340i xDrive (it'll come to SA later in 2019), even the 320d is an admirable driving tool. And, as for its petrol-powered 330i sibling? While we did enjoy the linear power delivery of the 330i's smooth motor, we're pretty certain the best efficiency is to be had with the oil-burning derivative. Incredibly, they retail for the same price. 

Given the advances to the popular Mercedes-Benz C-Class (traditionally, an arch-rival to the 3 Series), we thought we'd have a bit of a closer fight on our hands, but if first impressions are anything to go by, the Three-pointed Star has its work cut out for it when we eventually do the comparison test. We've yet to sample the facelifted version of the Audi A4, but it now seems a bit staid and sterile compared with the G20. You can bet Benz, Audi and other premium marques are hard at work trying to develop next-generation models that will match the G20. The 3 Series is back, and how.

Its a big leap for the 3 Series and an even bigger leap for the segment. 

BMW 3 Series Price in South Africa (March 2019)

BMW 330i

Standard Model                     R649 000
Sport Line Model                   R672 600
M Sport
Model                       R697 400
Sport Line Launch Edition     R664 000
M Sport
Launch Edition         R694 000

BMW 320d

Standard Model                     R649 000
Sport Line Model                   R672 600
M Sport
Model                       R696 400
Sport Line Launch Edition     R664 000
M Sport
Launch Edition         R694 000

Further Reading

BMW 3 Series (2019) International Launch Review (w/video)

The new BMW M340i: Your budget-friendly M3

BMW 3 Series (2019) International Prototype Drive