Can the new BMW 3 Series be just as successful as its predecessor?

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The latest class-leading saloon launches beneath a weight of expectation

In terms of car launches, the 3 Series is amongst the more hotly anticipated. As a best seller, in private and business sales, you can almost guarantee each new model will sell.

However, that doesn’t mean buyers will settle for anything. Since its introduction in 1975, BMW have sold over 15 million of them worldwide, and the expectation is that the latest version will continue that trend.

With a fresher interior, new engines and upgraded driving dynamics, the 3 looks good on paper. But we’re more concerned with its ability on the road.

Quite an upgrade

With tough competition from the Audi A4 and Alfa Romeo Giulia, BMW has changed things up in the hope of bringing the 3 Series onto the same level.

Starting at its base, the chassis is now lighter and works with a wider track to lower the centre of gravity and increase its dynamism on the move.

The A-pillars have also been fitted with foam and support a windscreen made from acoustic glass, to achieve a quitter and more comfortable drive.

Performance expected of the 3 Series

We tried out the 320d engine, one of the popular units from the manufacturer, with the eight-speed automatic gearbox.

The 3 Series' side profile

This transmission can also couple with the xDrive all-wheel drive setup, but our car was rear-wheel driven – the 320d’s standard setup.

The power output is more than needed for most drivers, with 187bhp and 400Nm of torque. Under the new WLTP regulations, the new model has a combined fuel economy between 52 and 53mpg.

You might struggle to hit those figures yourself, but it suggests a solid score for a car that isn’t lacking on power – with the automatic transmission, the 320d will do 0-62mph in less than seven seconds and reach a top speed of 149mph.

More power if you want it

For those wanting more, the 330i M Sport is the one to look at. As the most powerful option when the new 3 Series launched this March, it has a 2.0-litre petrol turbo with a very healthy 254bhp.

The new 3 Series from the back

It’ll jump from standstill to 62mph in less than six seconds and has the M Sport suspension as standard, with its lowered ride height and more dynamic ride. Adaptive suspension is also an option.

Although there’ll be a few more potent models further along the line – when the next BMW M3 rocks up in the next year or so – the 320d is no shoddy alternative.

What’s it like on the road?

When it comes to its ability on the road, the 3 Series has always sat at the higher end of its class, even in the more understated guise of the 320d.

The rear lights look more imposing on the new model

If you’re wondering whether the new model lives up to that name, in short, it does. But not in the way we’ve come to expect from the 3 Series. The steering is more precise than on the previous model, and it corners very well.

There’s also improved body control and at higher speeds the ride is impressively smooth. It’s nice to sit in, too – road noise is at a minimum at most speeds.

The model we drove also had the optional acoustic side windows, but the standard acoustic windscreen also played a part in that.

It looks good

There’s no doubt this is a 3, with the manufacturer’s signature kidney grille and more imposing wheel arches, but one that’s more like the larger 5 Series.

The 3 Series' interior is updated

The air intakes and headlights are more striking, but only to a point that doesn’t take anything away from the car’s aesthetics.

There are any number of M Performance accessories that can be added, from bigger alloys to sportier body kits, but the standard model looks impressive itself. It’s just as nice on the inside as well, with a blend of premium materials and upgraded digital dials.

What’s the difference in spec?

With the amount of older 3 Series models already in the fleet market, business customers will want improved design and standard equipment if they’re to upgrade to the new model.

This spec used a blend of smooth leather and metallic detailing

The SE trim – the 3’s base spec – has 17-inch rims and adaptive LED headlights as standard. Those features alone are great, but a reversing camera and heated fronts seats also come at no extra cost.

Going for the M Sport brings 18-inch, twin-spoke alloys and an electric sunroof.

BMW’s LaserLight LEDs are also an option on all specs. Although you need the Visibiltiy package and High-beam Assistant, at £1,500, to make the upgrade, they provide excellent visibility at night.

The verdict

With Audi, Alfa Romeo and Mercedes-Benz also competing this class – and doing well – there’s a fair bit resting on the new 3 Series.

The new 3 Series in white with silver alloys and twin exhaust tailpipes.

And we reckon it’s delivered. This new model is just as impressive a package as the previous – with superb build quality and an impressive ride – but it’s also fresher, with a modernised interior and an excellent list of standard features on all specs.

The new BMW 3 Series should be just as popular as the model it’s replacing.

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