2023 BMW 3 Series review: international first drive


8.5

Security, value and features

things we like

  • As pleasant to drive as ever
  • New technology fits in with few hiccups
  • Smart styling upgrades resist controversy

Not as much

  • Climate controls are now on the screen
  • A touch expensive next to an Alfa or Audi
  • Um, little else…

Jump forward

No car sums up “BMW” better than the 3 Series. Regardless of the proliferation of SUVs and electric vehicles – two things the Munich-based manufacturer is focused on – the humble-but-beautiful sedan remains at the heart of what its manufacturer is all about. It remains a bestseller, and over 16 million of them have found a home since its launch in 1975. So BMW would be pretty stupid to mess up the formula for this seventh generation, “G20” 3 Series facelift, right?

Fortunately not. Perhaps crucially, the kidney grilles have been changed in design but without growing an inch, stopping the clamoring crowd of aesthetes from throwing up some placards to protest.

In fact, the facelift largely cleaned up the design, removing some wrinkles and curves and generally giving the 3 Series the vibe of a shrunken 5 Series. Not a bad thing, in our eyes. Under the skin, meanwhile, the changes are more limited to an influx into digitalization than to an overhaul of its already drastic dynamic character.

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How much does it cost and what do you get?

The updated 3 Series launches simultaneously as a sedan and touring (wagon); in Europe it will launch with petrol and diesel powertrains, but the latter is not destined for Australia. Prices start at $78,900 for a 320i, which uses a 2.0-liter engine familiar from many other BMW and Mini products and produces 135kW, while the $93,400 330i has a 180 -kW version of the same device. Both prices are before road costs.

Both get plenty of standard equipment, including BMW’s huge new curved touchscreen, which is making headlines as the biggest change for this G20 update. Power-adjustable sport seats, adaptive cruise control and park assist are built into both, with the 330i getting larger 19-inch alloy and leather M sport seats and adaptive suspension.

The 330e plug-in hybrid retails for $97,400 and increases peak power to 215 kW, with features the same as the 330i. Topping the lineup is the $104,900 M340i xDrive, the only all-wheel drive 3 Series to make it to Australia. Again, both prices are before road costs.

Its engine is the truly wonderful 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six seen in the Z4 and Toyota Supra, producing 275kW and sprinting from 0-100km/h in just 4.4 seconds. It also gets a snazzy Harman Kardon stereo, heated seats, adaptive LED lights and a sunroof.

BMW aims to streamline trim and options to simplify configuring your 3 Series. Therefore, important options are bundled into simple packages, although they can vary in price depending on which car you apply them to.

Among them are the Comfort Pack, which brings heated seats and the nicer stereo for lower rung models, and the M Sport Pro Pack, which brings M Sport brakes with red or blue calipers, as well as lots of snazzy exterior design flourishes, most of which they replace with chrome strips Black for a meaner look.

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How do competitors compare in value?

A comparable Mercedes C-Class costs almost exactly the same, the 320i and 330i take on their respective C200 and C300 rivals with nearly identical performance and price numbers. It’s almost as if the two automakers are in a fight… The Merc arguably has a touch more showroom cachet since its design is all-new, but the BMW is a sharper handler.

An Alfa Romeo Giulia will be a fair bit cheaper – a 147kW Sport starts at $63,950, while a 206kW Veloce is $71,450 (both before road costs). It’s a cute car to drive, but doesn’t feel as plush or technologically push-button as the updated 3 Series.

An Audi A4 would be cheaper too, with prices starting at $73,500 before road costs for a 183kW 45 TFSI S Line, but it just doesn’t hold a candle to the BMW when it comes to drive appeal.

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Interior comfort, space and storage

The 3 Series might not look too different from the outside, but it’s made a big step on the inside. All models get a giant curved display as standard, running BMW’s latest operating system.

In front of you is a 12.3-inch digital dial display that looks cool but, frustratingly, doesn’t really let you customize much. It feels like a missed opportunity to do something wild, but at least it’s clean and readable.

