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BMW 3 Series 2016 review

EXPERT RATING
7
Paul Gover road tests and reviews the 2016 BMW 3 Series with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

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Driving time in the BMW 3-Series has been a disappointment over the past few years.

I've had to tolerate wallows and clunks and kickbacks through the steering, as well as suspension that is either too firm or too soft but never just right.

So imagine my surprise when I jump into an updated 3 Series that finally drives the way I like.

Not only that, but there are two cars that give me the old-style 3 Series smile.

The first is a 320 Sedan that finally has suspension with grip and compliance and the second is a 330i Touring that reminds me why I like old-school wagons so much more than hulking SUVs. Oh, and it also drives very nicely, just like the 320.

These new 3s are proof that BMW is going back to its basics, instead of trying to be like Mercedes-Benz or worrying about the growing threat from Audi. After all, there's nothing wrong with an ultimate driving machine.

The Bavarian brand has been forced to play catch-up because of the all-round excellence of the C Class that took our Car of the Year prize for 2014 and an Audi range which puts cabin quality first in a way that people really like. The sales numbers prove the point, with Benz accelerating away as number one in luxury land and Audi attacking from behind.

At the same time as the C class and A4 were going forward, BMW got bogged down with a heartland 3 Series that was off-the-boil in driving dynamics and not as good as expected on the value front. Local management couldn't even be bothered fitting a standard reversing camera for Australia, where driveway safety has become a massive priority.

I didn't hold out much hope for the 3 Series when I saw a facelifted car in German that I could not pick from the superseded model. BMW told me it had done the good work under the skin, but I was not convinced.

Then, driving the all-new 7 Series flagship earlier this year in the USA, I could finally see that BMW was getting back to what it does best with a great driving car that's got the focus firmly on the driver. Apart from a dumb 'gesture control' system for the multimedia that's as pointless and underdone as the original iDrive.

Now I'm into a 3 Series update model that looks almost identical to the previous car but has some important changes.

At a time when car companies are using stealth - over-promising on value to disguise price rises - the starting price is down by $500

For a start, there is a reversing camera.

"It is standard on every BMW model now in Australia, except for the Z4. And we'll get one onto the Z4 as soon as we can," says BMW Australia spokeswoman, Lenore Fletcher.

Then there is the compliance in the suspension, and a turbocharged petrol four-cylinder engine in the 330 that makes more power and torque than the old 328i while also using less fuel, and equipment that's been chosen to match the specification that people chose when they had a list of options that went on and on and around in circles.

Did I also mention that the starting price is down by $500? And that's at a time when car companies are using stealth - over-promising on value to disguise price rises - to combat the effects of the fall in the Australian dollar. After ignoring the move to capped-price servicing in Australia, BMW also has 'condition based' service packages that allow the owner to plan for their future maintenance needs, with two levels of support.

The basic price of the 330i Touring is now $73,300, and that includes new LED headlamps and some technology tweaks including ConenctedDrive with real-time traffic information.

I'm also liking the head-up speedometer display, electric seat adjustment, top-level satnav and surround-view cameras.

But it's the basics that do it for me, and that means the suspension.

BMW says every 3 Series for Australia is now fitted with adaptive M suspension and that there have also been changes to the damping technology and steering set-up.

The result, which I can feel in every corner on every surface, is a 330 that tracks true, copies easily with mid-corner bumps and potholes, and has a plushness that had previously been sacrificed to runflat tyres.

It's well designed and has plenty of space

I'm happy, and the 330 is a car I'm happy to drive at any time for any distance. It helps, too, that the LED headlamps are great in the dark and the sound system is good and the seats are supportive.

On the wagon front, the back end of the 3 Series - with a 40:20:40 split-fold system, a couple of luggage cover choices and a click-in barrier to corral your stuff - is as flexible and useful as I want and need. 

It's not a giant cavern like an Audi Q7 but, for the size of the 3 Series, it's well designed and has plenty of space - something I discover during Xmas shopping and a couple of runs to the skateboard park with the six-year-old.

The new engine, too, is strong and flexible. There is 185 kiloWatts but it's the mid-range torque that makes the real difference, and the 350 Newton-metres means the 330 also trucks along when fully loaded with a family and Xmas stuff.

BMW says it will sprint to 100km/h in 5.9 seconds, which is quite handy for a family wagon, and I like the smoothness of the eight-speed auto and the ability to take manual control for sportier shifts. The car's tow capacity is also 1700 kilograms, not that you see many box trailers on the back of a BMW.

As I'm running down my time in the latest 3 Series I cannot stop thinking about its deadly rival, the C Class.

For me, the 3 Series seems dated and old-fashioned in the cabin, but that's because it's still using the same approach where Benz took a new view with the C. There is nothing wrong with the 3 Series and everything works well, but it does not feel as special and the A4 also trumps it for cabin classiness.

The 3 is also dated in the bodywork, although that will obviously change when it's time for a full model change.

But the updated 3 Series is better where it counts and I would like to see how it goes in a back-to-back contest with the C Class, using both the basic models and something more upscale like the 330 Touring.

Verdict

For now, though, I can only judge what I've got and the latest 3 Series is more than good enough - again - to deserve The Tick. It's actually been one of the surprises of 2015 and that's good news for anyone shopping for an affordable luxury car.

Which do you prefer: the C-Class or the 3 Series? Let us know in the comments below.

Click here to see more 2016 BMW 3 Series pricing and spec info.

Pricing Guides

$41,900
Based on 76 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$32,888
Highest Price
$55,833

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
328i Gran Turismo (Luxury) 2.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $44,990 – 52,360 2016 BMW 3 Series 2016 328i Gran Turismo (Luxury) Pricing and Specs
320i Gran Turismo (Modern) 2.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $42,900 – 49,830 2016 BMW 3 Series 2016 320i Gran Turismo (Modern) Pricing and Specs
320d Gran Turismo (Sport) 2.0L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO $40,590 – 47,740 2016 BMW 3 Series 2016 320d Gran Turismo (Sport) Pricing and Specs
330i LUXURY LINE GRAN TURISMO 2.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $46,750 – 54,340 2016 BMW 3 Series 2016 330i LUXURY LINE GRAN TURISMO Pricing and Specs

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EXPERT RATING
7
Pricing Guide

$34,320

Lowest price, based on third party pricing data

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