- Brilliant fun
- Good standard equipment
- Great engines
- Similar to old car
- Rivals are arguably as strong
Rory reviews the new BMW 3 Series 318i, which sports the same 1.5-litre 3-cylinder engine as the BMW i8.
BMW has dusted down the iconic 3 Series for 2015, releasing a new model that includes a raft of changes. These include, in BMW’s eyes, a more sporty design, a new generation of engines, more standard equipment, better tech inside and out and class-leading driving dynamics. We tested the new BMW 318i to see whether it’s still the ultimate driving machine.
BMW’s 3 Series designers must have the easiest job in the world. The company clearly did not want to venture too far from the existing design, as very little new work appears to have gone into the exterior aesthetics of this new car.
We’ve stared at it for what seems like hours and the changes seem more minor botox than full facelift. So far, we can only identify changes in the headlight ‘lens’ shape, and very marginal tweaks on the front and rear bumpers. It wasn’t broke, so they didn’t feel any need to fix it.
There are changes beneath the skin, and predictably these are reasonably minor. BMW has provided retuned (stiffer) suspension, new damper settings, a 10mm drop in ride height on rear-wheel-drive models, a change in the number of bolts and thickness of the steel in the suspension strut tops (which works wonders for handling, apparently).
Inside, it’s a similar story. The very minor tweaks include a centre console finished in high gloss black and chrome accents on the new seat adjustment controls and air vents.
No surprises here. The new BMW 3 Series has comfortable seats front and rear, with seating for up to five passengers – so long as those camped in the rear don’t mind getting cozy. Leg- and head-room are ample, too, even with a cabin full of tall occupants, while boot space is a very reasonable 480 litres with the rear seat backs in place.
Notable improvements to practicality include new cup holders up front, with a sliding cover, and a new section just ahead of this dedicated to storing your mobile phone. The door pockets also have drinks holders for bottles up to 1 litre in capacity.
Performance & Handling
BMW has a new family of EfficientDynamics engines for the 2015 3 Series; four petrol and seven diesel. Here, we’ll focus on the BMW 318i, which features the entry-level petrol unit. This particular engine is the same 3-cylinder model as you’ll find in the highly exotic BMW i8, although here it’s mated to a smaller turbo and tuned less aggressively.
That said, it’s no shrinking violet. Here, it produces 136hp and will help complete 0-62mph sprints in a very respectable 8.9 seconds before romping on to 130mph. There’s a decent amount of oomph for overtaking, too, with torque rated at 220Nm (230Nm for short phases during kickdown).
Our test car came fitted with a six-speed manual transmission, which was mostly a joy to use. Shifts were slick and accurate, and while we’d have preferred a shorter throw and slightly less vibration through the stick itself, lovers of manual boxes will find it a pleasure, especially as the engine is best enjoyed working your way through every inch of the rev band in every gear.
BMW will, of course, sell you an 8-speed automatic transmission if you’re prepared to stump up the cash. This too is a pleasure, with slick automated shifts and paddles behind the steering wheel allowing you to get more involved when the mood takes you. This auto box benefits from GPS assistance, allowing it to select an appropriate gear depending on the road ahead. It will, for example, downshift to a low gear as you approach a roundabout, or upshift early if it thinks you’re about to approach a section of road that requires lazy cruising.
Handling is fantastic, as you’d expect from a 3 Series. BMW is privately worried that rival cars in the segment, particularly the Jaguar XE, are now rivalling the 3 Series as the ‘ultimate driving machine’, so it’s applied changes that it believes will put the 3 back at the top of the food chain.
These tweaks include changing the number and type of bolts used to secure the strut top mounts on the suspension, changing the thickness of the steel in this area from 1.6mm to 3mm to provide additional stiffness, adding new bump stops front and rear, and thicker roll bars for less body roll.
In practice, the handling seems a little sharper than the previous car, although we’d really have to drive them back to back to say definitely where the improvements lay (the old car was brilliant, too). Our perception is that the new 3 Series corners fantastically, with incredible agility, little body roll and ultra-precise steering. It really is a driver’s car and, no matter what engine you stick under the bonnet, you’ll have an absolute blast threading it through corners.
The ride is well-judged, too. Our test car featured the adaptive M Suspension, which offers an appropriately soft ride in the ‘comfort’ setting, and a stiff, though not spine-damagingly hard ride in ‘sport’ and ‘sport +’.
Economy & Environment
All versions come with stop/start, an optimum shift indicator, low rolling resistance tyres and drive performance control, which lets you select an eco-biased eco pro mode for when you really want to save fuel. BMW claims 52.3mpg with the manual ‘box and 54.mpg with the auto. Under relatively sedate driving, above city speeds but below peak motorway velocity, we managed just over 40mpg. Your own mileage will vary, obviously. Drive the nuts off it and you can expect sub-30mpg. CO2 emissions are rated at 124g/km and 122g/km for the manual and automatic transmissions, respectively.
Equipment & Value
All BMW 3 Series cars come with a healthy list of standard equipment. This includes two-zone air con, keyless engine start, Bluetooth with audio streaming, DAB radio and CD player, BMW Professional sat-nav with 6.5-inch screen, iDrive controller and on-board computer.
In true BMW fashion, a range of options are available. Adaptive M Sport suspension, which responds dynamically to the road surface and your driving style, is available for £750 (£515 on M Sport models), a reversing assistant camera will cost you £330, although probably isn’t worth the asking price seeing as all models come with a rear radar sensor that aids parking.
We’d definitely add the driving assistance package (£370), which provides lane departure warning, and autonomous braking if the car detects an imminent impact with another car, cyclist or pedestrian.
BMW has gone to town with the safety features in the 2015 3 Series. It has a full suite of electronic safety aids including dynamic stability control, cornering brake control, dynamic traction control, and a crash sensor that switches on the hazard lights, unlocks the doors and cuts off the batteries. Should the worst happen, there’s even a first aid kit and a system that automatically calls the emergency services to alert them of your whereabouts.
The new BMW 3 Series is fantastic. It’s a wonderfully engaging car to drive, offers excellent comfort, has a generous specification and ultimately might just be the best car in its segment. That said, we find it incredibly difficult to recommend for the simple fact that it’s so incredibly similar to the car it replaces. If you’re a private buyer, the sensible thing to do would be to buy a barely-used previous-generation BMW 3 Series and save yourself some money in the process. The new model makes far more sense if you’re a company car buyer or you’re considering leasing or buying on personal contract purchase.
|Engine||1.5-lire three-cylinder turbo|
|Acceleration||0-62mph in 8.9 seconds|