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BMW 3 Series - A model of consistency

Design-wise there have been one or two dropped shots in the evolution of BMW’s current model range, but at its heart remains the thumpingly good 3 Series, a car that delivers the ultimate balance of comfort and performance, writes Gi’s motoring correspondent Anthony ffrench-Constant

What on earth is going on here? How could anyone in their right mind consider this remotely acceptable in any way…?

Sorry, but it’s just not good enough… I refer, of course, to the current spate of spittoon-worthy Andrex advertising. We’ll never know whether this appalling, CGI abetted anthropomorphisation of Labrador puppies is down to Andrex’s own mither of soulless marketing men, or whether the advertising agency responsible for the outrage talked both itself and its client into believing this was actually a Good Idea. Either way…Huge Mistake.

Let’s face it, unless dog forms a part of your regular diet, nothing, but nothing, could ever come over cuter than the real thing. And it’s an absolute given that much of the success of everybody’s favourite smallest room accessory is down to that simple fact alone. That, and, of course, the fact that – nine times out of ten – it’s one of the few loo rolls that does actually deign to part along the ordained perforations… What we’re left with, then, is the peculiar volte face of advertising that, having played a major part in a product’s success, is now in danger of actively putting the punters off.

All of which brings me to the identical indignity currently being visited on the new BMW 3 Series by the company’s uninspiring, Olympic games involvement flagging ‘Joy Wins’ campaign.

In much the same manner as Andrex proper puppy advertising has been fundamental to the success of the product, BMWs all-conquering ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ tagged advertising has been luring callow youth into fourth-hand blue and white propellered machines they can’t really afford for as long as anyone can remember. So why the change?

I asked the same question of the decidedly bold metal origami wrought of late by now ex-design boss Chris Bangle: BMWs response being that his controversial work never actually affected sales; my counter argument being that after decades of artfully crafted marketing, the company could apply polish to, um, pretty much anything and the aspiration fuelled punters would still go for it.

Be that as it may, it’s interesting to note that not only has BMW’s major cash cow, the 3 Series, proved the least excessive of the Bangle era cars in terms of ‘challenging’ styling, but also that the ad campaign for the new model has witnessed, albeit subordinate to ‘Joy’ rampant, a gently sotto voce return of the ultimate strap line.

In other words, no matter how boldly it may protest the need for change, BMW isn’t going to take too many chances with far and away its most important car.

All of which leaves me happy to report that, in the context of the 3 Series at least, catwalk-worthy BMW couture is back. Despite pedestrian impact legislation forcing bonnets ever higher, the nose still gives great groundhog and the front is very elegant indeed. With flanks mercifully free of over-much pressed metal peregrination and the back a simple, generic BMW stern, the whole is handsome indeed.

The new 3 Series looks bigger and is bigger – longer by 93mm, 50mm of which goes into the wheelbase, yet weighs up to 45kg less than its predecessor, depending on engine choice. With rear seat accommodation notably improved, the only real downside to this is an enforced revision of my preferred driving position…

This is the first time I’ve climbed aboard a BMW and not wanted the seat and wheel set as low as possible. I think it’s a measure of just how big the 3 Series has grown that I can’t instinctively find the corners of the car with the seat set as low as I’d like, and have to raise myself quite a bit before I feel In charge rather than merely on board.

That aside, my only gripes are an interior design which, though a notable improvement, still falls short of the car’s exterior in the elegance stakes. Amongst the very little turbo; its slightly more frenetic, and notably less sonorous, efforts at delivering sparkling, 5.9 seconds to 62mph performance the only real giveaway. 8-speed (for heaven’s sake) automatic transmission means that the thing is for ever shifting cogs, but the changes are smooth enough for this not be intrusive.

Despite the bonus of over 44mpg and CO2 emissions dropping below the 150g/km mark, I do miss the effortless, languid oomph of the straight-six. Happily, it will still be available in 335i guise, a sample of which was sadly in absentia at the launch.

In manual guise, the 320d proves equally efficient, its slower acceleration times belying the in-gear urge of 380Nm of torque, allied to over 60mpg and emissions of just 120g/km. I still can’t quite get comfortable with the size of the clutch foot rest plate in manual BMWs, which I still catch with the outside of my shoe because the pedal box is set so far over on right hand drive conversions. Still, departments in which excellence is expected of a BMW (despite the joyless shift in advertising focus), the ride and handling of the new 3 Series does not disappoint.

MacPherson strut-type front and aluminium multi-link rear suspension was mated to the company’s excellent adaptive suspension in both specimens I drove, leaving one free to choose between the cosseting ride of Comfort mode or the better body control and flat cornering enthusiasm of the Sport setting.

With 50:50 weight distribution and rearwheel drive, the 3 Series remains a beautifully balanced car. Electric, variable rate steering – a simple mechanical rack with different tooth spacing at the ends to lessen arm aerobics on really twisty roads – works so much better than BMW’s largely unloved, optional active system that a driver quickly acclimatises to the shift in gearing at the extremes of lock.

Though ultra-precise, the steering does feel lighter than that of its predecessor, and I can hear one or two diehards muttering about a subsequent lessening of involvement in the driving experience. However, given the difficulties most manufacturers have had imbuing electric steering with any respectable feel at all of late, I have nothing but praise for BMW’s efforts here.

Handling with such poise, precision and adjustability that – but for the size of envelope around you – you’ll quickly forget you’re aboard a family saloon, the new 3 Series constitutes a proper improvement over its predecessor and returns to the top of its class with considerable vim and by some margin.

I do find it somewhat ironic that a company carefully crafted, blue and white propeller- aspirational marketing of which has successfully safeguarded sales against the odd relative clunker over the years, now finds itself armed with an absolute belter allied to Bronx cheer-eliciting advertising. No matter… I’d have one like a shot.

BMW 3 SERIES - TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION

MODEL: 328i
PRICE: £29,060
ENGINE: 1997cc, 4-cylinder turbocharged, 245bhp @ 5000-6500rpm, 258lb ft @ 1250-4800rpm
TRANSMISSION: Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
PERFORMANCE: 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds, top speed 155mph (limited), average fuel consumption 44.1mpg, CO2 emissions 149g/km
DIMENSIONS (L/W/H in mm): 4624/1811/1429
ON SALE IN THE UK: Now
STANDARD SPECIFICATION:Automatic air-conditioning, 17” alloy wheels,
Bluetooth and USB connectivity, Keyless start, 6.5 colour screen with iDrive, FM/CD stereo, multi-function steering wheel, cruise control, automatic boot opening
KEY OPTIONS:Park Assist for parallel parking, Reversing Assist and Surround-view cameras, 40:20:40 split folding rear seats, Head-up Display, Dynamic Safety, BMW Connected Drive

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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