BMW 3 Series gets a facelift, new engines and 4G


New engines, new looks and new features improve one of our favourite cars. But the new BMW 3 Series also has something to make the carbon-wary taxman scratch his head…

MUNICH, GERMANY — Driving enthusiasts of Singapore, rejoice. The BMW 3 Series has been given a mid-life makeover, and it’s a comprehensive one, encompassing mild cosmetic changes but broad mechanical updates.

The 3 Series LCI (or “Life Cycle Impulse”, which is what BMW calls its model updates) gets new engines, tweaked suspension settings and an upgraded cabin, all of which you’ll be able to see by the fourth quarter of this year, when the car reaches Singapore.

First, the cosmetics. The changes are mild, as they tend to be with mid-life facelifts, but they’re noticeable. There are new bumpers with sharper, more sculpted forms to give the 3 Series some extra visual aggression, as well as to create the illusion that the car has been widened.

For the same reason, the “eyes” within the headlamps have move slightly further apart. The daytime running lights are levelled off at the top and bottom now, too, to evoke BMW’s double-kidney grille.

Full-LED headlamps are now an option, while over at the rear, the 3 Series LCI’s taillamps are new. They’re also an LED-fest, and join a restyled rear bumper that is also meant to visually broaden the car.

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Inside, BMW says the 3 Series is getting new materials to class up the place. The controls get new chrome accents as well — among other places, the window controls, electric seat adjuster switches, the air-con vents have them — and these should go some way towards addressing one of the 3 Series’ few weaknesses, which is that its cabin quality falls short of that of rivals.

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If you’re a total 3 Series nerd, you’ll also have noticed the cupholder in front of the gearlever — that item now has a sliding cover, replacing the removable lid of the current car.

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BMW says the car’s electronics have been sped up, too. The built-in SIM card that enables BMW’s ConnectedDrive tech is now 4G compliant, and allows downloads fast enough for various upgrades to be simply beamed to the car.

In Germany, for instance, navigation maps can now by updated automatically and for free, for the first three years of ownership.

But the news that petrolheads want to know is that a new engine lineup will debut with the 3 Series LCI, starting with a new entry-level model in the form of the 318i.

This gets a 1.5-litre three cylinder turbo with an eight-speed auto. It’s the same engine that powers the 218i ActiveTourer, so it has 136bhp (which in turn means the 3 Series remains in Category B of the COE scheme, alas).

It should be decently lively on the road, with a 0 to 100km/h time of 9.1 seconds. BMW says it consumes somewhere between 5.0 and 5.4 litres of petrol per 100km, so it should be cheap to run, too.

The 320i stays with 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo power and its current 184bhp, but the 328i is soon to be no more. In its place, we’ll get a 330i (also with a 2.0-litre four-pot turbo) that has 252 horsepower (or 7bhp more than the 328i).

We can’t wait to drive it; it kisses 100km/h in 5.8 seconds but should still please the carbon-wary tax people, with fuel consumption of between 5.5 and 5.8L/100km translating to emissions of 129 to 136g/km of CO2.

Both are actually new engines, and belong to BMW’s latest family of modular turbos. The various engines share 60 percent of their parts, and even have 40 percent commonality with BMW’s newest diesels.

But the big news is the all-new 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo in the 340i, which replaces the 335i.

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The first 340i in the 3 Series’ 40 year history has 326 horsepower and 450Nm of peak torque for drivers to play with, and it scorches to 100km/h in just 5.1 seconds.

Elsewhere there are seven turbodiesel versions available, including an ultra-frugal 320d EfficientDynamics Edition. That one gets by on just 3.8L/100km of diesel.

We’ll just have to wait and see which of the diesel models eventually make it to Singapore, given the (inexplicable, to us) resistance that buyers here seem to have against oil-burning cars.

But how’s this for a curve ball: BMW says that next year there will be a 330e — a plug-in hybrid version of the car with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo and an electric motor that have a combined output of 252 horsepower.

It hits 100km/h in 6.3 seconds, and is expected to emit just 49 grammes of carbon dioxide per kilometre, while consuming just 2.1L/100km of petrol on average. That’s enough for a full $30,000 rebate under the CEVS green car programme.

We’ve driven a prototype of the 330e, and it’s a remarkable car that we think would work well in Singapore – if only there were more charging stations around.

All versions of the new 3 Series have revised suspension settings, with firmer bushings and recalibrated dampers. The steering has been revised, too, with new software for the electric power steering system designed to improve feedback. But it’s honestly hard to see how BMW will improve much on what is CarBuyer’s favourite exec sedan to drive on the track.

While Mercedes seems to have embraced elegance and grace with the current C-Class (and with great success), Audi is yet to reveal its hand about what the next A4 will be like.

That means the BMW 3 Series will be the newest kid on the block for now, but judging from the way the LCI has turned out, it’s still very likely going to be the granddaddy of the segment.

about the author

Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.