► Production BMW 3-series review
► We drive 320d, 330i and M340i
► The whole range reviewed
It’s the big one: the 2019 BMW 3-series. Since the mid-‘70s Munich has built and sold over 15 million of this model, and it’s the closest you’ll get to a BMW becoming a household name.
Internally dubbed G20, this is an all-new 3, despite looking similar to the previous one. It’s built on the modular CLAR architecture, affording it full access to BMW’s parts bin, and takes the fight directly to its main rivals in the shape of the Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4.
We’ve finally been behind the wheel of a couple of production-ready cars in Portugal ahead of its UK on-sale date in March 2019, and the wonderfully wicked M340i xDrive, too.
Read on for our full range review of the BMW 3-series.
All the news, specs and details of the new BMW 3-series
On road we sampled the 320d diesel and a 330i petrol. While we’ve become accustomed to the former being a fairly noisy four-pot, the latter has the same cylinder count instead of the inline-six used in the earlier E46 incarnations of 330i. It won’t surprise anyone to find we didn’t enjoy it as much as a result, but it still managed to do the job required. That silky delivery isn’t quite in evidence, but thanks primarily to the tuning of the transmission, it’s still an enjoyable thing to drive.
Driven: 2019 BMW 320d and 330i review
By far the longer of the two drives was in the 320d (the white car pictured), which accounted for 50% of sales in the previous-gen 3-series. We’re told this sort of volume is expected to continue in the wake of ever-tightening restrictions on diesel, which we find slightly difficult to believe given a 330e plug-in hybrid will follow in July 2019, boasting 0-62mph in six seconds and an electric-only range of 37 miles with CO2 output pegged at 39g/km. Fleet managers have some difficult decisions over the next year or so…
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Anyway, back to the 320d. From outside the car you’re under no illusion this is a diesel – there’s a fair clatter coming from under that bonnet. But climb aboard and we were astonished at the cabin refinement BMW has built in here – an acoustic windscreen and odd-looking foam-filled window shut covers are standard-fit on all 3-series, and do a fabulous job of keeping unwanted noise out of the car.
Off out for a spin and this 2.0-litre diesel doesn’t feel as fast as the previous one did – perhaps due to the increased isolation from driveline and external noise. Its 0-62mph time of 6.8 seconds with the eight-speed automatic we’re sampling here means on paper the new car is a whole second quicker than its predecessor, which gives you an idea of the effect these noise suppression tricks have had.
We did think the transmission in particular was impressive in its mapping, however. Cog swaps occur quickly and seriously smoothly, and the manual control using paddles works seamlessly.
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And what about the M340i?
If, like me, you value discretion and restraint in this ever-louder age of Generation Flaunt, this car takes on extra appeal. The M340i xDrive looks pleasingly under-the-radar as we spy it under harsh strip lights in the Garching lock-up outside Munich for an early drive – there are no wild spoilers or wings or skirts here. Just a more muscular front air dam, blue flashes marking the four-piston brake calipers grabbing engorged discs, and chunky twin rear exhausts. People who find the M3 a little outré may prefer this more sober brute-in-a suit aesthetic.
If the exterior is a model of moderation, the oily bits are a little more ambitious. The 2998cc inline six has a newly developed turbocharger whose vanes spin with 25% less inertia for more rapid throttle response, building boost quicker; combined with revised injectors operating at a scarcely believable 350 bar, the M340i makes an extra 47bhp and 37lb ft over a common-or-garden 340i. Top Trumps bragging rights? A wholesome 369bhp and a matching torque figure in good old-fashioned pounds feet.
Without the bothersome bodykit of a full M car, little bro can mooch around all day with something of a laidback, mini Q-car vibe. It’s peerless on the autobahn, monumental overtaking thrust just a toe-tickle away, and its GT credentials are apparent on a longer cruise. It’s telling this car was unveiled at last year’s LA auto show; America will be its biggest market by far. It has a certain US-centric quality to it.
We’d personally do without some of the cosmetic detailing that feels a little bit Cupra-inspired, with the bronzed ‘Cerium Grey’ finish to the M340i’s door mirror caps, kidney grille edges and model lettering. A nice discreet matt black or repmobile chrome would do just fine for our Q car mores.
How does the new G20 BMW 3-series handle?
Its chassis, of course, is top-drawer, but it’s one of the new wave of BMW products that don’t feel as heavy-set as the previous generation. The steering is lighter in resistance, but also far sharper and that makes it easier to place on the road. Munich claims up to 55kg of weight has been shed, and this coupled with nimbler control weights lends the new 3-series a new-found agility.
Once you’ve factored in the 50:50 weight distribution, even this 320d diesel mpg-hero is an entertaining steer. In this sense it’s more akin to an Alfa Giulia than either of the 3’s German rivals, placing it right towards the top of the handling class.
