Bigger, lighter, more rigid and powerful than any of its predecessors, the E90 generation of the BMW 3 Series has finally arrived on the South African market.Bigger, lighter, more rigid and powerful than any of its predecessors, the E90 generation of the BMW 3 Series has finally arrived on the South African market. The initial E46 lineup includes a 2,0-litre four-cylinder Valvetronic petrol (320i), 2,0-litre common-rail turbodiesel (320d) and 2,5-litre (325i) and 3,0-litre six-cylinder engines, both of which are equipped with Valvetronic technology.
All models are offered with six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions. The new Three's wheelbase, at 2 760 mm, is 35 mm longer compared with that of the E46. For improved stability, front and rear tracks are 1 500 mm and 1 513 mm wide, an increase of about 20 mm. At 4 520 mm long, the new E90 3 Series is 30 mm longer than the current model, 60 mm wider, but virtually the same height - at 1 424 mm.
Being slightly larger in all directions, the E46 offers the driver and passengers a little more room with the exception of the rear, where headroom is apparently slightly reduced. As with every new model launched, there is the inevitable claim of increased body stiffness, in this case a 25 per cent gain. Improved design and new high strength steel is said to result in a bodyshell weight reduction of 20 kg. The extra stiffness is also said to reduce vibration and increase passive safety.
The car's new rear-drive platform features a MacPherson strut (front) and trapezoidal-shaped multi-link (rear) suspension. The steering comprises a speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion mechanism, but it has been extensively reworked to incorporate BMW optional Active Front Steering system.
In view of the range's uprated safety systems, ABS, stability and anti-skid control (ASC+T, DSC+T), CBC (cornering brake control), hill-holding and a function to periodically "wipe" the discs of water for quicker braking response in the wet, one might assume that handling has been sanitised but, as CAR found in its driving impression of the new Three in the April issue, that was not the case. For more driving fun, DSC can be reduced to DTC (dynamic traction control) so that the "response thresholds" for brake intervention are moved back.
Depending on powertrains and spec levels, weight distribution varies from 48 to 56 per cent front/rear. At the rear there is a new five-arm axle. To put the improvements in perspective, BMW claims that the new Three will lap the northern circuit of the Nürburgring nine seconds faster than its predecessor. "On non-active steering cars, it becomes easier to appreciate how predictable the handling is, and how easy it is to counter the obligatory touch of safe understeer," CAR wrote.
Furthermore, the 3 Series' interior now closely resembles that of its 1 Series and 5 Series siblings. It has a stop/start ignition activation button, optional iDrive controller, more storage boxes and compartments and an enlarged boot capacity (460 litres), two-stage Brake Force Display, multifunction steering wheel, automatic air conditioning, cruise control, MP-3 compatible front-loading CD player, central locking, height- and reach-adjustable steering column and run-flat tyres.
BMW also claims the 3 Series has the fastest air conditioning throughout its segment, "warming up and cooling the interior more quickly than in any other comparable car" and there are six airbags in the E46: driver, front passenger, hip, thorax, and curtain head units.
On the engine front, the top-of-the-line new 2 996 cm3 six produces 190 kW at 6 650 r/min and, thanks partly to a magnesium cranckcase, is 10 kg lighter than the old motor. Another technical highlight is the introduction of the Valvetronic system, working in conjunction with Double-Vanos and new lightweight camshafts. Included amongst the numerous detail improvements is an electric water pump drawing only 200 watts, which is about one tenth of the power absorbed by a conventional engine-driven pump. The 330i is claimed to accelerate from zero to 100 km/h in 6,3 seconds and reach a limited top speed of 250 km/h.
The 325i's 2,5-litre unit develops a maximum 160 kW at 6,500 r/min and maximum torque of 250 N.m between 2 750 and 4,250 r/min. The 320i four-cylinder is a revised version of the Valvetronic 2,0-litre, but now produces 5 kW more, taking power up to 110 kW at 6 200 r/min.
The 320d turbodiesel has 1 600 bar common-rail injection, now capable of four injection pulses per combustion cycle. This motor also has electrical adjustment of its variable nozzle turbine to suit operating conditions, glow plugs start to warm up as soon as the driver opens the door to allow for quick starting, even in below-zero conditions. The power output for the new unit is up by 10 kW to 120 kW at 4 000 r/min and BMW claims the model will consume 5,7 litres/100 km on the combined cycle.
As the price list below indicates, the E90 is aggressively priced on the South African market, however, the range's options list is arguably longer than its standard features list and luxuriously-specced 3 Series models are bound to be significantly more expensive than what these figures suggest:
320i 6-spd R243 500
320i 6-spd Steptronic R256 500
320d 6-spd R269 000
320d 6-spd Steptronic R282 000
325i 6-spd R285 000
325i 6-spd Steptronic R298 000
330i 6-spd R346 500
330d 6-spd Steptronic R359 500
Optional equipment includes: Wood trim (except 330i), front armrest, active steering (on 325i and 330i), sports suspension settings, electrically-folding exterior mirrors, (keyless) comfort access, climate comfort windscreen, electric rear screen roller blind, rear windows roller blinds, luggage compartment package, electric front-, sport- or heated seats, anti-dazzle electric interior and interior mirrors, through-loading system, headlight washer system, PDC front and rear, rain sensor and automatic driving lights control, bi-xenon headlights with automatic vertical control, adaptive headlights, active cruise control, Business and Professional satnav systems (including iDrive controller), TV and voice control.