Since the current BMW 3-series was introduced it’s faced new competition from the Mercedes C-class and the Audi A4. BMW is fighting back with a revised version that benefits from refreshed looks and a few small but important tech tweaks. Question is, can these changes keep the class leader on top?
Small changes, you say. So what’s new on the facelifted BMW 3-series?
Well, the cosmetics are the most obvious difference. You won’t have to squint hard to spot the new fluted bonnet with shades of the gorgeous CS concept car. BMW has tried to make the car look longer, wider and more elegant. We’d say it’s succeeded: the new Three certainly has more presence and character than before, and the back end in particular looks much more upmarket.
There you’ll find new LED tail-lamps and a re-designed bootlid. Along the sides are new sill panels, while the bumpers are reprofiled front and rear and fitted with chrome strakes to each side of the front foglamps. The kidney grilles are bigger, more like those of a 5-series, and there are new headlamps and mirrors, too.
Any changes inside the new 3-series?
It all looks very familiar in here. Some of the switchgear’s been titivated with a new matt black and chrome finish, there are chrome bezels for the instruments, and some new trim materials.
But the big news is the new iDrive interface. It’s all based around an integral hard drive, so there are no more DVDs for the sat-nav and you can download up to 12Gb of music. That’s a lifetime’s tunes, since you asked.
There’s even internet access, too – an automotive first that this junior BMW shares with its new 7-series big bro (but the UK launch is pending while the telephone companies thrash out a deal). Best of all, the whole iDrive system is much simpler to use, with additional buttons arrayed around the controller so you can access the stereo, sat-nav and so on directly without having to pass through several menus.
In that respect it’s much more like Audi’s highly intuitive MMI system. BMW invented the concept, Audi refined it, now BMW’s is easier to use too.
Click ‘Next’ to read how the facelifted BMW 3-series drivesThe new BMW 3-series looks pretty similar. Any changes underneath?
In truth, not many. Stability is enhanced by a slightly wider track and BMW’s Efficient Dynamics technology has been applied across the range (five petrol, five diesel engines). The new seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission is reserved for coupes and convertibles, so the only significant mechanical upgrade is the 330d’s new engine.
According to BMW’s figures, the 330d’s performance is increased by 6 percent, and fuel economy by 7 percent, compared with the outgoing model. The new engine weighs 5kg less than before and achieves its efficiency gains thanks to third-generation common-rail injection (with piezo-injectors working at 1800bar) and a variable-vane turbocharger.
So the end result is…
The 330d now reaches 62mph from rest in just 6.1sec – only 0.1 adrift of the twin-turbo 335d, yet it achieves 49.6mpg (335d: 42.2mpg) and 152g/km (177g/km). Impressed? You should be.
Even BMW detractors can’t criticise such figures…
Enough teasing. How does the 330d drive?
Exactly as you’d expect, is the answer – the 3-series was already the dynamic benchmark for the class. The 330d’s new-found shove is immediately obvious; if you didn’t know there was a 335d above it in the range, you’d think this was as fast as a diesel Three gets – and you’d be perfectly satisfied with it.
There’s plenty of torque at any engine speed, it spins smoothly to 5000rpm and it sounds fabulous as it does so, growling and whining like a 1960s Ferrari V12. Well, almost. This is certainly just about the most sonorous diesel engine around.
How does the facelifted 3-series feel on the M-way?
While it will haul you out of corners and catapult you along straights, surely the 330d’s greatest party trick is its ability to accelerate along derestricted autobahns in sixth gear even when you’re already hurtling along at 100mph – and barely pulling 2000rpm.
High-speed stability is imperious, and the revised 3-series just flows through Z-bends. Turn up the wick and you’re rewarded with sharp turn-in and incredible front-end grip. In the wet, you’ll unstick the tail quite easily, but it’s all completely natural and DSC lets you have a little fun without letting you get yourself all crossed up.
Click ‘Next’ to read CAR’s verdict on the revised BMW 3-seriesSounds like a dream car. No faults then?
If I was really going to nit-pick, I’d say the gearshift is a touch heavy, and feels slightly agricultural at low speeds, though it’s precise and easier when you’re punching from ratio to ratio at speed. The steering, though really sharp, could offer more weight and feel.
The ride, though well tied down and deftly damped, occasionally gets a bit choppy (but only a bit). Yet this is detail stuff, and they’re really minor flaws. In fact, ignore me. It’s fine.
BMW 330d: The CAR verdict
If you own an outgoing 330d, don’t cuss yourself and chop it in. The new 3-series iteration is a fine and logical evolution of what went before, and the changes apply equally to the Touring and the saloon.
What BMW has done is to inject a little flair into what was a slightly dowdy-looking car. The cosmetic changes are subtle, welcome and appropriate and they’re accompanied by worthwhile mechanical improvements – particularly in the case of the 330d.
The A4 is the new kid on the block but it still can’t get close to the 3-series dynamically. Which leaves the Merc C-class to fight its corner. The BMW’s new tech gives it an advantage, it’s a lot more interesting to look at inside (despite the limited cockpit changes), and it’s quicker, cheaper, greener and more economical than a C320 CDI. Case closed.