BMW 3 Series 330i G20 review
BMW doesn't build sportscars very often and yet it has fuelled the dreams of many driving enthusiasts out there. The Ultimate Driving Machine campaign has certainly worked too - not only because of the words chosen but also because BMWs have lived up to that tagline - particularly, the 3 Series bloodline.
There is now a new one that is codenamed the G20. It is finally a BMW that looks new, fresh and unriddled by the need to follow the design direction set by other BMWs - well, almost. It is also the angriest iteration of the 3 Series yet. Compared to the outgoing car, the kidney grille is expectedly larger, though not off-putting like the X5's. It is now a single-piece unit and features active flaps that automatically open and close to aid cooling and aerodynamic efficiency respectively. The aggression of the front end is defined by the plethora of creases - four frowning lines on the bonnet which converge into the grille, and the rising cheekbones in the bumper defined by the vertical creases that intrude into the headlights to create a notch.
The headlights can now be specified with the BMW Laserlights (LEDs on out test car) and their characteristic blue inserts, which makes it the best lighting equipment in the class. As is the norm now, all the lights - inside and out - are LEDs. The taillights, similar to the X4, are a major departure from their typical BMW form and have a bit of a Lexus vibe to them. The tail looks quite sporty with the twin exhaust pipes and the diffuser-like appliqué in the bumper, but the faux vents on either side of it are a bit of a letdown.
The visual treatment of the new 3 Series is in line with the design of the BMW 3.0 CSL Hommage Concept from 2015, but some of the details draw inspiration further back on the BMW timeline. The notch in the headlamps is a nod to the E46 BMW, which has been one of my most favourite iterations of the 3 Series so far. It will sound like I'm picking sides, but the E46's elegance is hard to match in today's times and the new 3 Series is clearly far from it. It is a bit too aggressive for my liking and I think that aggression will polarise onlookers. Like the face, the tail is also the busiest that we have ever seen on a 3 Series and that is also partly because this is the M Sport trim.
2015 BMW 3.0 CSL Hommage concept
The M Sport trim adds the vents on the bumpers, throws in range-topping 18-inch rims, adds M badges in strategic locations and replaces most of the chrome with a gloss-black finish. The traditional Hofmeister kink looks great in this finish and is now integrated into the C-pillar, leaving a piece of frameless glass in the window line - which looks quite nice when opening the door.
Look at this car from a distance and you see the typical low-slung stance and the long nose/short-boot proportions of a 3 Series. Look at this car from close quarters though, and you immediately know this 3 Series has grown larger. 76mm longer, 16mm wider and 1mm taller than before, to be precise. There is a 41mm increase in wheelbase and wider track width too, and to maintain its low overhangs and dynamic abilities, the wheels have yet again been pushed to the far corners of the car.
The increased dimensions pay their dividends the moment you enter the rear seat. Ingress and egress is a bit of a task, given the typical low H-point of the 3er, but you will appreciate the improved legroom in here. Headroom is adequate for anyone under six feet and so is the visibility outside of the windows. There is enough room and comfort in the back seat in fact, for you to ignore the fact there is no 3 GT anymore with G20 generation. The boot, however, could make you miss the lovely Gran Turismo variant since the mandatory spare wheel (space-saver) eats into much of the otherwise 480l boot volume.
This is a driver's car at the end of the day and the small sunroof, the angled layout of the dashboard and the minimalist controls, are all focused on the driver. If you like the kind of BMW bling showcased by the X5, the 3 Series could feel far too basic. But I like the minimalism here. I would trade in the metal inlays of the M sport trim for carbonfibre or wood. The texture on the metal ones feels like a printed vinyl and I don't quite like it. The fit and finish is hard to find fault with and imparts that solid feel you expect from a BMW. It is magical how the cabin instantly wraps around you the moment you get into the driver's seat - giving you a clear view of the road ahead and yet making you feel like you are a part of the drivetrain and not sitting on top of it.
The 8.8-inch infotainment gets the iDrive 7.0 operating system, which is the latest in a BMW so far. With it come all the new-age features that you would want - gesture controls, a multitude of input choices, wireless Apple CarPlay, and even a digital assistant that answers to "Hey BMW", or any other name that you configure for it. You can also create user profiles to customise certain preferences within functions like navigation, air-conditioning, seating etc.
There is some radar-guided tech too - like adaptive cruise control, pedestrian detection and even a reverse assist within the parking assistance which, in scenarios like a complex parking spot or tight manoeuvre, remembers the path you drove in with and can automatically reverse along the same path if you are unsure of how to manoeuvre. A cool feature that. But what is cooler is how the 3 Series drives, when you are in control.
