Subaru WRX VS BMW 3 Series
- Terrific engine
- Surprisingly livable ride
- Unusual and great hydraulic steering
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Spec.R value questionable
- Lack of AEB/rear parking sensors
BMW 3 Series
- Rear headroom
- No spare
It's funny how some brands break through into the collective consciousness. Subaru Technica International could be absolutely anything, really, but thanks to the efforts of a few chaps flinging WRXs down muddy forest roads and the PlayStation juggernaut that is Gran Turismo, just about everyone has at least heard of STi, and knows it means something fast and furious.
As part of this year's facelifted range of six WRXs, Subaru has presented us with the WRX STi Spec.R. Before you get too excited and start looking for phrases like "power is up..." or "weight is down...", the Spec.R is an STi with Recaro seats and a big wing. That doesn't mean it's not worth reading on, however, because an STi badge is never anything less than interesting. And invigorating.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
BMW 3 Series
Over 44 years BMW has produced more than 15 million examples of the 3 Series. That's roughly one every minute and a half... for over four decades.
And the latest, seventh-generation version of what the famous German maker defines as the "heart and soul" of its brand has landed in Australia.
The new '3' is longer and wider. It's also claimed to be slicker aerodynamically, up to 55 kilos lighter, more fuel efficient, and faster.
And it'll need every advantage it can muster to take a chunk out of its arch rival, the all-conquering Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Is the Spec.R worth the extra few grand over the Premium? Not really, but it's not like you're buying an STi with your accountant's blessing. The Recaros are good but they aren't amazing and the whopping rear wing is a little embarassing if you want to keep a low profile. But if you must have the top of the range, the STi is certainly far better than the WRX on which it's based and worth the extra dollars and thirst for 98 RON fuel. It's easier to live with and more fun to drive, something I'm still questioning as I type it. I expected the latter but not the former.
You can get the "basic" STi for almost $10,000 less and still get pretty much the same effect, but you'll have to move the seat yourself, live without a few luxuries and go without Battlestar Galactica glued to the bootlid.
Is the STi on your list or does the the all-wheel drive Euro set have its fingers on your money?
BMW 3 Series8/10
Despite BMW's wholehearted embrace of the SUV its 3 Series is still a critically important model for the brand in Australia. And this new version certainly has the spec and tech to take the fight up to Merc's C-Class. And if you're in the happy position of making that choice, it's now a whole lot harder. For our money the 330i marks the sweet spot with extra performance, safety tech and standard features for only a fraction more than $3k over the 320d entry-point.
Could this new 3 Series steer you away from a Merc C-Class? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
Well, yes. That rear wing really dominates the STi, hanging off the back like it's searching for aliens, so they can land their spaceships on it. It's a hefty-looking unit but is actually so big that it does little to ruin rearward vision. You certainly make an entrance in a Spec.R.
The rest of the car is fairly conventional WRX - pumped and vented front guards, big but not stupid-big wheels and blacked out front and rear splitters.
BMW 3 Series8/10
Changes to the exterior design are more evolutionary than revolutionary. You're never going to mistake this car for anything other than a BMW 3 Series.
But even if the face is familiar, aerodynamic efficiency is outstanding. BMW admits its claimed Cd of 0.23 was achieved with a base model running on 17-inch wheels (not offered here), but even if bigger rims knock a few fractions off that number it's still an amazing result for a conventional four door sedan.
Big contributors are a full width front spoiler, 'air curtains' managing flow around each corner of the nose, almost complete sealing of the largest areas underneath the car, and a functional rear diffuser section.
The signature kidney grille has grown and is delivered as a single piece, with active shutters incorporated to manage cooling air flow through to the engine. Twin adaptive LED headlights (standard on all models) feature a sharp notch on their lower edge, a big clue for new model spotters.
Broad, carefully managed surfaces characterise the bonnet and flanks of the car, with a distinct character line just above door handle height enhancing its confident stance.
The slightly smoked L-shaped LED tail-lights sit proud of the body, and 18-inch alloys are standard on the 320d, stepping up to 19s on the 330i.
The interior has been redesigned with revised controls and new materials, including slick 'aluminium teragon' finish on the console and dash in the M Sport.
As you can see in our interior images, it's been tidied up and simplified considerably, although it will still be instantly recognised by current BMW drivers.
Highlights are a 12.3-inch configurable digital 'Live Cockpit Professional' instrument display (lifted directly from the X5), a new 10.25-inch media touchscreen and a standard (larger) head-up display.
It's classic Impreza in here, so it's not a bad place for you and your things. Front and rear headroom are good and, for this segment, rear accommodation isn't bad at all, even if it lacks its own set of air-con vents.
The boot will take 460 litres, with the rear seats folding in the usual 60/40 fashion. Front and rear passengers each have two cupholders and two bottle holders, bringing the totals to four apiece.
BMW 3 Series8/10
A longer wheelbase (+41mm) has helped increase overall cabin space and rear room specifically.
There's plenty of storage provided with a large lidded box between the front seats as well as two large size cupholders in a recessed section in front of the gear shift (which can be closed off with a roll-top style cover).
