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A Beemer reinvented

The revised BMW 3 series leaves one feeling she’s in heaven. The bar has gone up, writes Sumant Banerji.

autos Updated: Sep 21, 2012 01:10 IST
Sumant Banerji

Over the last few years, competition has intensified manifold in India’s luxury car segment. First the BMW marched ahead of traditional leader Mercedes in 2010. Now BMW itself is being challenged by another company from the fatherland, Audi, which has already nudged Mercedes into the third place this year and is the fastest growing carmaker these days. To defend its turn, the best way forward for BMW would have been a product launch — or a dramatic rejig of an existing product.

As luck would have it, BMW’s entry-level sedan, the 3 series (which is also the world’s largest selling premium nameplate), got a generational change in its global portfolio. Traditionally the 3 has lagged the bigger and more expensive 5 series in India, but the new avatar promises to change the equations and help the company retain its position in the pecking order.

Looks
The outgoing 5th generation 3 series was no ugly duckling. It was young, aggressive and sporty, and for some time, turned heads wherever it went. Till the time came when there were so many of them on the road that the 3 became the WagonR among luxury cars! Tinkering with such a successful design is fraught with danger, but trust BMW to play with fire. The 6th generation 3 series, then, is all that the older car was and some more. It is bigger, wider and longer, and has an greater road presence. The headlamps have been reworked, and are flatter, stretching all the way to the grille.

The car looks sleeker and meaner, and the additional 93 mm of length means the 3 finally looks like a sibling of the 5. Except for the dimensions, it follows the beemer pattern: no big suprises here.

Interiors
The one big criticism that the old 3 constantly got was about its cramped rear seat — which may explain why Indian consumers preferred the more stately 5 series. The new car addresses this shortcoming. The wheelbase is longer by 50mm, and there is 15 mm more leg-room at the rear. Head room too has risen by 8 mm despite the sloping roofline. And the boot space is also up by 20 litres to a segment levelling 480 litres.

The additions work well, but inherently, it is a driver’s car, so its rear seat does not match the comfort of a Mercedes C Class. The quality of interiors is top notch and the fit and finish... well, so German.

Ride and handling

BMW offers four variants on the 2-litre diesel engine that powers the 3 series, and just one top of the line petrol variant. Clearly it knows what will sell in the country. We stuck to their presumption as well and chose to test out the practical diesel motor. It is a familiar 1,995cc motor that belts out 184 bhp power and 380 Nm torque. On paper this makes this the most powerful in the segment, though the C class offers a little more torque.



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It is the re-engineered suspension and transmission, though, that makes this car such an improvement over the outgoing version. An electromechanical steering improves the otherwise hard BMW steering, and the introduction of an 8-speed automatic transmission and five-link rear axle make the handling so much more efficient. The car is now 10% more rigid and despite the increased bulk, is actually 40 kgs lighter than its predecessor.



The end result is a car that is so much more fun to drive — and one that is as much at ease in the city as the highway, thanks to the extra gear. It accelerates cleanly, and a mere touch of the throttle gives you the "seat moment" when the G-force leaves you feeling like taking off in an airplane. It holds its line well, and corners like a charging bull. The sport and comfort suspension settings are better demarcated, and you feel the difference immediately when switching between the two. And one would want to be in the sport mode forever!

Grouses?
The list of equipment that comes with the car is long, so long that even even we don’t know what to make of them. Besides the standard ABS, airbag, electronic brake distribution and brake assist, there is a dynamic stability control, auto stability control, dynamic traction control, dynamic brake control and cornering brake control. Huff.

It is also surprisingly frugal with a claimed fuel economy of 18.88 kpl for diesel and 14.79 kpl for petrol, which would do even a Maruti proud. The only grouse may be the lack of bluetooth option, bar in the top-end variant. Airbags and all the rest of it is standard, but not bluetooth. Nitpicking, really...

Verdict
It is a generational change that does seems more like the continuation of a tradition, of something that was good anyway. The bigger, more dynamic 3 series is also more driveable and desirable. The resemblance to the 5 series from some quarters means less chances of getting passed over in favour of the bigger sibling. A solidly built, well-engineered car that carries on with the legacy that made the 3 such a popular sedan. At R29-37 lakh, it fits right in between the Audi A4 and the Mercedes C class, while taking the bar higher for the competition. Catch up time for the other greyhounds again.

The 3 remains the car to own if you are a driver at heart. This time, the gap has widened.