Ray Leathern drove the new BMW 3 Series at the local launch and says he knows it’s, “one helluva car”, but dug a little deeper to discover whether it’s the complete package and so deserving of all its good press.
The new BMW 3 Series is the most highly anticipated car in the company’s recent history, but, quite rightly you may ask, when is a new car from a Premier League manufacturer like BMW not highly anticipated? This is true too, but the 328i we have outside in our car park is also the first car from the company with a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine and not the normally aspirated straight six. It’s locally made in Rosslyn and I’ve already driven it at the 3 Series launch earlier this year, so I know it is one helluva car. Having it on test, however, should help paint a fuller picture and hopefully show the chinks in its armour, if any. Is it the complete package? Is this car so deserving of all its good press?
First things first, just like anyone stepping into a BMW dealership, we’re going to have a gander through the specification list and option our car. To start with, our test unit is the 180 kW and 350 Nm 328i, equipped with an eight-speed automatic transmission, which means average fuel consumption is a claimed 6.3 L/100km and CO2 emissions are 147 g/km. The base price is R438 500, but on this particular test unit, the aesthetic options of the ‘Modern Line’ styling package, sports steering wheel, sunroof, Pearl interior trim finish, 18-inch light alloy wheels and the Sports Steptronic transmission, take that figure to R474 500. The bigger 18-inch alloy wheels are a must on the 3-Series in our opinion and they also improve drivability of course. The ‘Modern Line’ is not to our particular taste, especially with this vehicles ‘Oyster,’ beige interior. We’d probably go for ‘Sport’ line if we were worrying about aesthetics alone.
On the inside we already know it’s bigger, wider and more cavernous than before, but this test unit is also packed full of extra specification. Head-up display, rear view camera, park distance control, Sat-Nav, smartphone and Bluetooth music connectivity, something called ‘Comfort Access’ and the ‘Connected Package’ are all extra. Looking past the extra’s and its very beige, impractical interior, one has to say it’s unmistakably a BMW. If I had a criticism, which ironically is compounded by the stark beige-ness of the interior as a whole, it’s that the interior has a lot of angles, lines and shapes fighting for your attention on the fascia and yet, despite all the styling that’s gone into it, it isn’t easy on the eye. The screen on the front fascia also looks deliberately angular, why? Perhaps if our test unit was finished in a darker interior colour I’d be dissuaded from thinking any of this in the first place. The I-Drive command system is effortless to operate and gets more intuitive year after year.
Now we get to the driving and here, quite frankly, any piffling concerns about the interior and styling all disappear. It doesn’t take a genius to drive just a few hundred metres down the road and realise that the new 3 Series is absolutely superb. What makes me smile about it even more though, is that BMW are probably the only company who don’t mind if an underling treads on the territory of a car that’s higher up the pecking order. 3 Series vs. 5 Series and the same with 5 Series vs. 7 Series, you always get the sense that every BMW is as good as it can be and that’s almost certainly why the enthusiasts attach themselves to the brand. It’s entirely possible that a BMW customer could hanker after something smaller than what he or she already owns.
This particular 328i is fitted with optional lane keeping assist, Sports transmission, Adaptive M running gear and the variable sports steering to heighten the driving experience. The steering feel is perfect from the first second you take a corner with aggression. The ride quality is an almost perfect balance of good damping and rigid, receptive feedback into the cabin. The brake pedal is firm and purposeful under your foot when you lean hard, or even gently, on it. The weight transfer when cornering is good enough to put more expensive sports cars to shame. This car can carry tremendous corner speed and as I found around a blind corner going over Du Toitskloof pass, if a stationary truck just happens to be broken down in the middle of the road, the composed chassis and strong brakes bring you to a safe stop with tens of metres to spare. What a car. A traffic cop at the scene came wandering over, ready to give me a telling off I’m sure, until two cars approaching from behind came to a screeching halt and made contact with each other. You could see his expression immediately turn from a stern gaze to total respect. When is the last time you got that in a BMW from traffic officer?
Dynamically, I rate this car very highly. I even found myself planning a Western Cape route so I could do as many twisting mountain roads as possible in the shortest amount of time. I most certainly wasn’t doing that in a C-Class and A4 when I had those on test. If I was being critical though, I would say the run-flat Pirelli tyres felt ever so slightly wooden, as if they may washout under load, rather than bite with more aggression. Of course that only showed itself when pushing the car really hard, but 90% of the time the grip is spot on and 100% of the time the response through the 3-Series chassis is brilliant. A BMW is a car that just sharpens your senses, helps fix your eye-sight as far up the road as possible and celebrates driving. I’ve honestly always said you drive better in a BMW because its talents make your talents all that much better.
That just leaves us to deal with the new four-cylinder power plant. So the gas guzzling, normally aspirated six-cylinder is gone and now we have the turbocharged 2.0-litre. Yes, the soundtrack isn’t quite what it used to be and that’s a little disappointing, but the performance and economy benefits are plain to see. Zero to 100 km/h in 6 seconds and consumption in the sixes too, the old six-cylinder couldn’t hope to do that. The eight-speed automatic is a refined delight in ‘Eco Pro’ or ‘Comfort’ modes and especially good when you operate the manual paddles in a sporty situation.
What else is there to say? Nothing really, the 3-Series is totally deserving of its praise. It is brilliant. The only issue must be the price, which is north of R500 000 when fitted with the extras we had on this test unit. There’s also a dilemma for customers in whether to choose the torquey 320d or this clean revving 328i. It’s a good dilemma to have and we can’t wait to get the 320d on test to share our impressions.
What we like…
- Sports car handling and faster than a lot of things.
- Four cylinder engine that delivers power, torque, economy.
- Brilliantly comfortable, spacious and not overly complicated.
What we would like…
- It’s not exactly what you’d call cheap… and that’s before you start on the options.
- You can make some bizarre upholstery and interior choices. Beware.
|Base Price||R438 500|
|Warranty||5-Year/ 100 000km|
|Engine Capacity||1 997 cm³|
|No. Of Cylinders||4-cylinders, In-line|
|Power||180 kW @ 5 000 r/min|
|Torque||350 Nm @ 1 250 – 4 800 r/min|
|Drive type||Rear-wheel drive|
|Acceleration||0 – 100 km/h in 6.1 seconds (claimed)|
|Top Speed||250 km/h (claimed)|
|Fuel Consumption||6.3 l/100km (claimed / combined)|
|CO2 Emissions||147 g/km (claimed / combined)|