After a 45 year stint at the top of the sports sedan game, BMW is ready to shake things up. But it has to do so with tender hands as the 3 series is almost worshipped by loyalists and rivals alike. So, with enough market research to fill out a state library with paperwork, the BMW suits have decided to add 110mm to the revered chassis of the 3 series, thereby giving birth to the first-ever long-wheelbase (LWB) 3 series sedan!
Currently sold only in China, the made-in-India version has revisions made for our markets specifically and will be available with the two staple engines - 330Li with a 258bhp/400Nm petrol engine and the 320Ld diesel which produces 190bhp/400Nm and is my test mule for this drive impression.
Almost identical to the regular 3er from the front and rear, it’s only the long-ish rear doors that give any hints to this being the LWB version. The additional 43mm of legroom might not sound like a lot, but it changes the very demographic this car is aimed at. It gently nudges you to try out the back seat, something none of its predecessors dared to and it does pay off. BMW has reprofiled the rear bench for better under-thigh support, improved padding and even a new armrest with brilliantly over-engineered cupholders.
And the legroom...well there is more than enough of it and despite the transmission tunnel, you could squeeze in a tiny human in the middle and head into the horizon. Up in the front, you get the usual driver-centric dashboard layout and while it may look similar to every other modern Bimmer, in the 2 and 3 Series, it excels at creating a great view out of the windscreen. The low-set and sloping dash has a 10.25in touchscreen sticking out but is so well located that it never hinders the view outside no matter how low you prefer to set the driver's seat.
Quality of materials and even the choice of colours is fantastic, bettering even the new Audi A4 in palpable refinement. Its mix of satin-finished aluminum with oak-grain open-pore wood trim offsets beautifully with the piano black plastic bits and the two-toned dashboard. Even if your other car is a RR Ghost, you won’t complain about anything spending a day in the 320Ld!
Glimmer in the Bimmer
All the tech that makes a modern BMW so likeable is present and even some that is not so likeable. But, a great new addition is the support for Android Auto along with the existing wireless Apple CarPlay. Wireless charging, USB-C and USB-A ports, a more conversational voice assistant that has improved enormously since the first generation and an authoritative-sounding 16-speaker Harman Kardon audio system round off the infotainment bit. One of the best new BMW party tricks has been the Reversing assistant that remembers the last 50mts of its trajectory into a parking spot and can retrace its path without any driver intervention. It’s standard on all the new LWB versions and takes courage to trust but work it does. But being a 3 series, it’s definitely more fun driving forward and with an enhanced suspension with active damper elements that perfectly straddle the line between comfort and sportiness. The steering is sharp, smooth and direct with perfectly judged weight for spirited driving while the chassis is eager to assist in changing direction rapidly. But it’s the way it soaks up surface imperfections that is impressive, even with retaining so much of the famed 3 series sportiness.
Driven in isolation, it doesn’t let out any clues to its allegiance to Dachshunds as opposed to Boxers, but the keenest of purists might notice the added heft. Yet, it’s not stark enough a difference to diss the very concept of having a LWB 3 Series and that means the elves from Munich have made something that is worthy of wearing the badge. With minimal turbo lag and refinement levels that from the cabin, are no different than petrol, this diesel engine is a genuine mile muncher with its range, power and linear torque curve.
Par for the course now, a mix of active and passive safety tech keeps this 320Ld as current as possible with radar-guided, sat-nav assisted cruise control that always keeps the car in the right gear even when negotiating an uphill section or even manage engine coasting, for example. There are some quirks that are typical to the 12.3 digital instrument cluster though that make it hard to get used to. For one, the Google Map data from CarPlay or Android Auto from the main screen doesn’t sync with the navigation on the instrument cluster, so eventually you still have to refer to the main screen. There is nothing else you can display in the central area of the digital instrument cluster, so you’re stuck with native navigation that you may use or not.
The rev counter still confuses with its mirrored layout that just feels unnecessary and the album art from the media you’re playing still bleeds into the rev counter...weird. Thankfully, the resolution of the screen is clean and crisp and along with tasteful ambient lighting, acoustic glass and a carbon particulate filter, behind the wheel there’s always a serene and quiet atmosphere.
Like any iconic product, messing with it will bring its share of naysayers and you may want to find reasons to shoot the long-wheelbase 3 series down. But the truth is, it’s a genuinely fantastic car to be transported in now and not just due to the added rear space, but also the tweaks to its suspension system. The fact that it still drives, stops and changes direction like a proper 3 series is only the icing on the cake!