It’s a strong proposition.
The basic formula here hasn’t changed much. Front engine, rear wheel drive, and near perfect 50:50 weight distribution have defined the 3 Series to date and this one doesn't deviate too far from that script, although BMW has of late been doing rather well in this country with its growing line-up of xDrive all-wheel drive versions. But it’s in standard rear- driven guise that this car really seems to shine in comparison to its compact executive segment rivals. Recent tweaks to the suspension and steering have made this car even more rewarding to drive and the revised manual and automatic gearboxes improve your feeling of connectedness still further.
As before, BMW includes a ‘Drive Performance Control’ system across the range allowing you to change steering and throttle settings (plus on automatic models gearshift timings), to suit the way you want to drive. Specify the ‘Adaptive M Sport suspension’ and the DPC set-up will alter the damping too. Under the bonnet, much has changed, especially in the petrol line-up that now starts with a 136bhp three cylinder 1. 5-litre MINI-derived engine in the base 318i variant. Next up is a fresh in-line four cylinder 2. 0-litre powerplant, developing 184bhp in the 320i and 252bhp in the 330i. There’s also a new six cylinder 3. 0-litre unit in the potent 340i offering 326bhp. Here though, I’m trying on of the 2. 0-litre four cylinder diesel models that most buyers will want. This TwinPower Turbo unit comes in 116, 150, 163 or 190bhp states of tune – I’m trying the 163bhp 320d ED Plus model here, a car capable of up to 74. 3mpg on the combined cycle and as little as 99g/km of CO2. This variant sits below a 3. 0-ltre six cylinder powerplant offering either 258bhp or 313bhp in the top 330d or 335d variants.
The style and aesthetic proportions of a BMW 3 Series are now familiar to almost every business buyer, with classic cues like the kidney grille at the front, the sharp lines of the flanks and the powerful rear end all present and correct. So too the distinctively sculpted long bonnet and set-back passenger compartment, which combine with short front and rear overhangs and a long wheelbase to create the kind of dynamic proportions you’d expect from a BMW. In their own way, all these things are as much a hallmark of this Munich model as its famed perfect 50:50 weight distribution.
There are changes to this improved sixth generation model, though some of the detail tweaks – the broader side air intakes that smarten this more sculptural front bumper for example – are likely to pass you by unless you happened to own the original version of this car. Perhaps more noticeable are these LED ‘eyebrows’ that sit above headlights now positioned a little further apart.
Time to take a seat up-front, where at first glance, little appears to have changed. Look at little closer though and it’s clear that BMW has poured over the details here, the result being a significant lift in perceived quality - and a classier feel.
You still get a proper old-school handbrake and, as usual, the low-slung driving position perfectly places you in front of a grippy three-spoke leather-trimmed multi-function steering wheel. Through it can be viewed a familiar set of clear analogue dials.
Everything else you might need to know has been packed into the many and varied menus of the iDrive infotainment system you view via this 6. 5-inch freestanding control screen that sits on top of the dash and is operable via this circular rotary controller below the gearstick.
BMW has never previously had to work this hard when it came to a mid-term facelift. Indeed, a cursory glance at this improved MK6 model 3 Series might leave you wondering whether they really have. Don’t be deceived. Subtle exterior tweaks hide the significant engineering changes that were necessary to allow this car to keep pace with the new generation rivals it must now compete against in a rejuvenated compact executive segment.
So this revised model delivers more where more was needed - in areas like power, equipment and technology. And less where less was required - in terms of fuel consumption and emissions. Beyond that, wisely, the winning formula has been left largely as it was – which means that if you didn’t previously fancy a 3 Series, you still might not be converted by this one. If, on the other hand, you already had it high on your shopping list, its much improved product and efficiency proposition will be more appealing to you than ever, with the class-leading rear-wheel drive handling dynamics merely the icing on the cake.
In a world where driving can so often be such a mechanical, joyless activity, this BMW remains involving in a way its competitors are struggling to match. In that respect at least, it’s the benchmark it’s always been.