Where once all BMW press communications commenced with the engine (those three letters do, after all, refer to the Bavarian engine works), nowadays it’s the grille. The designers don’t seem to be able to keep their hands off the company’s famous kidney-shaped grille and it has swollen in size with each new model.
We were originally told that this was because the Chinese liked their cars to make more of a statement, but that seems unconvincing especially when you consider cars such as the 3-series, around which just about all other BMWs are based, has built a sterling reputation for being understated and very competent.
More than 16 million sold
Since the launch of the first 3-series in 1975 more than 16 million have been sold around the world and it represents, along with rivals the Mercedes-Benz C-class and Audi A4, the most recognisable German saloon and a bulwark against incoming rivals. Many have tried and singularly failed to take on the 3-series; the road is littered with cars such as the Honda Accord, Saab 9-3, Jaguar’s X-Type and XE and the Mazda6, along with other Japanese and Korean saloons.
You might reasonably point out that BMW’s formidable marketing and finance arms are as much responsible for the success of the 3-series in the UK as any of the car’s inherent qualities but, believe me, there’s not been a bad 3-series. Ever.
This is the facelift of the seventh generation and, yes, they’ve mucked around with the grille and added narrower headlights to match. And, as we enter John Keats’ season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, BMW has seen fit to remove the low-set fog lights, claiming that the main lights are clever enough to deal with the murk – we’re (so far) unable to verify this tendentious statement.
At the rear, there’s a diffuser theme on the valance but it’s still recognisably a 3-series, whether the classic handsome four-door saloon or the five-door estate form of the Touring.
And, as you’d expect of a facelift, it’s pretty much the same size as the outgoing car at 4,713mm long, 1,827mm wide and 1,440mm high, running on a 2,851mm wheelbase.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
Inside is an updated facia with BMW’s new System 8 software, which talks to Apple CarPlay and now Android Auto. Thankfully it retains the capstan controller in the central console, which duplicates the touch controls on the centre screen.
It’s a good system, with separate heater and radio controls and the ability to access quite obscure functions without having to use the touchscreen and find yourself distracted from the road. One function sadly lost, however, is the short-cut button that enabled you to switch off the steering-corrupting lane centring system – it now takes three keystrokes to accomplish.
At launch there are four petrol units including a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and a couple of turbodiesels with mild hybrid assistance. At the top of the range are a couple of BMW Performance models with four-wheel drive.
Great estate: the Touring
The Touring versions cost more (in the case of the M Sport 320d, £1,700 extra), but a lot of thought has been put into the shooting brake.
The active floor, for example, which has rubber strips between polished metal sliders. Once underway the rubber rises by a couple of millimetres, which provides enough friction to hold your luggage in place through corners.
The rear window opens independently of the main hatchback so you can pop a bit extra stuff in there without the luggage pouring out, or Fido making a bid for freedom.
Standard luggage space is 500 litres up to 1,510 litres if you fold the rear seat backs onto their bases, which provides an almost flat load bed and there’s enough room under the floor to store the roller load cover when it isn’t required. It’ll tow a braked trailer up to 1.8 tonnes.
The interior is like being in the saloon version. As ever, the seats are comfortable and supportive and in the back there’s enough leg and head room for up to three adults.
The standard Sport trim has 17-inch wheels and tyres, with LED headlights (adaptive items are an option), heating elements in the front seats, parking sensors and a rear-view camera, as well as a 14.9in touchscreen display. M Sport provides lowered and stiffened suspension, variable ratio steering and 18-inch wheels.
As always, you can add extras (larger wheels, electronic boot lid/hatchback, red brake calipers, adaptive suspension and so on) to your heart’s content and as long as your wallet can stand it. BMW’s xDrive four-wheel drive system is an option on the smaller-engined models.
An illustration of just how fast prices rise when you tarry in the options list was provided by our test car, a standard 320d Touring. Its basic price is £40,600 but in M Sport trim it costs £43,540, to which an additional £7,800 worth of optional packs were piled on, which took the total to £51,340…
The revised 3-series is on sale now with deliveries from this autumn. Prices start at £37,805 for the petrol 320i, rising to £54,805 for the M340i xDrive 4x4.
The turbodiesel estate
The four-cylinder turbodiesel in the 320d punches out 187bhp and 295lb ft of torque, which gives it a 0-62mph acceleration of 7.1sec, a top speed of 143mph and fuel economy at best of 58.9mpg, with CO2 emissions of 127g/km. On a German country road, making brisk progress, the average indicated fuel consumption was 53mpg.
The standard eight-speed automatic gearbox has gearshift paddles and, apart from a tendency in the Sport setting to drive everywhere in a gear lower than you want, is pretty much faultless.
You need to turn off the lane-centring steering to get rid of the slightly gluey feel at the wheel rim, but then the steering is perfectly accurate, with just enough feel to push it through corners, although for some the standard weighting could be a tad light.
The ride is gentle, although I found that the Touring bounced slightly at the rear over regular small bumps when it was unladen. Other than that, the chassis balance is sublime, making a mockery of the claims that an SUV handles like a saloon; it doesn’t.
The Telegraph verdict
In an automotive world where everything is changing, the new 3-series maintains a dignified competence and all-round unflappability. Calm, capable and seemingly well built, the standard models are lively and the faster ones blistering, but all have that BMW approach to efficiency with every single part honed to provide that bit more real-life economy and performance.
In short, 3-series models are like a really well-cut off-the-peg suit; always smart, never out of place and, as long as you don’t get too stuck in the options list, a stretch – but an affordable stretch.
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