Early Drive: 2019 BMW 3 Series
Neil Briscoe gets an early drive of the all-new, high-technology 3 Series in prototype form, to find out what’s in store for the next generation of the fleet stalwart.
What is it? Under the camouflage tape, this is the new ‘G20’ version of the BMW 3 Series. It’s a critical car for BMW, as it hopes to prove that a four-door saloon can still excite buyers in a world of SUVs. The model is a strong seller in the UK, with almost 40,000 sales a year, but it’s been beaten recently by the likes of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, so needs to hit back hard, as well as deal with a growing band of rivals from Lexus, to Jaguar, to Alfa Romeo.
What’s underneath? We do know that it will use the same ‘CLAR’ platform as the X3 and 5 Series, but it would be wrong to say that it’s simply a smaller 5 or a lower X3; it’s more about sharing common hard-points and the electrical architecture. We also know that the 3 Series will be around 55kg lighter, model-for-model, than the outgoing car, thanks to a gram-by-gram analysis of each individual part. It’s slightly bigger outside and in and, under the tape, the styling appears to have changed quite a bit — including much slimmer headlights and a more sculpted rear end.
Which ones can I buy? BMW isn’t talking trim and equipment specifics yet, nor performance figures, but we do know that it’s going to be choosy about how it lets buyers spec their new 3 Series. For instance, if you want to have the optional sporty suspension, then you will have to have the sportier steering rack too — no mixing and matching. Expect the existing SE, Sport, Luxury, and M Sport trims to continue, with the likelihood of extra safety kit across the range.
Both 316i and 316d models will switch to three-cylinder turbocharged engines, and will have CO2 emissions lower than 100g/km in basic form. If you want to go lower than that, there will be two plug-in hybrid options — a revised version of the existing 2.0-litre four-cylinder 330e, and a three-cylinder version, probably badged 325e, similar to the Mini Countryman E-Hybrid. Expect the 330e to come in under the 50g/km barrier, while the smaller-engined version could get close to the 22g/km figure of the Toyota Prius PHEV. The 330e will be able to go for around 50 miles on a fully-charged battery, while the 325e will get around 30 miles out of a charge.
The current 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesels and petrol engines will be carried over, as will the range-topping 340i’s 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine, and the 330d six-cylinder diesel. A fully-electric model will also be introduced, but that’s at least two years away yet. A range-topping 500hp M3 should benefit from both water-injection tech, and possibly a mild-hybrid electric motor for instant-reaction overtaking power. BMW’s xDrive four-wheel drive will again be available alongside standard rear-wheel drive.
Inside, the cabin draws heavily on the 7 Series, and gets both the latest version of iDrive (which mixes a rotary controller with a touchscreen) and BMW’s new all-digital instrument panel, which features instruments that sweep around the outside edges of the binnacle.
How does it drive? So far, we’ve only had the chance to drive a heavily-camouflaged 330i, both on public roads and on the Nürburgring race track, but initial impressions are little short of excellent. The new electrically-boosted steering has exceptional feel and feedback, more akin to an old hydraulic power steering rack, and the chassis has a safe, but still playful, balance that allows you to exploit it even on a streaming wet day. One caveat — the ride quality on 19-inch wheels with the optional sports suspension felt too jittery over very poor surfaces.
When does it come here? The new 3 Series will be given a full debut at the Paris Motor Show in October, with UK sales set to start in early 2019.