Paris Motor Show: BMW’s new 3 Series arrives, a little earlier than expected

Sharp new styling and cabin, but carry-over engines for marque’s most important saloon

The new BMW 3 Series has been revealed to the world prior to the Paris motor show, courtesy of the car company's US website. The leak, hours before the official unveil will matter to the management but not a jot to the general public. For them it's about the looks.

If you’re struggling amid the tide of SUVs and crossovers to see the significance, have a think on this: one in every four BMWs sold is a 3 Series or a 3 Series derivative. So while the X-range of models are important right now, the 3 is what BMW needs to prosper, even now.

Surprisingly, therefore, BMW seems to have been prepared to take a few more risks with this one, at least in the styling department. The temptation to make a downsized version of the current 5 Series must have run high, but instead Munich has given us arguably the most daring styling for a 3 Series since Chris Bangle’s E90 model.

Okay, daring is a relative term, and overall the shape is a gentle evolution of what’s gone before, but there is definitely difference in the details. The ultra-slim headlights now have a notch of body colour cutting into the lower rim, while at the rear the wheelarches are more curved, and the boot lid much more sculpted, than you’d expect. There’s almost a touch of Lexus IS about the rear styling, in fact, while that deep, curved slash that runs from under the rear window, forward and towards the front wheels, is potentially the most divisive of the styling decisions.


Mechanically, this is a shrunken 5 Series, using the same CLAR rear-drive platform (with optional xDrive four-wheel drive). We've already driven a prototype of the 3 Series, in turbocharged 330i form, so we already know that it's genuinely exceptional to drive, with excellent steering and chassis balance (more on that here ). But now we know a bit more about the technical details.

Six engines will be available from launch – a 320i with a turbo 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, developing 184hp and with Co2 emissions starting from an impressive 129g/km. The same engine gets tweaked up to 258hp for the 330i, which has emissions from 132g/km - equally impressive.

The first of the diesels (yes, diesel is still a thing) is the 318d, which has 150hp and emissions as low as 108g/km with the optional eight-speed automatic gearbox fitted. The hugely popular 320d is, effectively, a 190hp version of the same four-cylinder engine, with emissions starting from 110g/km with the automatic gearbox. A four-wheel drive 320d xDrive is the fifth variant, while the sixth is the range-topping (for now) 330d six-cylinder diesel, with 265hp and emissions from 128g/km.

Those are all engines carried over from the old 3 Series, or other models in the BMW lineup. More exciting models are yet to come, including ultra-frugal three-cylinder models, a brace of plugin hybrids, and eventually the first fully-electric 3 Series.

Much of the efficiency on offer comes from some very clever aerodynamics. Thanks to such items as an almost totally sealed-off underbody, and active radiator grille flaps, the 3 Series drag co-efficient can be as low as 0.23cd, a remarkably figure for a roomy four-door saloon.

Light weight helps too. The new 3 is around 55kg lighter than the old one, and that’s in spite of increased size and cabin space, and a boot that holds a practical 480-litres.

Standard spec will include LED headlights, with massively powerful LED laser lights (with a beam extension of 530m) on the options list. Those should contribute to safety, and BMW is also pushing out the boat on active driver assistance systems, although it has drawn back from claiming any autonomous capability for the 3 Series. Included on the safety roster are collision and pedestrian warning with braking function as standard. The optional driving assistant professional system includes active cruise control with stop and go function, steering and lane control assistant (which helps guide the car through narrow channels), lane change warning system and lane departure warning system, side collision protection, evasion aid, cross-traffic alert, priority warning and wrong-way warning systems.

BMW is also pushing is intelligent personal assistant with the 3 Series. This is basically a smarter version of voice control, that responds (theoretically, anyway) to natural speech rather than a rigid menu system and which can tie together such things as your email and calendar to help keep you (safely) productive while on the move.

The cabin looks similar to that shown in the new Z4 sports car, with a conjoined instrument panel and infotainment screen. That infotainment screen stretches (optionally) to 8.8in, and while you can have conventional instruments, there’s also an optional 12.3in all-digital dash, with slightly retro-looking dials.

Whether you like the new looks or not, you’ll have to wait a bit yet to have your say at the dealership. Sales of the new 3 Series don’t start until March of next year.

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe, a contributor to The Irish Times, specialises in motoring