Think BMW and more often than not, visions of the 3 series sedan come to mind. The all-new, seventh-generation car landed on Indian soil this month and we took an exclusive first drive. Interested?
If ever a family car had to grace any teenage boy’s bedroom wall, it would’ve been the 3 series. Either in 325i everyday guise or the rowdy M3 spec, the 3 has been BMW’s go-to model for four decades, and now we have a new version of the icon. Although the one we drove for this test was a pedestrian 320d, it is still a significant upgrade over the last generation. It’s built on a new platform and hence it’s longer, wider and with more room at the back—thanks to its longer wheelbase. In fact, it’s almost as big as the previous generation 5 series, but that’s a trend prevalent up and down BMW’s order these days.
Looks won’t kill
Styling is sharper, and tidier, but without upsetting the overall profile of the 3 series. That would be riskier than toying with Sallu bhai’s physique for a new movie. Why mess with your money maker, right? So you get a bolder face with wider, bigger kidneys, LED headlights that have a stronger profile and a contoured lower line like on the E46-era 3 series and taut muscle on the sides flowing into a slightly bland back. But the 3D-effect tail lights brighten things a little. The 17in wheel design on our test mule weren’t the most desirable either, so the 330i would fare better if you’re looking to make a real statement.
It may look like the same-old oil burner on paper, but the 190bhp engine has been given an added dose of refinement. It still likes to rev and is well mated to the 8-speed auto box for hardly any turbo lag. It’s a strong, reliable engine that has proven itself over countless Bimmers until now and should form the mainstay of this entry-level 3 Series range too. It’s not exciting but fun enough for occasional tail wags if you time the corner right and keep the engine in the meat of its power band. Previous iterations have been known to be either too stiff or softer than pork belly. But this one just nails it. Imperfections are dealt with authority, keeping side-to-side body movements to a minimum with a luxurious suppleness that feels expensive. There’s no air suspension or adjustable dampers on this model but the steel springs are so well judged, it makes you scratch your head. That ride hasn’t robbed it of its playful character either. Show it a set of corners and it attacks them without any dive or loosening. Grip is tenacious and steering is sharp. Not as communicative as earlier gen cars, but still one of the best in the segment.
There are drive modes that affect the steering weight, transmission shift times and throttle response and the difference is perceivable between Eco, Comfort and Sport, as you’d expect.
Familiar bits on the inside can mean a good thing since the only way you go from here is up (5 and 7 series). Knurled knobs, glossy wood and matte chrome all add a premiumness to the cabin, but there’s nothing exciting or radical here. They’re just…well...new. The layered dash does create a nice, modern feel inside the cabin, of course helped by the twin screens that make up the digital instrument cluster and the infotainment panel. Like with most modern BMWs, the infotainment is a 12.3in touchscreen, but also gets the latest v7.0 of its famed iDrive OS that can be controlled by the rotary dial in the centre console. The 10in instrument cluster could be better used in terms of colour schemes and more clear information. It’s split into three parts — speedo on the left, maps in the centre and a rev counter on the right with no way to change what else you can see in the central area.
You can also use voice commands for the first time in a 3 series. ‘Hey BMW’ is the new wake word for your in-car virtual assistant who also has a sense of humour. Try asking it for a joke and it opens up the Sport displays, urging you to try out some spirited driving! It isn’t the best at Indian addresses, but simple commands like AC and media work well via voice.
The 320d doesn’t come with any optional parking assistants or enhanced hi-fi, but even in the basic form, the audio quality is commendable — thanks to the well-placed speakers and high structural rigidity that lets the music shine. Not visible, but the BMW boffins have packed the door cavities with super insulant acoustic material and made the windshield out of acoustically-glazed glass. All of it making for an eerily quiet cabin for a diesel car. Very impressive.
Increasing the overall length by 76mm and wheelbase by 41mm means the back seats are actually usable by adults on long journeys. There are also additional twin USB-C ports for the back benchers so no more battery anxiety for anyone in the car! The seats are well-cushioned and supportive, and fully powered. But we do wish there were adjustable thigh extensions like on some of the other rivals and although a small miss, it aids in long-distance comfort immensely.
Photo Credit: Autocar India.
If you like being behind the wheel, the first thing you appreciate is the seating position and the view out of the windshield. The well-laid out instruments and screens and the low slung dashboard ensures the visibility is outstanding and you always feel in command. The 3-series is just such a nice spot to be in as a driver. The 320d won’t be the choice for enthusiasts, but it does a brilliant job of a fun-to-drive, frugal daily commuter. Just wish it had more panache and presence, but even in the bog-standard 320d guise, BMW ensures there are smiles while driving and refinement while being driven.