Rather, your jaw will drop at the 14.9-inch widescreen in the center of the car, which can run BMW’s native maps and media or connect directly to Apple or Android phones. It looks fabulous and its sheer size is what convinced BMW to ditch its odd gesture control system. A fairly responsive voice control should help ease the pain of anyone determined not to hit the screen…

Space is unchanged, so the 3 Series remains a roomy, practical car. The Touring is huge at the back and offers up to 1510 liters of luggage space, accessible via the power tailgate or the ingenious, separately opening rear window.

All models come standard with an eight-speed automatic transmission, which now works via a nifty little switch rather than a joystick, tidying up the center console and giving the front quarters an extra sense of space.

However, it makes locking the transfer in “manual” less of an immediate process than before.

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BMW 3 Series touring boots

How is it to drive?

Ah, the traditional 3-card business card. To everyone’s relief, absolutely nothing has changed here. The Dynamics team relegated themselves to tea duties on this project, knowing they already had the class benchmark for handling and that any fiddling could ruin the 3’s sweet balance of comfort and fun.

This remains a car that steers sharply and grips strong, but not without a sense of humor if you fancy loosening its electronic shackles and driving a little harder. The M340i’s xDrive system is very rear-heavy, so there’s plenty of fun to be had outside of the pure rear-wheel drive versions.

Engine choice – if money is no object – is the sparkling six-cylinder in the M340i. It sounds fantastic, tearing sharply up to its 7000rpm rev and delivering the appropriate punch for an M-badged sports sedan, falling just short of the guts and glory of the full-fat M3.

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It’ll be a nicer, less aggressive thing to live with every day, while offering similar performance to old M3s – at a similar price point, mind you.

Standard adaptive suspension and an intelligent electronic differential ensure its 1800 kilos are kept very well under control, while these days it’s fitted with 48V mild hybrid technology, so it’s also sophisticated and suave when you’re through drive the city. It is a truly accomplished all-rounder and beautifully demonstrates BMW’s core values.

Of the other engine options, the 330i may be the cutest, but the 330e is the most intriguing. It’s significantly heavier than the petrol-only models but handles its bulk just as well, and the novelty of 50 (or more) kilometers of peppy, silent running is hard to love. When you can charge cheaply at home or work, it feels a bit like a no-brainer, and its 0-100km/h time is basically on par with the 330i model.

Also Read :  AmeriHome Mortgage Review 2022

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What about fuel?

The BMW 3 Series consumes 95 RON fuel at all levels below the M3 headline (which calls for 98 RON). Fuel consumption varies by engine.

Of course, the 330e Hybrid claims the most fuel-efficient figures from official testing, at just 2.2l/100km, although this can vary wildly if you can’t always guarantee an available outlet to recharge the batteries to shoulder some of your mileage .

The 320i and 330i offer similar fuel economy – 6.3 and 6.4 l/100km respectively – while the more powerful M340i xDrive claims 7.7 l/100km. Given the addition of an extra pair of cylinders and driven wheels, that’s an impressively modest increase in fuel economy, and our experience of this engine in real life suggests it will indeed improve on its official mixed-use figure.

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how safe is it

The BMW 3 Series G20 generation was assessed by ANCAP in 2019 and received a five-star safety rating. So the same should be written here, since nothing significant has changed in the design or structure of the car. There’s also plenty of active safety tech as standard, with lane departure warning, a plethora of cameras and park assist built into all models.

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VERDICT

Few cars at any price meet their requirements with such satisfying precision as a BMW 3 Series. It’s fair to call this one of the true pillars of the automotive world, but thankfully BMW knows the legacy behind the badge and has sympathetically updated the seventh generation 3, injecting new technology without sacrificing purity – and enjoyment – the driving experience underneath.

Find the money for a 330e or M340i and you have one of the most enjoyable all-rounders available at any level.

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8.5

Security, value and features

things we like

  • As pleasant to drive as ever
  • New technology fits in with few hiccups
  • Smart styling upgrades resist controversy

Not as much

  • Climate controls are now on the screen
  • A touch expensive next to an Alfa or Audi
  • Um, little else…





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