BMW has packed its revamped 3-Series sedan with tech gadgetry like smartphone entry, auto-reverse and an in-car assistant that learns drivers’ routines, aimed at delivering a crucial sales bump after growth slowed.
While a one-time bedrock of the German carmaker, the BMW 3-Series has been overwhelmed by the SUV tsunami – even at home where the X3 and X5 are now BMW's top sellers – but it remains a vital car for the company and the building block for a range of spin-offs including the M3 and M4 heroes.
This seventh-generation of the best-selling model, unveiled at this week's Paris car show and available locally before mid-2019, packs all sorts of promising improvements.
“It represents the BMW brand like no other car,” BMW Head of Development Klaus Froehlich said at the show. “It is truly the heart and soul of BMW.”
Apart from the all-new bodywork, the next-gen Three comes with an upgraded interior, improved safety and a lighter and more nimble chassis.
BMW will rush the new cars down under within weeks of the start of European sales, landing in Australia around April of 2019. The range likely to be led, as usual, by a petrol-powered 320i. That's expected to be sold alongside a diesel-engined 320d and the range will grow rapidly to include a station wagon.
While carmakers are starting to churn out electric vehicles, BMW will sit out offering the new 3-Series as a battery-only car, although a plug-in hybrid version is on the cards for a mid-2019 release in Europe with an electric driving range of 60km.
After a long-term slide in 3 Series sales and a poor performance against the rival Mercedes-Benz C Class, BMW is hopeful that it will put the brakes on the decline.
“We do expect the 3 Series will certainly spark interest" BMW Australia’s Lenore Fletcher tells Australian Business Traveller. "Traditionally when there is a new model introduced, you will always see renewed interest in the vehicle."
That said, BMW doesn't want to take that spike for granted – so to set itself apart, the new 3-Series incorporates features like eradicating the car key. Drivers use their smartphone instead to unlock the vehicle and start it, by placing the phone in a wireless charging tray.
Once underway, the car can automatically keep a set distance from the car in front and it helps drivers stick to a lane in tight roadwork channels. In stop-and-go traffic, it can restart from a standstill on its own.
The car will also be able to auto-reverse as far as 50 metres, helpful in confined spaces, by backtracking its exact path after recording steering movements.
Mechanical underpinnings for the 2019 Three are already rolled under the larger 5 and 7 Series cars, which means the baby of the range should get a significant uplift in refinement and driving enjoyment.
Crucially, it is longer, wider and taller than the outgoing model and a longer wheelbase will translate into significantly more cabin space.
The body design has more kinks and creases than its predecessor, particularly around the nose where the signature ‘kidney grille’ is more like the inlet for a stealth fighter than an old-school passenger car.
BMW says there is more shoulder and elbow room, and more legroom in the back, but the boot capacity is unchanged at 480 litres.
[Additional material by Bloomberg News]