The 3 Series may no longer be BMW’s ultimate fleet machine – that accolade is now the preserve of the 1 Series – but it remains a cornerstone of the BMW empire. 

Over the last 40 years more than 15 million units have been sold worldwide, and at one point the 3 Series accounted for 30% of BMW’s total production.

That said, more recent years haven’t been quite so stellar. 

With the company seemingly distracted by mass expansion – the last time we looked there were a staggering 23 different body styles in the portfolio – and appearing to display a relative indifference to 3 Series development, too many rivals have been allowed to catch up and cash in.

Ringing the changes

No doubt stung into action by this less than ideal situation, the latest 3 Series has been assigned a new platform, which is stiffer, wider, stronger and yet considerably lighter than its predecessor. 

This substantial investment has also given engineers the potential to re-establish the 3 Series as the ultimate driving machine in its class. 

It is clear they have grabbed that opportunity with both hands, as the body roll control, grip levels and fluid steering reactions of the new model are all impeccably tuned. What is more, none of this agility has been achieved by robbing Peter to pay Paul, with impressive wind and road noise isolation combining to provide excellent cruising refinement. 

The ride quality is undoubtedly on the firm side, and we’ve yet to experience the car on home soil or fitted with standard, stiff-walled, run-flat tyres, but there is a fluidity to the suspension that suggests things will stack up soundly when the first cars arrive here in March.

BMW_320d _Sport _Line class=

Potent powertrain

Of all the models in the line-up, the 320d will offer especially strong appeal to UK business users. At its heart lies an all-new four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel engine that’s compact, lightweight and uses a combination of high-pressure fuel injection and a pair of sequential turbochargers to produce 190hp and 295lb-ft of torque. To put those figures in perspective, not so very long ago you needed to spec your 3 Series with a 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine to gain similar levels of performance.  

It’s not only performance where the new engine apes six-cylinder accomplishment. A wee bit of chatter does emanate from under the bonnet at low rpms and a smidgen of vibration transitions through the floor at higher revs, but in every other respect the engine is impressively smooth and devoid of harsh vibrations. 

The engine can also be linked to ZF’s ubiquitous eight-speed automatic gearbox, which was co-developed by BMW and the transmission giant’s engineers. The benefits of this alliance are brilliantly obvious, as the gearbox’s software and ratios have been honed to best complement driveability, and deliver linear acceleration and near seamless gear changes. Without question, it is the ‘must-have’ option when speccing your new 3 Series.  

Along with 0-62mph performance of 6.8 seconds, an automatic Sport trim version of the 20d emits 112g/km of CO2, and officially returns 65.7mpg when driven more sedately. Although this doesn’t represent a huge step forward over the outgoing model, and does seem like a bit of a lost opportunity, it keeps the 3 Series aligned with current rivals from Audi. What is more, we expect even more efficient 3 Series models to appear in the not too distant future.

Revised inside

Inside, precious little of the previous model remains. Along with greater leg and elbow room, an all-new dashboard featuring instrumentation inspired by the iconic BMW kidney grille, silvered air-vent controls and banks of favourite buttons is complemented by a derringer-sized pistol grip gear selector, and a starter button, which looks suspiciously like it has been purloined from the Audi parts bin. 

In most respects, the instrumentation looks elegant and contemporary, but the orange rev counter and speedo needles set against graduated backgrounds of the same hue do little to aid clarity.

BMW_320d _Sport _Line class=

Of course, BMW’s famed iDrive system remains central to the infotainment controls.

With its simple central scrolling wheel and favourites buttons, myriad infotainment menus can be selected and displayed on a high-definition screen while still keeping one eye on the road ahead.

This is now complemented by an Alexa-style voice recognition system, which allows you to forget about buttons and switches and interact simply by barking out orders. It’s a convenient way of changing radio stations, adjusting the cabin temperature or programming sat-nav instruction, but it’s also a bit like a promiscuous Big Brother, as it’s always listening and will respond to anyone’s requests. Consequently, you may want to disable it if you have a couple of mischievous passengers onboard.  

The new 3 Series constitutes a significant upgrade over its predecessor, offering engaging performance and dynamics, alongside exceptional refinement and significantly upgraded cabin quality. With the caveat of ride comfort that’s yet to be accessed in the UK, we strongly suspect the new 3 will re-establish its position as the motor of choice in the compact executive class.

P11D: £36,440

Cost per mile: 53.3p

Fuel consumption: 65.7mpg

CO2 (BIK band): 112g/km (27%)  

BIK 20/40% a month: £164/£328

Boot space: 480 litres

Engine size/power: 1995cc/190hp