Back at the Nordschleife of Portugal, back at the Autodrómo do Algarve and finally ON TRACK!
Today was the day I finally got to drive the Autodrómo do Algarve in Portimao, a dream come true. Now, you wanna get on a challenging track like that with a powerful & sporty car and I had the luck of experiencing the track in the prototype M340i xDrive BMW 3 Series – what a sound, what a car and hell does it drive.
But before we move to the highlights of this trip let me take you through some technical insights and news as well as my driving experience across the Algarve coastline.
The 3 Series has a long history of innovative and incredibly strong predecessors starting all the way back in 1975.
1975 marks the start of an era of success, the start of the most successful BMW ever. The first ever 3 Series was introduced, very well known as the BMW E 21. Together with the introduction of this new model line the first ever driver oriented cockpit was launched on the automotive market and that’s where the story of innovation in the BMW 3 Series begins. Since the mid-‘70s Munich has built and sold over 15 million of this model, and it’s the closest you’ll get to a BMW becoming a household name.
1977 the first ever 6-cylinder engine was introduced in the sedan segment, a huge step forward.
Talking about the famous E30 immediately brings up childhood memories. When my dad turned up with his E30 car in dark green one day, I remember how unsure I was, at first. As clear as that memory are the words of my dad in my ears “Laura, gib ihm eine Chance, du wirst ihn lieben, da bin ich mir sicher – eine geile Karre” (translated “Laura, come on give it a chance, you will love it, I am sure about it – it’s a great car”) and up until today these words ring through my ears every time I cross a BMW 3 Series. As he promised, it didn’t take long, probably one test drive around the corner and I fell in love. We owned the car long enough for me to jump behind the steering wheel myself and finally driving this iconic BMW myself and it felt like a dream was coming true.
So how much of its original DNA is still to be found in the G20, the 2019 BMW 3 Series model?
Stephan Horn, product manager 3 Series, introduces the brand new edition as follows “A 3 Series must be both brilliant to drive when you want to push it and brilliantly relaxing when you want to go for a long drive,” he said. “We could never build a car that has your nerves on edge the whole time, or which only excites on the track. The bandwidth in which our car must operate must be wider than for any rival.”
Let’s have a look…
Beyond dynamic ability, two other key areas identified as ripe for change from the current 3 Series were improving the look and feel of the interior and isolating the interior further from wind and road noise by the addition of significantly more insulating materials in the bulkhead and A-pillars and by installing a double-glazed windscreen as standard.
A new Head up display with 70 percent bigger projection screen counts to the interesting options.
In general the processing quality has increased in the interior, some buttons have disappeared. The result: a much better overview and driver oriented cockpit.
As part of the interview with Patric, I mentioned the dominated feature of the interieur – the curved, one piece, glass display. I like it, its very elegant and perfectly integrated into the cockpit of the interieur.
The car is also significantly better equipped as standard than the outgoing car, with kit including a reversing camera, puddle lights, LED headlights, three-zone air conditioning and folding door mirrors.
Ambience lighting LED comes with every new 3 series, the LED strips are integrated discreetly.
BMW’s entire suite of parking assistance is on-hand too (automatic parking inside or outside of the car using the key, 360-degree camera, rear-view camera and sensors), alongside a multimedia system with full internet connectivity, Microsoft Office 365, CarPlay and real-time traffic updates. It’s all controlled using BMW’s iDrive rotary controller, the touchscreen or buttons on the steering wheel.
First impressions: It looks huge! Having talked about the E30 of my dad, these are two different worlds. The original 3 Series was more to be put into the category of my brothers Golf Mark 2. Today, as pointed out by quite a few of you on my IG channel, it looks comparable to the 5 Series. It is true, its wider at the front and back, to be precise:
- Wider rear track +21mm
- Wider front track +43mm
The wheel base is also 41mm longer than its predecessor, but figure wise not comparable to the 5 Series. What amazed me was the weight reduction of -55kg while targeting a growth in every direction, a wider, track based car.
It’s handsome and sporty looking, without being overly aggressive.
The Luxury Line on the 330i features a redesigned lower front bumper and air intake with little sideways “T” shaped trim pieces that surround the foglights. Those trim pieces are a bit different for BMW and a novelty in their design. They continue out back as well, flanking either side of the non-M rear bumper and it’s a way to clearly differentiate between the “Lines”.
Many discussions, many split opinions and not to be found on the M Sport Paket. The background is actually quite simple and functional, this design was originally developed by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) for the intake air in jet engines and later became a feature of classical racing cars.
Personally, I appreciate looking at the M Sport package much better from the rear, especially putting the sport & luxury line right next to it. For me these T-shaped elements, together with the trim elements. Also, I really like the looks of the rear apron and diffusor.
Portimao Blue, a colour I have fallen for and replacing the long term colour Estoril Blue. Although I wasn’t the biggest fan of Estoril Blue, it is now a shade darker and more subtle, suiting more my taste. Launching the G20 here in Portimao, a coincidence or planned all along?
Kai Lichte, the spokes person for the 3 Series smiles and answers “It is a tradition to name our colours after race tracks, Estoril Blue as been with us for many decades but it was time to freshen it up. The result this darker blue, which I truly connect to. To name it after Portimao was the only way forward, keeping the tradition. But yes, the decisions were made on a parallel period of time.”
And a dynamic contour line near the side skirts guides the eye to the powerfully sculpted rear wheel arches.