The cars we were driving on the road in Portugal both had BMW’s new M Sport passive suspension installed. This uses hydraulic bump stops at both ends, but for different reasons. At the front they prevent lift, which means the tyre’s footprint on tarmac can be more accurately controlled at speed. At the back they’re for controlling compression, which keeps the rear end more stable.
This set-up has a good effect on handling, clearly, but it is at the expense of ride quality more solid than supple. You can spec adaptive dampers, but our experience of these so far has been limited to a millpond-smooth FIA racing circuit…
Is the BMW 330i any better to drive?
In a word, yes. The four-cylinder is a lighter lump, meaning it feels dartier, and of course it sounds far better than the BMW 320d oil-burner tested above. The 330i is still no creamy six-pot, alas, but instead BMW’s mapped in some four-banger theatrics in the shape of pops and bangs on the over-run.
It has a relatively linear power delivery for a turbo motor, and actually sounds pretty interesting – particularly in the Sport drive mode that winds up engine and gearbox responses.
And what’s the BMW M340i like?
Munich claims 0-62mph in just 4.4 seconds, helped no doubt by the standard-fit xDrive sending drive to both axles. It feels this rapid on the road, with instant shove at any road speed. This makes sense when you see the set-square flat torque curve that stretches peak pulling power from a lowly 1850rpm to a rather busier 5000rpm. It’s the ultimate lazy man’s express.
It sounds more cultured than the outgoing M3’s rattly football-studs-in-a-biscuit-tin soundtrack, but this is hardly an emotional engine. The trademark singing straight six of yore has been muted by those exhaust-driven turbines, although all six cylinders do take on something of a bark if you really rinse them out to the 7000rpm redline, especially in Sport+ mode. A rival AMG C43 will provide more fireworks, if snap, crackle and pop’s your thing.
But there’s an unarguably sublime polish to the way the M340i goes about its business. The eight-speed auto is a familiar, and fine, way to slush through your gearchanges in day-to-day driving: oleaginous and treacly smooth around town or on a motorway schlep, eager to fire home the next cog if you up the ante and set the Three on tiptoes in Sport mode. And, yes, you can finger-tap through the gears by paddle if you want to play F1 driver on your favourite back road.
Traction is simply not an issue in the dry, although those upgraded 19-inch tyres will chirrup on damp roads, despite the addition of the M Sport differential, which progressively locks to shuffle drive from side to side on the rear axle. It’s another example of M3 tech filtering down to lesser models – and lends the M340i decent agility through tighter corners.
What’s the 2019 BMW 3 Series like inside?
It’s a much quieter, smarter and more interesting place to be than ever, getting better as you climb rungs on the spec ladder.
We thought the seats were excellent in both adjustment and support, going a small distance towards mitigating against the harsh ride, and clearly there’s been renewed focus on the fit-and-finish in there too. We predict some head-scratching at Audi while they try to figure out how to fire back…
What's the verdict on the new 3-series?
This 3-series sets a new dynamic benchmark for the executive saloon market, as well as featuring the very latest of BMW’s tech, and a promising, if not yet complete, range of engines and transmissions. The 320d is likely to remain Britain's best-seller and it's a polished, accomplished all-rounder for many users.
And the the M340i?
The junior M car shares everything that makes the 3-series so damn good that it walked our mega-test against every which rival. Build quality is first-rate and we could spend hours admiring the knife-sharp creases that lend the bonnet such crisp-edged contours; the technology in the cabin is frankly staggering; and we applaud BMW’s decision to let buyers talk, gesture, press or swirl the infotainment controls, depending on their tech skills. We happen to think iDrive might be the best multi-controller around.
It’s aimed squarely at the likes of the Audi S4 and Mercedes-AMG C43, and on this evidence BMW’s hit the target market pretty accurately. If anything, it feels more rounded, less showy than some of the high-falutin’ entry-level performance saloons from German rivals. And that’s probably a good thing for most buyers. But if you want that extra dose of sporting DNA, that adrenaline kick only a proper sports saloon can deal, you’d best hang on for the fully fledged M3 due to be unveiled in autumn 2020, with UK sales starting the year after.
BMW 330i specs
- Engine: 1998cc four-cylinder turbo, 255bhp @ 5000rpm, 295lb ft @1550rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
- Performance: 5.8sec 0-62mph, 155mph top speed, 48.7mpg, 132g/km
BMW M340i specs
- Price £48,555
- Powertrain 2998cc 24v turbocharged straight six, eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
- Performance 369bhp @ 5500rpm, 369lb ft @ 1850-5000rpm, 4.4sec 0-62mph, 155mph
- Weight 1745kg
- Efficiency 38.2-40.4mpg, 160-168g/km CO2
- On sale Now