Driving performance and dynamics
The 330i is quick to get off the mark and once you have tasted the eagerness of this package, the aggressive design of this car starts making sense. It goes with the performance-monger nature of the new 3er. It is interesting to see how the performance of the car has a say in how the design should shape up, and I'm not talking about the science or the aerodynamics. This isn't a sleeper and doesn't want to come across as one either. Such a pity that they aren't making any shade of blue available on the 330i. On the topic of aero though, it has improved by leaps and bounds. Dropping its drag co-efficient from 0.26Cd in the previous model to 0.23Cd on the car you see here, the new 3 Series is actually more aerodynamic than BMW's flagship sportscars like the i8 and the 8 Series coupe. That is a big deal!
Underneath the slippery bodywork of the new 3 Series is the Cluster Architecture (CLAR) derived from the 8, 7, 6 and 5 Series, which makes this car up to 55kg lighter than the corresponding F30 variants, despite the increment is size and equipment. The CLAR is also responsible for the improved handling manners of the car. BMW is not bringing adaptive dampers to India and I understand the thought behind that decision. A lot of luxury cars that are suspended from adaptive dampers at the moment are facing a lot of issues coping up with the Indian road conditions and that leads to a lot of failures and in-turn, garage time and warranty claims - putting both, the consumer and the carmaker in a tough spot.
With the new 3 Series though, I'm not too worried about not having adaptive dampers. Despite its large wheels, the suspension manages to achieve a fine balance between a comfortable ride and predictable handling manners. Neither does the Comfort mode feel like it could have done with a softer setup, nor does the Sport mode feel like it should have been stiffer to improve dynamics. There is a feeling of roll on the outer wheel, but it never feels out of your control. The sense of balance is just what you expect from the 3 Series.
The new suspension in the 3 Series uses extra hydraulic damping at the front axle and a compression limiting system at the rear, which BMW says, allows damping that is continuously variable and yet very progressive. And I think it works. In fact, it reminds me of the era when adaptive dampers weren't a thing - when the dynamics felt natural, unassisted and not artificial. The new 3 Series feels exactly like that and that is good news! Track junkies, however, will miss the option of the M advantage like the adaptive sport suspension, the lightweight brakes, the sport differential and the variable-ratio steering wheel. All this equipment will make a lot of difference on the track, but on the road, even in their absence, the 3 Series is an absolute hoot to drive - tail-happy when you want it to, precise if you want it to - just how a 3 Series should be.
I'm rubbing my hands in excitement, imagining what the full-fat M version will be like! In fact, there are reports that the new M3 in development will also come with the option of a six-speed manual gearbox and that should be the icing on the cake. The gearbox on this 330i is the telepathic 8-speed automatic from ZF and it is easily the best in the class when it comes to responsiveness. Seldom will you need to touch the paddle shifters unless you are pushing the car to its limits. There is a feeling of BMW going back to its roots with the new 3 Series, but in the new world order, the 330i badge yet again points to a four-cylinder engine.
If you like the sound of four-cylinder motorcycles, then you will most likely appreciate the synthesised sound that fills the cabin with this four-pot motor. This is the B48 2.0l twin-scroll turbo-petrol and in the new 330i, a different tuning for the turbocharging bumps the output to 258PS and 400Nm (up by 6PS/50Nm). The 330i sprints from a standstill to 100kmph in 5.8s, and top speed is restricted to 250kmph. But getting there on the India-spec car can be a pain with the mandatory constant beeps beyond 120kmph. It is the death knell of enthusiasm in a car like this. What do you do if you were to take to car to the track? Maybe hackers who have been adding CarPlay functionality to older BMWs might have a solution or you could simply keep the car beyond 160kmph and let the wind noise and the synthesised engine note mask the beeps.
That is the only fly in the ointment, for what is perhaps the most exciting sedan that you can buy this side of 50 lakh rupees. BMW has even nailed the tuning of the steering system on the new 3 Series! Unlike most new-age BMWs, this one reminds you of the exciting yesteryear BMW. I hit a small pothole on the expressway and it translated to a mild but instant kick-back on the steering - that's the level of feedback that has been engineered into the new system and I appreciate it.
The G20 is a befitting successor to the iconic bloodline of the 3 Series and BMW has thrown everything at it to achieve that level of prowess. It pains me to see a crossover like the X1 or a hatchback like the 1 Series being given the responsibility of attracting newcomers to the brand. They are nothing but a badge on the hood. It is the 3 Series that does justice to everything that made the Bavarian roundel, what it is today.
Irrespective of where the marketing, the product planning or the design direction has headed for BMW in the past, all the 3 Series models have always safeguarded the enthusiastic driving dynamics that are synonymous with this bloodline. The new 3 Series does that too, and with authority. In today's world of SUVs, it is a pleasant reminder of why we love sedans so much. But more importantly, it is also a reminder that for many enthusiasts around the world, the love for the ground-hugging dynamics of a sedan, possibly stems from a 3 Series.
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