Another feature treated to a striking new look is the Hofmeister kink – the familiar counter-swing at the trailing edge of the side window graphic. A BMW hallmark, this element of the window frame is now integrated into the C-pillar, giving the rear doors a “freestanding” glass edge.
New are the Full-LED headlights which are now a standard. Optional are the uber cool Adaptive LED headlights with BMW Laserlight, which stand apart with their hexagonal daytime driving light rings and blue, L-shaped elements in the inner and outer light sources.
The engineers at BMW managed to improve the driving experience even more by lowering the center of gravity of -10mm, not the biggest number in figures but feeling wise it did definitely make a change.
This combined with the 50/50 weight distribution and you get amazing grip and a road oriented car basis.
The wheels department at BMW has been hard at work too – there are no less than 8 wheel options for the 330i customers, ranging from 18 to 19 inch sizes, and a combination of all-season and performance tires, both run and non-flat
BMW’s Driving Dynamics team say that the goal for the new 3 Series was that it was meant to be “Effortless Fast”, claiming that was always the title of the car.
They continue talking about chassis stiffness, saying that everything that the driver can feel, starting from the wheel, through the wheel carrier, through the suspension, through the steering column, has been enhanced through chassis stiffness and through the use of computer simulation and optimization.
They claim that this sort of optimization allowed BMW to make the shock mount, where the shock meets the chassis, up to 50-percent stiffer. Also, where the axle is mounted to the subframe is 50-percent stiffer. So driver feedback is something that BMW has seriously prioritized.
First off, it feels like a big car, almost more like an old 5-series in size than a 3-series. You notice the increased width of the new G20 BMW 3-series for sure, in both a negative and a positive sense. On the downside, it’s less intuitive to thread down a narrow country road before, taking up most of a lane on a typical B-road, but the flipside is incredible stability. This car can handle serious corner-speed, and its limits are sky-high.
Very stiff but not harsh, the suspension provides exemplary body control, with both ends of the car doing the same thing at the same time—something that couldn’t be said about the last-generation 3-series. The body, which is noticeable stiffer overall and double that at key suspension mounting points, no longer flexes and creaks over bumps, though we admittedly encountered only few of those on Portugal’s ribbon-smooth roads.
320d forms a nearly perfect symbiosis from efficiency and driving pleasure. 190 HP and 400 nm of maximum torque provide for excellent road performance. The consumption lies according to data sheet between 4.2 and 4.4 litres of diesel on 100 kilometres. Even who allows to fly it, uses less than seven litres of diesel.
The cars I was driving on the road in Portugal both had BMW’s new M Sport passive suspension installed. This uses hydraulic bump stops at both ends, but for different reasons. At the front they prevent lift, which means the tyre’s footprint on tarmac can be more accurately controlled at speed. At the back they are for controlling compression, which keeps the rear end more stable.
One of my highlights driving the 3 Series:
The BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant, an intelligent, digital character that responds to the prompt “Hey BMW”. One unique feature over other digital assistants is that drivers can give him a name (for example, “Hey Charlie”) to lend even greater individuality and personality.
The BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant learns routines and habits, and is subsequently able to apply them in the appropriate context. He helps the driver, learns their preferences and is familiar with their favoured settings – e.g. for the seat heating or the places they drive to frequently using the navigation system (“Take me home”).
BMW has also been able to add some other interesting features, including a Reverse Assistant. How many times have you driven into a narrow, confined space with limited visibility, only to find that you can’t continue and have to reverse? Well, activate this new system and the 3 Series will reverse you out trouble automatically (you only have to apply inputs to the accelerator and brake pedals).
The M340i uses an M Sport differential that employs similar software logic to the M5’s, and adaptive dampers that can tighten-up at the front on turn-in, ushering the rear end into play despite its xDrive AWD system.
While the rest of the range I have tried so far has impressed in a not-too-unexpected manner, the six laps in the M340i xDrive prototype around Portimao had flashed me the most.
The effect is quite addictive once you’ve got your head around its character. Placed in Sport mode and with a single push of the traction control button (which engages Traction mode, sending more twist rearwards), you notice the back end gets extremely mobile once the speed is wound up, but it works with you rather than providing hedge-endangering tank-slappers.
Let the car do its thing on turn-in, with the variable-ratio steering weighting up precisely, but instead of trying to correct the slide, maintain your steering angle and use your right foot to skid the car onto your chosen line. And you’re drifting like a pro!
In quicker corners the same character remains, and while you might expect you’re glad of the headroom afforded by some front-wheel intervention, actually the gait exhibited by the 3-er in this scenario inspires confidence to push.
The most favourable model is 318d for 37,850 euros. This corresponds precisely to the price of the also 150-HP-predecessor’s model. Entrance petrol car is the 320i for which BMW requires 39,500 euros. The 184-HP-model is available from March, 2019 and has the 8 gear automatic gearbox serially. Further it continues with the 320d for 40,450 euros. The 190-HP-diesel is also available with the four-wheel drive xDrive and then costs including automatic 45,100 euros.
Overall, the new BMW 3 Series sedan weighs up to 55 kg less than the corresponding predecessor model (depending on the model variant and equipment fitted, of course), while the stiffness of the body structure and suspension mountings have been “significantly increased”, according to BMW. Inside, you’ll find a new screen grouping of the Control Display and instrument cluster, along with a tall centre console.
Driving a Portimao Blue 3 Series across Portimao and the M340i on one of the best tracks in Europe is a pretty good end to a spectacular year of BMW launches.