BMW 3-Series (F30)


Debut: 2011
Maker: BMW
Predecessor: 3-Series (E90)



 Published on 23 Jan 2012
All rights reserved. 


We always know the 3-Series is crucial to BMW. How crucial? In 2010, BMW sold 399,000 units of this car globally, representing a third of the company's total output. Somehow, its importance has been decreasing – albeit in a healthy way. Back in 2003, sales of E46 amounted to 528,000 units or a staggering 57 percent share of the company's output. The addition of 1-Series and X3 could be one reason for the slide. Another reason is the intensified competition from Audi A4 (306,000 units sold in 2010) and Mercedes C-class (342,000 units including CLK and SLK). The E90 might hold a slight edge in driver appeal until its last days, but as a whole package it no longer enjoyed the advantage its predecessor possessed. In our very first report written in 2005, our criticisms to the E90 ranged from an underwhelming exterior design to a cheap-looking dashboard to a slightly firm ride of its sport suspension. We also asked for more space to keep it competitive against future rivals. These weaknesses turned out to drive some customers towards the Mercedes and Audi camps.

However, this time BMW is not going to repaat mistakes. The new F30 3-Series is a larger car. It is 50 mm longer in wheelbase and 104 mm longer overall. Its cabin gets 8 mm more rear headroom and 15 mm more rear legroom, accompanied with a 480-liter boot (up 20 liters), so it is competitively roomy for the compact premium class without threatening its bigger brother 5-Series. A well-judged enlargement I would say.


The exterior styling is also improved. Well, these days no BMWs could be described as beautiful, but at least the new 3-Series has not followed the unfortunate footprints of the new 1-Series. Its proportion is still easily recognizable as a 3-Series, with side glasses almost identical in shape to those of the old car. Like the 5-Series, its bonnet becomes a multi-contour clamshell to provide space for pedestrian protection while emphasize the longness of its engine compartment, hence making a stronger statement of its FR layout. What really improved visually is the nose – now each chromed kidney is made 3-dimensional and its depth is partially exposed to the gap between the bonnet and headlamp. This make the kidneys like solid silver cups inserted at the nose. The change makes the car appear to be more stylish and tasteful. Another visual improvement is the new taillights, which mirror the fine effort of 5-Series.


The cabin cannot be said as a work of art, but it looks much nicer than the E90's. The odd "camelback" dashboard of the old car has been replaced with a more conventional one and a freestanding sat-nav screen. Center console is now slightly angled to the driver as in the good old days. Controls and switchgears are ergonomically sounded, as are the driving position and seat. Materials and fit and finish have been improved to the extent that it is finally a match for Audi and Mercedes, if not better. Moreover, there are 4 distinctive trims to choose from – Sport, Luxury, Modern and M Sport – so you are more likely to get the desired colors and textures. The small and thick steering wheel is nice to hold. The updated iDrive is simpler and easier to use, although it still takes more steps than Audi's MMI.



Frankly, the F30 does not set any new standards on packaging, styling or build quality. As always, what makes it really special is the driving dynamics. When we first heard the new car has grown considerably in size, we feared that its performance and handling could take a step backward, at least in subjective areas like response and feedback. This has been the case to many new BMWs, including the current 5-Series. Thankfully, its engineers have taken adequate measures to prevent such a nightmare. The F30 might be larger, but it is no heavier. In fact, by using more high-strength steel to construct the monocoque chassis and lighter materials / components throughout the car, it manages to cut weight by a claimed 40 kg across the range. Better still, this 40 kg of weight saving is real, unlike most other manufacturers which do not take additional equipment into account. Even the new 3-Series inevitably features more standard equipment than the old car, it still undercuts the old car on scale. For example, a comparison of the spec table shown below and the one on our E90 page will find a new 328i weighs 50 kg less than the old 330i yet it offers slightly higher performance. Admittedly, the new 328i employs a lighter four-cylinder engine, but when the new 335i undercuts the old 335i – with exactly the same motor – by 25 kg, you know the saving is true.

Apart from lighter, the chassis also boosts 30 percent higher torsional rigidity than that of the outgoing car. Although its body shell is no wider, its front and rear tracks have been widened by 37 mm and 47 mm respectively. Besides, the car also gets slightly sleeker, with aerodynamic drag coefficient ranging from as low as 0.26 (on 320d EfficientDynamics) to 0.27 on 320d, 0.29 on 328i and 0.30 on 335i, thanks to extra underbody sealing and a front apron shaped such that to produce "air curtains" to cover the wheels. All these improvements are based on a chassis already known as the class' best.



The suspensions are similar to those on the old car as well as the new 1-Series with which it shares extensive components. Up front, there is a pair of MacPherson struts, although BMW prefers to call it "double-joint spring struts". Contrary to earlier prediction, it has not switched to double-wishbones like the 5-Series because that would have added 20 kg to the front axle, something difficult to be offset on the smaller car. Are we disappointed? Not a bit. Considering how good the old car handled, who bother? At the rear, the tried and trusted 5-link setup continues to serve the 3-Series. As before, the front suspensions are largely made of aluminum while the rear ones are steel in order to achieve a 50:50 weight distribution. To improve ride and handling, electronic adaptive damping has been added to the suspension as option. This is especially important to the cars fitted with the stiffer and lower M Sport suspensions, which used to be criticized for too harsh on less perfect roads.

In a bid to cut fuel consumption and emission, the outgoing hydraulic power steering has been replaced with an electromechanical power steering with rack-mounted motor – no surprise after Porsche adopted such system in 991. Besides, buyers can opt for a variable ratio steering rack to quicken response at lock and tighten turning circle.



