What they said when the BMW 3-Series was new… (Mar 9 2005)
ASKED to define an iconic prestige car of the last 30 years, I would probably mention the BMW 3 Series. Five times.
That is five times because the 3 Series is now being launched - from 12 March - in its fifth generation.
It has done for the prestige market what the Mini did for city cars in 1959 and the Ford Transit for vans in 1965. They have all become benchmarks for whatever followed, standards by which rivals have been judged.
In the same way as we describe the "Mini car market" or the "Transit class", so too do we proclaim with confidence that a car is in the "3 Series sector".
Each has become more than the sum of its parts, a defining reference point both for what has gone before and since. They are models in time which transcend time itself.
The 3 Series has been a motoring ico since 1975 but can, in fact, trace its roots to the BMW 1600-2 of the mid-1960s, so it is almost 40 years old, and some might argue it takes its numbering from BMW models of the late 1930s.
But wherever you start, you end up with the fifth generation today and it's a journey which any car maker would envy. Successive models over the last 30 years have been better than the predecessor and the latest is no exception.
Despite being larger inside and out, it is lighter, better equipped, better performing and holds the promise of very strong residual values in a few years time.
BMW design cues are visible from nose to tail with its low, broad stance, twin headlights split by a double kidney grille, long wheelbase and short overhangs each end. Inside the sweeping fascia wraps around the driver.
Under the skin are new powertrains, a five-link rear axle and the very latest dynamic stability control is available. Careful design and selective use of lightweight materials ensures the new BMW 3 Series is a finely honed thoroughbred.
At launch there will be two four-cylinder models, the new 320i petrol and 320d and a six-cylinder 330i with new six-speed manual or automatic transmissions which will be joined in April by the six-cylinder 325i. In October the range will expand with the addition of the 318i, 318d and 330d saloons although the current coupe, touring and convertible versions will continue for some time.
Prices will be from £21,090 for the 150bhp 320i rising to £22,890 for the 164bhp 320d and onto £28,455 for the 258bhp 330i . The ES and SE trim levels will add to all these basic prices.
BMW expects to sell 18,000 of the new 3 Series this year, rising to 24,000 by the end of 2006 as more versions are added.
Earlier this week, I was able to test three versions of the new 3 Series, the two petrol and diesel powered models, over some very demanding and unforgiving Spanish roads.
The extra interior room is immediately apparent as is the bigger boot and all versions I tried displayed a much smoother and quieter ride than the previous generation.
The 330i exudes ability and power with utter composure and the automatic box must be the best on any car at any price. This car simply soaks up the miles with consummate ease.
I found the 320i even more responsive and more suited to my driving style. Even if it is harder work through the delightfully slick six-speed box, it just feels livelier than its stablemate. The manual still produces some BMW characteristic gear whine and there's some very muted wind noise from the mirrors.
The 320d is arguably the pick of the launch models, combining battleship knock-out power with cruiser speed.
It really is difficult to identify it as a diesel, so rapid is the response and composed the character.
Only if you look at the fuel gauge do you realise how efficient it is at around 39mpg overall compared with 32mpg from the two litre petrol engine and the 28mpg recorded by the 330i.
There is little doubt in my mind that the latest BMW 3 Series has moved the goalposts again and will score heavily over its rivals as an expanded range is rolled out by the end of this year.
Words: Robin Roberts