The BMW 3 Series is almost synonymous with what the Bavarian carmaker is. The sports sedan has always been the one to beat when it comes to sheer performance, sportiness and fun in the compact sedan space. Every car from the Lexus IS to the Jaguar XE has always benchmarked against this sedan, not to mention the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4. So a new generation is always a big deal, and with the 7th generation BMW 3 Series, things take on a bit of an added meaning. And that is because it now gets to be not just the sporty and fun sedan from BMW, but also the company's most innovative, most intelligent and most connected car ever. Their words, not mine! So it was with a lot of fanfare that we drove different variants of the car when it first emerged at the end of 2018. And my anticipation and excitement is now back as the 3 Series is making its debut in India. As I had told you back then India will get the 330i petrol and the 320d diesel.
The diesel will have two variants - Sport and the swankier Luxury Line; while the petrol gets the M Sport trim. All three versions will be made in India at BMW's Chennai facility. The new 3 Series looks grown up, bold, decisive and very muscular. The confused drooped-down appearance of the previous car is gone, and back is the very familiar taut muscle, rippling through some tight compact proportions. Yes, the car looks ready for action, and yet has a sense of width and sophistication.
Its pronounced hood, large kidney grille, lines in the metal and very sexy taillights give it a modern design. And yet even though the car has not grown too much, the 41 mm increase in its wheelbase spells more legroom at the rear - which Indian buyers would like to have.
The cabin is very well finished and gives you an ample environment - both in terms of space and materials, as well as tech and gadgets. Ambient lighting details even on the rear door trim for instance enhance the car's luxury quotient. The new 3 Series also gets the latest generation BMW iDrive 7.0 interface, with its 12.3-inch touchscreen. You also get BMW's virtual assistant. So say 'Hi BMW' and ask for a tyre pressure or fuel range check, or adjust the climate control, or change ambient lighting - all through voice commands. The virtual assistant is only offline though, so none of BMW's Connected Drive services are being offered on the car in India. So not quite the most connected then - I mean in India.
The rear seat will feel more plush, roomier, and with a nicer back angle than on the outgoing car. Material quality is excellent, and there are some nice design details like the use of various materials like plastic, leather and metal. Rear AC vents and controls are also going to make those that are chauffeured happy. There are some trim and palette differences depending on the variant one opts for. The dark chocolate brown interior - though very well finished on this Luxury Line with me - is not my cup of tea. But then nor is the exterior black paintwork.
On the road the new generation BMW 3 Series sure feels like an all-new car. While the last car was reasonably sporty, the character on the new one is more obviously so. Yet the engine choices may be a bit of let-down, as the 2-litre diesel and petrol are no fire starters. I remember feeling the same way during the global drive. Neither will they feel like they are letting you down, nor will they get your attention or put a broad smile on your face. So why then am I calling the car sportier than its predecessor? Well that goes to its handling and steering feel. Both are excellent and the 3 Series feels like it should as a result. Ride quality is also great, and will feel well balanced to the Indian driver. And even though you get a sense that you're driving a bigger car than before, it's not in a way that will bother you. If anything in the Indian context that's probably a good thing!
The 320d gets an inline 4-cylinder diesel with 186 bhp and 400 Nm of peak torque. It will do 0-100 in 6.8 seconds and has a top speed of 243 kmph. The petrol inline 4 on the 330i has 253 bhp and also gets 400 Nm of peak torque with a wide ban from 1550 to 4400 rpm. Its top speed is 250 kmph and it goes 0-100 in a second less than the diesel. Both engine types use the 8-Speed Steptronic gearbox. There is no word on the 367 bhp M340i xDrive coming to India. Though it is not ruled out as a direct import later on, it's not available at word go. Nor is the plug-in hybrid that was recently introduced worldwide. The 330e makes 249 bhp and may still come to us by the end of 2020 as BMW starts to get serious about electrification across its range - not just globally, but in India too.
The prices are competitive enough and BMW will like to believe that the lack of a credible rival at this stage will help it capture the compact premium sedan market. The Audi A4 has only fired so much, while the Mercedes-Benz C-Class is now beginning to age. The competition from Volvo, Lexus and Jaguar in India remains weak still, and so the 3 Series is all set to thrill and dare I say kill.
The premium car buyer in India will like that it retains its traditional strengths and yet gives a bit more by way of luxury and comfort, giving it a more all-rounder appeal than before. Expect to see a few of these on the roads - could have been more - had the automobile market not been badly hammered down as it were.