Friday 23 February 2018

BMW's new 'car of contradictions'

eddie cunningham

THEY -- BMW, that is -- are calling it a car of contradictions. No, I don't think there's a revolution in the ranks. I think they are trying to convey the impression the new 3-series saloon, unveiled here yesterday and on sale from Saturday, is bigger and better, despite being lighter, faster, easier on the juice and more stylish . . . and all that. And it doesn't cost much more (from the mid-€30,000s) despite having a barrow-load of extra stuff . . . and all that.

There is certainly no revolution to be detected on first viewing. This is a car that has evolved.

Yet, when I put it beside the 'old' one, there were several noticeable departures. They've made the front grille/headlight cluster much sharper, the sculpted bonnet appeared longer and pushed the cabin area further back for a more coupe/crouched look. The dramatic, indented line along the side is more subtle now, the wheel arches more emphasised and . . . all the little elements added up.

Not only that, but it is a different car in orange than it is in black. It looks much, much larger in the darker colour.

I made up my mind: a short drive in this new one would be no good to help find how, where and why it is really different. It needed a good runout and it got one.

The first thing I noticed as I sat behind the wheel of the Sport version was the red line across the dash. That's different, almost bold for BMW. The iDrive knob is well placed, far enough away from intrusive elbows but easily reached by driver and front-seat passenger. Other than that, there was a sense of more room front and back. I really liked the way I could adjust the seat to suit me.

The 320d under that long snout I know well at this stage and wasn't surprised it hardly murmured when the right foot went down and it powered me up through the gears and speeds.

The new shape means lower drag and they have streamlined covers underside. Wind and road noise were hardly noticeable.

Most cars these days are great on good roads and surfaces. The test comes when you hit the bumps and twists and raw surfaces. This was not rattled or rolled by a few energetic (!!!) drives over some serious dips and dives. Great fun and a reassuring sense of control.

The sporty suspension, stiffer (and 93mm longer) body, longer wheelbase (up 50mm) and wider tracks (3mm front, 47mm rear) played their parts.

This is where real change comes through. You feel it.

All versions have 17ins alloys as a minimum and, of course, runflat tyres. I was driving in Sport or Sport + mode (the latter only on Sport versions) but there are also self-explanatory and more economical Eco Pro and Comfort levels at the push of a button.

Automatic stop/start and six-spd gearboxes are also standard but you can opt for an eight-spd.

Equipment includes 17ins alloys, automatic air con, Bluetooth hands-free facility, 6.5ins colour screen, iDrive controller cruise control, drive performance control, run-flat tyres, USB interface.

As you go up the trim levels -- they claim there are so many choices you can virtually make it your own 'individual' car -- there are 18ins alloys, Dakota leather upholstery, MSport suspension, pearl trim, cloth/leather etc.

There will be more models soon.

And there will be a revolution . . . of sorts. They are bringing in four-wheel-drive and hybrid versions of the 3-series before the year is out. The marque's xDrive all-wheel-drive system can now be accommodated in right-hand-drive. It will come with a number of petrol and diesel engines. And the ActiveHybrid 3 will combine a 306hp 6cyl engine with an electric motor.

All is change in motoring these days. You just have to know where to look.

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