The launch of a new BMW 3 Series is always a highly anticipated affair and, as BMW South Africa prepares to introduce the sixth generation of its top-selling compact saloon, it’s not only fans of the brand who will be looking forward experiencing the next evolution (codenamed F30) of the 3 but indeed South Africans as a whole should be excited about the happenings behind the scenes of bringing this new model to market.
BMW’s South African manufacturing plant at Rosslyn has played an important role in the evolution on the 3 Series and, indeed, in 1973 was the first plant outside of Germany to begin production of this important global model. Every generation of the 3 since has, at some stage, been signed off at this local plant. And, with its reputation for world-class levels of quality and workmanship, Rosslyn has been tooled up (with an investment of close to R2,2 billion) as one of four plants tasked with building the new F30 3 Series. By 2013 Rosslyn, making use of its additional 1 600 strong local workforce, and significantly increased automation systems (up to 93 per cent), will be producing around 93 000 units of the new 3 for worldwide audiences.
There’s a lot to like about the styling of the latest 3 Series. Seeing all but the first (E21) model lined up alongside one another at the local launch, there can be no denying that the new car fits nicely into the family photo, but there are also enough new design elements to keep this model looking fresh for the foreseeable. And judging by the dramatic looks of the first-ever F30 racecar (set to compete in the 2012 South African production car series), wheeled out as a surprise reveal at the event, there seems to be plenty of scope for performance variants based on these initial proportions. Highlights include a neat new headlamp design, double swage line running along the profile, and the tidy 5 Series-inspired rear end. These new elements help make the new 3 appear sleeker than the model it replaces, even though the latest car is actually slightly taller (9mm) than the outgoing E90 shape. The F30 is also 50 mm longer (with a 5 mm lengthened wheelbase) and features a 3 7mm wider track, front and rear.
One area in particular that the last BMW 3 Series lost out to its rivals on was interior build quality, fit and finish. The past criticism clearly struck a nerve with this Munich-based manufacturer as the latest interiors to come out of Rosslyn appear to be vastly improved, specifically in touch and texture.
South African customers will have three models to choose from at first, with the popular 320i set to hit showrooms in May. A revised 320d engine with 135 kW and 380 N.m delivers an impressive 4,4 L/100 km, while the 335i retains its award-winning twin-scroll turbocharged straight-six engine. The biggest talking point in the new range, however, and the car in which I spent the most time during the launch, is the new 328i. Here BMW has sidelined the popular straight-six from the outgoing 330i in favour of a more frugal and efficient new twin-turbo four cylinder unit. The obvious complaint that most enthusiasts will have with this decision is that this latest 328i no longer produces the same distinctive exhaust note as the straight six model of the past had, but this should just about the only potential downside mentioned (and surely an aftermarket exhaust system is already being developed to cater to those who need more aural pleasure from their 3?) as the new engine, albeit down on capacity (2,0-litre) delivers on all fronts. It offers 180 kW of power and 350 N.m (35 more than the previous 330i) from as low as 1 250 r/min. Perhaps badging this new model 328i is slightly ambitious on BMW’s part, but it nevertheless delivers admirably.
A choice of two transmissions, an eight-speed automatic or six-speed manual is offered on all but the 335i (an eight-speed sports automatic is standard).
On-road the new 3 feel both lighter on it’s feet and more nimble than the model it replaces. We are told that the new model is around 45 kg lighter than the E90 although, judging by the long list of option extra equipment available, a more relevant figure is that the F30 is also 50 per cent stiffer than the old car. Immediately noticeable in the new model is the vastly improved ride. A combination of suspension tuning and more compliant run-flat tyre sidewall construction has all but transformed the 3’s ride quality.
As mentioned, a long and extensive options list is attached to the new BMW 3 Series and this includes four themes. BMW South Africa didn’t actually name the first theme during the press launch, but it may as well be called the “Should have worked harder” line as this is the absolutely standard specification. A Luxury, Modern, and Sport line are also available and, depending on which theme you select, this gains you a bespoke key fob, and interior colour, as well as wheel and grille designs.
The new F30 3 Series not only looks sleek and modern, but now also features a significantly improved interior over the model it replaces. The car feels remarkably light and easy to drive and the new four-cylinder engine does an admirable job of replicating the smooth power delivery of the outgoing six-pot, while delivering improved fuel efficiency and leaving a greener footprint. BMW will be feeling decidedly more confident going into the inevitable next Teutonic face-off.
BMW 320i M/T R361 000
BMW 320i A/T R379 000
BMW 320d M/T R390 500
BMW 320d A/T R408 500
BMW 328i M/T R438 500
BMW 328i A/T R456 500
BMW 335i A/T R543 000
Pricing includes a 5-year / 100 000 km maintenance plan and 24-hour roadside assistance.
Model: BMW 328i
Engine: four in-line, twin turbocharged
Power: 180 kW at 5 000 r/min
Torque: 350 N.m between 1 250 – 4800 r/min
0-100 km/h: 6,3 seconds
Fuel consumption: 6,3 l/100 km
CO2: 142 g/km
Top speed: 250 km/h