Powertrain has always been a strength of BMW. This tradition continues in the F30. As expected, the naturally aspirated straight-sixes have been withdrawn for the sake of energy efficiency. Taking their places is the new N20 2.0-liter four-pot engine with direct injection, Valvetronic, Bi-Vanos and a twin-scroll turbocharger. It has three states of tune – 184hp (320i), 218hp (325i) and 245hp (328i). Thanks to a much stronger low-end and mid-range torque (258 lbft from 1250-4800 rpm), the 328i is actually faster than the outgoing 330i, with 0-60 mph accomplished in 5.6 seconds instead of 5.8 sec. It is also as refined as a naturally aspirated engine, being smooth and lag-free. The only downgrade is sound quality, which fails to match the good old straight-six, yet that is less important to the sedan than the case of Z4 roadster. Moreover, the N20 engine has fuel economy improved from 37.6 to 44.8 mpg and emission reduced from 175 to 147 g/km. Those improvements might sound a little modest compared with recent rivals, but you have to notice that the E90 already got EfficientDynamics package – including automatic engine stop-start, on-demand oil and water pump and regenerative braking alternator – since 2007. These features are carried over to the new car. What contribute to the further reduction are mainly the downsized engines, reduced drag and the upgrade to ZF 8-speed automatic transmission. The latter is so smooth and responsive that it is now a better companion than the 6-speed manual.

The straight-six has not died yet, but it lives on only in turbocharged form. The single-turbo N55 continues to produce 306 hp and 295 lbft of torque and propels the 335i from rest to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds. As the advantage over 328i is much reduced, we don't expect it to be a big seller. On the diesel side, there are four versions of the 2-liter turbo diesel four, producing 116hp (316d), 143hp (318d), 163hp (320d EfficientDynamics) or 184hp (320d), while turbo diesel 3-liter straight-six will join later this year in the form of 330d and 335d. The 320d is expected to be the best selling 3-Series in Europe. Its power and refinement are excellent, while aluminum construction guarantees lightweight and good handling.


On the road, the new 3-Series immediately impresses with its new found performance, handling and refinement. The first thing you will notice is the improved ride quality, at least on the car fitted with adaptive dampers. It is not only smoother, quieter and more comfortable, but also overcomes crests, expansion joints and bumps more cleanly than the old car. As a result, you can attack B-roads at faster pace yet feeling calmer and more confident. The second thing you will notice is how light the car feels when it steers into and out of corners. Partly this is contributed by the lighter helm, but also the car's lack of inertia at the nose. Undoubtedly, the wider tracks, the reduced kerb weight and the switch to four-cylinder engine help this feel. With less inertia to deal with, the new 3er is keener to turn and rotate should you switch it to Sport+ mode, which raises the ESP threshold, dials up the throttle response, quickens gearshift, loads up the electric power steering and tightens the dampers. No cars in this class possess a handling balance so neutral and a mid-corner behaviour so adjustable. Even though with excellent grip, you can push the rear tires out in mid-corner with a big prod of throttle, yet the process is controllable and nowhere scary.

Some might find the electric power steering less talkative than the old hydraulic rack. It does not transmit the fine details of road textures to your hands like the old helm, but it is better weighted, more precise and it still delivers the feel you need during maneuver. When you are not in attack mood, you will appreciate its lightness and calmness which makes it a better companion in urban area as well as cruising.

Perhaps the most impressive is the various dynamic aspects come at a unity. The engine, the gearbox and the chassis all work in harmony to let the car flows fluidly through corner after corner, on whatever surfaces and at whatever speed. The F30 has taken driving dynamics to a new level, by far exceeding its Mercedes and Audi rivals. Simultaneously, it has ironed out the rough edges in comfort, space and styling while extending its lead in energy efficiency. That should guarantee the top position of its class for many years to come.
Verdict: 
Specifications





Year
Layout
Chassis
Body
Length / width / height
Wheelbase
Engine
Capacity
Valve gears
Induction
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Transmission

Suspension layout

Suspension features
Tires
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)

0-100 mph (sec)

320d
2011
Front-engined, RWD
Steel monocoque
Steel
4624 / 1811 / 1429 mm
2810 mm
Inline-4, diesel
1995 cc
DOHC 16 valves
VTG turbo
CDI
184 hp
280 lbft
6-speed manual
(8-speed automatic)
F: strut
R: multi-link
-
225/50WR17
1420 kg
146 mph (c)
6M: 7.1 (c)
8A: 7.2 (c)
-

328i
2011
Front-engined, RWD
Steel monocoque
Steel
4624 / 1811 / 1429 mm
2810 mm
Inline-4
1997 cc
DOHC 16 valves, DVVT, VVL
Turbo
DI
245 hp
258 lbft
6-speed manual
(8-speed automatic)
F: strut
R: multi-link
Adaptive damping
225/50WR17
1430 kg
155 mph (limited)
6M: 5.6 (c) / 5.4**
8A: 5.8 (c) / 5.6* / 5.4**/ 5.6***
6M: 14.6**
8A: 14.7* / 14.1** / 14.9***
335i
2011
Front-engined, RWD
Steel monocoque
Steel
4624 / 1811 / 1429 mm
2810 mm
Inline-6
2979 cc
DOHC 24 valves, DVVT, VVL
Turbo
DI
306 hp
295 lbft
6-speed manual
(8-speed automatic)
F: strut
R: multi-link
Adaptive damping
225/50WR17
1510 kg
155 mph (limited)
6M: 5.2 (c) / 5.3*
8A: 5.2 (c) / 4.6* / 4.9** / 4.8***
6M: 13.0*
8A: 11.8* / 12.4** / 12.3***




Performance tested by: *C&D, **R&T, ***MT





AutoZine Rating
Click images for latest rating and comparison with rivals:
3-Series sedan

    Copyright© 1997-2012 by Mark Wan @ AutoZine