3 is still the magic number for BMW

It’s that time again, when all the compact premium saloon rivals bring out their new and improved weapons. Matt Joy tests the crowd’s favourite — the BMW 3 Series.

What’s new?

Listen carefully, because the new bits of the 3 Series may not be obvious. This is a mid-life lift rather than a brand-new car, so from the outside there are resculpted bumpers, new lights — including LED daytime running lights and tail lights — plus new exhaust pipes, depending on your engine. Inside, there are new cabin materials and equipment, but under the skin there’s some new engines, plus revised suspension and steering, all designed to keep it on top of the dynamic tree.

Looks and image

At first glance, you’re unlikely to notice it’s a 2015 3 Series that’s just barged in front of the traffic queue; this is a subtle makeover. The front bumper has wider vents underneath, the rearranged headlights are designed to give the car greater width on the road, and the rear LED lights are certainly smarter. This is still a car that looks best with the right wheel and colour combination, and effectively looks like all the other 3 Series models already on the road — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Space and practicality

There’s no more space in the new 3 Series than before, but for a car of this size, it copes with people and their luggage well. Front-seat passengers are best catered for, with head and legroom a little more restricted in the rear, although normal-sized adults will be comfortable. One small, if notable improvement, is the new cup holder ahead of the gear lever, which is more substantial than before. The boot remains a useful 480 litres and is easily accessed through a decent aperture.

Behind the wheel

Although there are several new engines in the range, the only examples available to drive were 340i models, which get a new 3.0-litre twin turbocharged six- cylinder unit. With 322bhp available, as well as a 332lb/ft of torque, there’s no doubt it is absurdly fast; 0-62mph takes 5.1 seconds, as quick as an M3 from 10 years ago. Match it with impressive automatic transmission and you get quick shifts when required, and smoothness when you’re not in a hurry, it’s also more economical.

3 is still the magic number for BMW

The steering and suspension changes have come about thanks to improved body mountings, allowing stiffer settings for the dampers and springs, without the ride quality suffering. This particular model had adaptive damping and steering too, but it remains a fun and responsive sports saloon to drive, although more humble models may offer better handling.

Value for money

As part of the changes for 2015, all 3 Series models now get the basic satellite navigation system as well as BMW’s emergency on-call service: if you have an accident where the airbags are deployed, the car will automatically call for assistance.

The entry SE model gets 17in alloy wheels, air conditioning, Bluetooth, DAB, and cruise control, while this near top-spec 340i comes in M Sport guise only. Some of the options are on the pricey side, but the general equipment level is good value.

Who would buy one?

The chances of you buying a 3 Series are pretty high. It’s featured in the list of top bestsellers for several years for a variety of reasons. The BMW badge is one of course, as is its reputation for being a driver’s car, which still holds true. It appeals to young, thrusting executives, and anyone looking for a little bit of flash.

This car summed up in a single word: German

If this car was a... Kitchen appliance, it would be one of those shiny chrome toasters that toast eight slices of bread and buys flowers for your mother with ruthless efficiency.

AT A GLANCE

BMW 340i (Prices for the 3 series start from €37,140)

Engine: 3.0-litre petrol unit producing 322bhp and 332lb/ft of torque

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic gearbox driving the rear wheels

Performance: Top speed 155mph (limited), 0-62mph in 5.1 seconds

Economy: 41.5mpg combined

Emissions: 159g/km of CO2


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