Early Drive: 2019 BMW 3 Series

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Neil Briscoe gets an early drive of the all-new, high-technology 3 Series in prototype form, to find out what’s in store for the next generation of the fleet stalwart.

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The Ultimate Driving Machine?

The new 3 Series uses the same platform as the X3 and 5 Series, essentially comprising common hard-points and the electrical architecture. It will be around 55kg lighter, model-for-model, than the outgoing car, but slightly bigger outside and in. Under the tape, the styling also appears to have changed quite a bit — including much slimmer headlights and a more sculpted rear end.

So far, we’ve only had the chance to drive a 330i, both on public roads and on the Nürburgring race track, but initial impressions are little short of excellent. The new electrically-boosted steering has exceptional feel and feedback, more akin to an old hydraulic power steering rack, and the chassis has a safe, but still playful, balance that allows you to exploit it even on a streaming wet day. One caveat — the ride quality on 19-inch wheels with the optional sports suspension felt too jittery over very poor surfaces.

Alternative Thinking

Four- and six-cylinder diesel and petrol engines will be carried over, but the 316i and 316d will downsize to three-cylinder units, both with sub-100gkm CO2 emissions. At the other end of the range, the 500hp M3 will get water-injection technology to help produce more power, and possibly a mild-hybrid motor which uses the electric motor for overtaking power. BMW will offer xDrive four-wheel drive as an option.

The bigger news is alternative drivetrains. A fully-electric version is in the pipeline, but at least two years away, so for now the lowest-CO2 versions will be a pair of plug-in hybrids. One will be a revised version of the 330e, based on a 2.0-litre engine but offering an 80km electric range, alongside a three-cylinder version which will probably be badged 325e. PHEVs had been a significant share of fleet sales volume in the outgoing car.

New Technology

The new 3 Series will get a full debut at the Paris Motor Show in October, with deliveries due in early 2019. So BMW isn’t talking trim and equipment specifics yet, nor performance figures, but we do know that it’s going to be choosy about how it lets buyers spec their new 3 Series. For instance, if you want to have the optional sporty suspension, then you will have to have the sportier steering rack too — no mixing and matching.

Expect a similar trim structure to the outgoing 3 Series model, with extra safety kit across the range. The cabin, meanwhile, draws heavily on the 7 Series, and gets both the latest version of iDrive (which mixes a rotary controller with a touchscreen) and BMW’s new all-digital instrument panel, which features instruments that sweep around the outside edges of the binnacle.

What we Think:

This is a critical car for BMW, as it hopes to prove that a four-door saloon can still excite buyers in a world of SUVs. The model is one of the brand’s best-sellers globally, but it’s been beaten recently by the likes of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, so needs to hit back hard, as well as deal with a growing band of rivals such as Lexus, Jaguar and Alfa Romeo. Deliveries are set to start early in 2019. NB

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