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First Drive: BMW’s 3 Series lives up to its predecessor’s reputation


What is it?

In terms of new car introductions, a replacement for the BMW 3 Series is a pretty big one. The 3 is, after all, one of the firm’s biggest sellers, not only in terms of private buyers but fleet users too. Since the 3’s introduction in 1975, BMW has shifted more than 15 million units worldwide, so this latest model arrives on the market with a fair amount of weight on its shoulders.

The rear of the 3 Series features sharper lines EMBARGO 11/12/2018 11:01 GMT

However, thanks to new engines, a redesigned interior and claimed sharper driving dynamics, this 3 Series should be able to live up to its predecessor’s reputation. We headed to Portugal to see if it can.

What’s new?

BMW has thrown the works at this new 3 Series to ensure it matches up to the likes of Audi’s A4 and the dynamic Alfa Romeo Giulia. As such, an upgraded and lighter chassis resides underneath the car, while a wider track and lower centre of gravity combine to help the 3 remain as dynamic as possible.

Sweeping lines appear to take inspiration from the larger 5 Series EMBARGO 11/12/2018 11:01 GMT

The new 3 Series also features A-pillars filled with foam, along with a windscreen made from acoustic glass to aid the car’s overall refinement levels, making it as quiet and as comfortable as possible to ease longer journeys behind the wheel.

What’s under the bonnet?

We got behind the wheel of the 320d – arguably one of BMW’s most popular powertrains available with the 3 Series. It sees a 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel put under the bonnet, sending 187bhp and 400Nm of torque to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox. BMW claims that it’ll return 67.3mpg combined, while emitting an impressively low 110g/km CO2.

Performance will be brisk enough for most, with a claimed 0-60mph time of 6.9 seconds and a 149mph top speed both on par for the segment. Those after a little more performance will likely opt for the punchier 330i petrol, which complements the diesel when the car goes on sale next March.

Our test car was also fitted with M-Sport suspension, which offers a drop in ride height for a sharper cornering experience. An adaptive suspension setup will also be available at launch.

What’s it like to drive?

The 3 Series, throughout its various incarnations, has always been able to offer whoever was behind the wheel an involving and dynamic drive – even relatively subdued versions such as this humble 320d. Does this latest car do the same? In conclusion, yes – however, it does so in quite a different way to 3 Series of old.

The rear of the 3 Series is sharper than before EMBARGO 11/12/2018 11:01 GMT

The steering feels reasonably quick compared with the outgoing car, and although there’s the familiar lack of feel that we’ve come to expect from modern cars, it’s still a wonderfully easy car to pilot through the bends. It’s backed up by a surprising lack of body roll, and despite the ride being relatively firm at low speeds, it settles down at higher ones.

The one thing that stood out was the overall sense of refinement. The cabin is kept hushed at almost all speeds, thanks to the increase in soundproofing throughout the car, as well as the acoustic windscreen – although our car was fitted with optional acoustic side windows too.

How does it look?

It’s undeniably a 3 Series to look at in some areas – the big kidney grilles remain, as do the slightly flared arches. In many places it appears like a 5 Series that’s been put through a hot wash – the front air intakes bear a striking resemblance to the larger car’s, as do the headlights. Overall, it’s a pretty design and one that is perfectly in proportion. It does appear to be quite colour-dependent, however. The striking blue some of our test cars were finished in gave the car a lot of impact, while white versions tended to blend into the background.

The 320d has historically been one of the most popular 3 Series powertrains EMBARGO 11/12/2018 11:01 GMT

You can upgrade the look of your car with a range of M-Performance parts, with intricate alloy wheel designs and more prominent splitters available to give your 3 Series a more dynamic look. In truth, we’d argue that it looks great without any additions, though.

What’s it like inside?

BMW has evidently worked hard to make the interior of the 3 Series as high-quality as possible. There are premium materials to be found throughout the cabin, and though some of the switches around the gearstick feel a touch low-rent, it’s a very pleasant place to be. The seating position remains spot-on, just as it always has in the 3 – something we’re very pleased about.

The cabin of the 3 Series is well made EMBARGO 11/12/2018 11:01 GMT

A change we’re not so pleased about, however, comes in the form of the dials. Traditionally an area in which BMW has been king, the complex new digital display replaces the older 3’s beautifully clear readouts. It’s nowhere near as easy to read, and makes even checking your speed or fuel levels a lot trickier than it needs to be.

What’s the spec like?

With the fleet market making up a lot of the previous-generation 3 Series’ sales, the new version needs a decent level of standard equipment to make it a more appealing prospect to business users. Fortunately, BMW has delivered in this respect. Base-spec SE cars benefit from 17-inch alloy wheels as standard, along with adaptive LED headlights, heated front seats and a reversing camera, among other options.

A new button layout features in the cabin of the 3 Series EMBARGO 11/12/2018 11:01 GMT

Our car came with larger 18-inch wheels, as well as an electric glass sunroof and BMW’s LaserLight headlights. That last feature is one we’d thoroughly recommend, as they provide a superb amount of visibility at night.


The BMW 3 Series needed to be good. Competitors such as the Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class both offer the premium driving experience that drivers are after in this segment, and the BMW had to deliver that along with the all-important dynamic driving style that its name has been built on.

Fortunately, it has delivered, both in terms of the way it drives and the way it’s been put together. Both inside and out, the 3 Series feels like the rounded and accomplished product that it’s always been, and there’s little doubt this latest model will be just as successful as the one it replaces.

  • Model: BMW 320d Sport
  • Price: £33,610
  • Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel
  • Power (bhp): 187
  • Torque (Nm): 400
  • Max speed (mph): 149
  • 0-60mph: 6.9s
  • MPG: 67.3
  • Emissions (g/km): 110