Sunday drive with Hormazd Sorabjee: How will BMW’s latest outing fare on the Indian roads?
For over 40 years, successive generations of the 3-series have defined the BMW brand. This sporting sedan is to the Munich-based car maker what the iPhone is to Apple. It’s the car in which BMW’s DNA is deeply rooted and has steadfastly been the company’s highest selling model ever since it was born in 1975. Which is why it’s always a big deal when a new 3-series comes along and in fact it is this latest, seventh generation model that BMW India is banking on to give it a leg up in a car market where sales have fallen off a cliff.
That the 3-series is instantly recognisable as just that and nothing else is not surprising. The latest 3-series or G20 (its internal code name) is more of an evolution than something revolutionary. In fact, there are no surprises in the design; the G20 is still a sporty, sharp looking and well-proportioned sedan that’s a bit more grown up now. In fact, with each successive generation, BMW has stretched the 3-series in every dimension, making it wider, longer and taller to pander to the demands of modern luxury car buyers who want a bit more of everything.
The famous double-kidney grille has grown too, but unlike other BMWs especially the 7-series, which have courted controversy for their oversized grilles, the one on the new 3-series is thankfully well balanced.
It’s inside the cabin that BMW has taken the 3-series luxury quotient a notch up swathing it with soft touch plastics, higher grade materials and rich details like the knurled knobs for the air-vents. The all-important touch screen has been upgraded too with sharper graphics and a customisable home screen, which prioritises frequently used functions. BMW has also given you more ways than a self-help book to communicate with the 3-series. You can scribble instructions on a touch pad that sits on top of the main rotary controller, use gesture control (a feature not available on the diesel but the 330i M Sport petrol) or simply say “Hey BMW” to your voice activated personal assistant, followed by an instruction to operate a few of the functions like the air-con system. The voice recognition isn’t perfect though and the system does get flummoxed with Indian names every now and then.
The driving position is typically 3-series; low slung, sporty and with an excellent view giving the driver a sense of control. But I’m not a fan of the all-digital instrument layout, which sees the angular speedometer and tachometer tucked to edge of the cluster, giving pride of place to the navigation map in the centre. The classic, round analogue dials are gone, which is a shame.
The 3-series is a pure driver’s car in most markets but in India, you can’t ignore the rear seat. It’s quite a drop down onto well-contoured seats, so getting in and out requires a bit of effort. That said, there’s more space than before, the extra legroom and headroom is a bonus and the seat itself is splendidly cushioned. But this car is best as four-seater as the middle passenger has to contend with a high central tunnel and the protruding bit of the rear seat (where the armrest folds away), which isn’t exactly comfortable.
Smooth as cream
Launched with two engine variants, the 330i petrol and 320d diesel, it’s the petrol version of the 3-series I prefer. Sure, the 190hp diesel is punchier and it’s quieter too, but the 330i’s 258hp 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine fits the car’s sporty nature best. The engine is creamy smooth and when you floor the pedal you feel you’ve been hit with a velvet glove. You are wafted to 100kph in six seconds and it’s easy to hit serious speeds without knowing it. The steering is not as sharp as a BMW’s helm should be, but it’s light and communicative enough to keep you engaged in the driving experience.
So what’s the verdict on the 3-series Version 7.0? It’s more rounded and mature than its predecessor, but still puts the driver at its heart.
Hormazd Sorabjee is one of the most senior and much loved auto journalists in India, and is editor of Autocar India
Sunday Drive appears every fortnight
From HT Brunch, October 6, 2019
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