Matt Joy takes the latest Bimmer saloon out for a spin to see if it’s worth choosing over the increasingly talented competition.
With the Jaguar XE on sale and a new Audi A4 just around the corner, it’s hardly surprising BMW has wheeled out a refreshed version of its perennial 3 Series in preparation for the latest round of the premium saloon wars.
It’s the smallest of changes visually, with some exterior tweaks and new features in the cabin. Bigger changes can be found on the mechanical side, thanks to a raft of new and updated engines plus a revised steering and suspension set up to make the driving experience even sharper. Our first drive was of the £39,505 high-output 340i saloon.
Read the supplied blurb and BMW tells you the 3 Series is more dynamic than before, owing to a greater sense of width, but even to the trained eye the differences are miniscule. What you will notice is that the air intakes under the bumper are thinned out a little, while at the rear there are now LED lights as standard.
You might wish for a little more change if you have just splashed out on a new car, but it’s to be expected for a mid-life facelift. It’s a similar story on the inside, where there’s additional chrome detailing and new materials but otherwise the same familiar and competent cabin.
Zero major physical changes to the structure of the 3 Series means you can expect the same level of practicality from the previous iteration. In the front you get the usual driver-centric cabin that is comfortable rather than hugely spacious, although BMW has changed the space ahead of the gear lever to create a pair of proper cupholders.
In the rear elbow room is good for two while head and legroom are on a par with the key rivals – that is to say it’s good but not great. Small people will have no trouble fitting in, however, and the boot space remains a useful 480 litres.
Performance & handling
Despite a range of new engines to come including a more powerful 320d and the first plug-in hybrid version, the only model available to try was the 340i. The new badge denotes a new 3.0-litre twin turbocharged straight six engine, dishing out a hefty 322bhp and 332lb/ft of torque.
Even though this isn’t an M or even an M Performance car it is very rapid indeed; the limited top speed of 155mph is hardly surprising but 0-62mph takes just 5.1 seconds. It’s smooth, unflustered and easy to enjoy. You could say it’s almost too discreet for it’s own good.
Elsewhere are tweaks are to the suspension, including revised body mountings that allow the suspension to be stiffer than before and promise more accurate steering.
All the 340i models tested were stuffed with kit including adaptive dampers and the variable steering system, and while they make the 340i agile and respectably comfortable for a car of this performance, we can’t help thinking it would be better without them.
Economy & environment
Improving efficiency is behind many of the changes for the Series, with the 320d dipping under the 100g/km CO2 barrier for the first time. However, even the super-saloon 340i model manages some impressive figures. 41.5mpg is the claimed combined figure and is perfectly viable as long as you can show some restraint, with 159g/km of CO2 to match.
Further down the petrol scale is the 318i, which uses the three-cylinder 1.5-litre turbo unit already seen in the Mini to dish out an impressive 46.1mpg and 119g/km.
Equipment & value
The biggest news is all 3 Series models from the bottom upwards now feature satellite navigation as standard, although there is an upgrade option available with additional features. All models now also benefit from BMW’s Intelligent Emergency Call, in the event you have an accident and trigger the airbags it will automatically call for assistance using its own SIM card.
The entry-level SE model gets 17-inch alloy wheels, air con, Bluetooth, cruise control and DAB as standard but you need to at least move up to the ED Plus or ED Sport model to get leather upholstery free of charge. This 340i comes in M Sport spec only, adding 18-inch alloy wheels, M Sport adaptive suspension and lots of M Sport add-ons inside and out.
It may seem like a relatively small feature but the addition of BMW’s emergency on-call service is a worthwhile addition and a potential lifesaver; it’s the kind of feature buyers aren’t that keen on forking out extra for but would be thankful for in a worst case scenario. Already a five-star EuroNCAP car, in theory the improved dynamics and improved stiffness in the chassis will only help.
There’s very little point in ditching it for a newer one if you already own an F30 3 Series, but for those about to plunge into the compact exec market your choice has just been made a little bit tougher. Its appearance is marginally sharper, the engine range is definitely better and the detail upgrades to the chassis and cabin are worthwhile.
The problem is that it’s crown as the best-driving car in the segment is no longer a dead cert. Jaguar’s new XE is arguably its biggest threat, and although not perfect it is fabulous to drive and smart-looking. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class, meanwhile, is classy although doesn’t drive as well, while Audi are just about to launch a new A4. The bottom line is, keep your pennies for now.