Once the standard bearer in its segment, the BMW 3 Series has lost its way in recent years. Lackluster acceleration, uninspired handling, and a dated interior have relegated the 3 Series to the middle of the pack. Now, the automaker is introducing the seventh generation, and it has the potential to put the popular model back on top.
Hinting at its sportier ambitions is the new exterior design. Up front, the kidney grilles are now connected and feature thick surrounds. Redesigned front vents contribute to the more determined look. Full LED headlights are standard, but buyers can also spring for optional adaptive headlights with Laserlight technology, featuring blue L-shaped elements. In the rear, the 3 Series has narrower taillights with a new lighting signature. Despite the slightly bolder look, the car has grown compared to its predecessor. It's 2.9 inches longer, 0.6 inches wider, and 0.5 inches taller, with an increased track width front and rear.
The 330i receives more power than last year's model thanks to a number of engine updates, including a lighter crankshaft and reduced internal friction. The 2.0-liter twin-turbo inline-four makes 255 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, up 7 hp and 37 lb-ft from the old model. Say goodbye to the six-speed manual, because an eight-speed automatic is the only transmission choice. BMW estimates a 0-60 time of 5.6 seconds for the rear-drive 330i and 5.3 seconds for the all-wheel-drive version. In our own independent tests, we recorded a rear-drive 2017 BMW 330i doing the deed in 5.5 seconds, matching BMW's own estimate for that model.
Those who want more power will opt for the M340i, which receives an updated six-cylinder engine producing 382 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. This engine, also paired to an eight-speed automatic, should propel the BMW to 60 mph in as little as 4.2 seconds. As you'd expect, these models receive M Performance chassis tuning, in addition to a standard M Sport rear differential for improved traction and cornering. All-wheel drive is available.
We don't know all the details yet, but BMW promises an electrified 330e model in 2020. It's unclear whether we'll see the diesel variant return to our market. BMW says it's evaluating diesel versions of its new vehicles, including the new 3 Series, but no decisions have been made.
No matter which variant you choose, BMW is making big promises for improved ride and handling. Along with reducing wind noise and enhancing the steering feel, BMW also tweaked its all-wheel-drive system, allowing it to split drive torque between the front and rear wheels more evenly.
Body rigidity has increased by 25 percent. Additionally, new lift-related dampers help reduce body movement over the model's predecessor. This feature consists of extra hydraulic damping at the front axle and a compression limiting system at the rear, and it continuously adjusts the firmness of the damper to changes in spring travel. Both the standard and optional M Sport suspensions benefit from this technology.
An Adaptive M suspension promises even better responses with electronically controlled dampers and the ability to deliver damping force separately to each wheel with continuously adjustable valves. BMW says it's now easier to distinguish between the different Comfort and Sport modes on this suspension. Adaptive mode is also now available.
With the help of special wheels, front air curtains, and other updates, the 3 Series has reduced its drag coefficient to 0.26, down 0.03 from the previous model. Through the use of high-strength steel and aluminum, the 3 Series shed 121 pounds of body weight.
BMW hasn't completely redesigned the 3 Series here in the U.S. since the 2012 model year. And one of the places it's really showing its age is the interior. Inside the cabin, you'll find a much more streamlined setup than the one on the old model. Front and center is the new 8.8-inch standard touchscreen, or the optional 10.25-inch unit. Complementing this unit is a more modern digital instrument cluster display. BMW made its center stack more compact and less cluttered, and from what we can surmise from these photos, the manual parking brake is gone.
Standard features include three-zone automatic climate control, a rain sensor, and acoustic glass for the windshield. Other features include new Vernasca leather upholstery, a next-gen head-up display with a 70-percent bigger projection area, ambient lighting, and a Storage package with nets and bag hooks for your stuff. BMW improved the model's active cruise control system to stay on for a longer period of time at a full stop before it turns off. BMW's automatic parking feature can now automatically maneuver out of parallel parking spaces, and Parking Finder offers drivers a variety of parking options before they reach their destination.
BMW is also debuting its new personal assistant. It may not have a special name like Siri or Alexa, but it can perform a range of functions when prompted by voice commands. Using the magic phrase "Hey BMW," drivers can tell the assistant to navigate them home, adjust the climate controls, explain different features of the car, find parking, or keep track of their calendar events. If the driver says, "Hey BMW, I feel tired," the assistant will adjust the lighting, music, temperature, and other functions to help waken the driver.
The BMW 330i goes on sale next March with a starting price of $41,195. All-wheel-drive versions are priced from $43,245. M340i models will arrive in dealerships sometime in the spring.