The glove box is large and there are big bins in the doors with separate holders for full-size bottles.
Rear legroom is generous. At 183cm, sitting behind my own driving position, there was plenty of fresh air between knees and seatback, with lots of foot room to boot.
Headroom was more marginal with a straight back leading to a bonce/roof interface. But there are adjustable rear vents, twin cupholders in a fold-down centre armrest, and big bottle holders in the doors. Multiple USB ports (Type A and Type C) and a 12-volt power outlet are provided front and rear.
The boot space offers up a 480-litre luggage capacity with a 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat increasing cargo flexibility. Local towing capacity is yet to be confirmed, but indicative (European) ratings for both models are 750kg for an unbraked trailer and 1600kg braked.
Standard rubber is run-flat so there's no spare of any description.
Price and features
The STI range kicks off at $51,190, climing to $55,490 for the Premium and then on to $57,690 for the Spec.R. I had the all-singing and dancing Spec.R for a week.
Based on the Premium's specifcation, the R arrives with 19-inch alloys wrapped in Yokohama Advan tyres, bright yellow six-pot Brembo calipers gripping drilled discs, an eight-speaker Harmon Kardon stereo, dual-zone climate control, front, side and rear vision cameras, keyless entry and start, auto wipers, active auto LED headlights, cruise control, sat nav, partial leather trim, power everything, sunroof and a space-saver spare.
The R in Spec.R stands for Recaro, the famous bottom-holding company supplying the heated front seats in part leather, part alcantara. Irritatingly, the seats don't fix the too-high positioning of the WRX's front pews, but you can't have everything. The R could also stand for ruddy great rear wing, which comes as standard and is as impressive/obnoxious as ever (delete where appropriate).
The eight-speaker stereo is a vast improvement on the six-speaker unit in the WRX (which is tinny) but the Starlink screen (all 5.9-inches of it) still doesn't feature Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The sat nav is welcome, though, and means the lack of proper smartphone integration isn't as annoying.
BMW 3 Series8/10
Pricing for the two-model launch line-up starts at just under $67,900 before on-road costs for the 320d, rising to $70,990 for the 330i.
Given many previous Australia-bound 3 Series models have been built in South Africa it's fair to ask where is the BMW 3 Series built, and the answer this time around is Germany.
And the standard features list is long, including 'Adaptive LED headlights' (with 'High-Beam Assistant'), LED fog lights and tail-lights, electrically adjustable and heated exterior mirrors (with electric fold-in function), rain-sensing wipers, three-zone climate control, electrically-adjustable sports front seats (with memory function for driver and front passenger), wireless smartphone charging, 'Aluminium Tetragon' interior trim finishers, 12.3-inch 'BMW Live Cockpit Professional' digital instrument display, 'Navigation System Professional' with 10.25-inch digital touchscreen display also managing a 10-speaker, 205-watt sound system, including a 20GB hard drive and DAB+ digital radio. Apple CarPlay is included.
Also included are 'BMW TeleServices' taking in 'ConnectedDrive'(free use of vehicle apps via 'BMW Online'), real-time traffic info and 'Concierge Services'. The 'BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant' responds to a "Hey BMW' voice command with a range of hands-free functions like nav, calls and texts. We had mixed success in challenging this friendly PA.
The default M Sport trim includes 18-inch 'M Double-spoke' light alloy wheels, BMW Individual high-gloss 'Shadow Line' black treatment on the window frame and air breather surround, the 'M Aerodynamics package' (aero front and rear bumper trims, and side sills), Alcantara/Sensatec (vinyl) upholstery (black with contrast blue stitching), Anthracite BMW Individual headliner, and an M leather steering wheel (with multifunction buttons).
The no-cost 'Luxury Line' treatment swaps in 'Vernasca' leather seats, ash grey-brown interior wood trim, a sport leather steering wheel, the instrument panel trimmed in Sensatec and standard level sport seats for the driver and front passenger.
Step up to the 330i and you can add 19-inch alloys, 'Vernasca' leather upholstery, 'Comfort Access' (keyless entry to all doors), adaptive suspension, M Sport brakes, 'Driving Assistant Professional' (active cruise control with 'Stop&Go' function, front and rear cross-traffic warning, steering and lane control assist, lane keeping assistant with side collision warning, crossroads warning and 'Evasion Aid'), and 'Parking Assistant Plus' ('Parking Assistant' with 'Active Park Distance Control' rear, 'Reversing Assistant', 'Surround View', 'Panorama View', and '3D View').
In terms of colours, 'Alpine White' and black are no-cost, wihle metallic shades - 'Black Saphire', 'Melbourne Red', 'Glacier Silver', 'Mineral White', 'Mineral Grey', 'Mediterranean Blue', 'Sunset Orange', 'Velmont Bronze' (brown), and 'Portimao Blue' add $2000 (rrp). And the 'BMW Individual' metallic shade of 'Dravit Grey' adds $2350.
Lots and lots of fruit without any change to the price. Clearly BMW is determined to bring the 3 Series back to prominence.
Engine & trans
The STi continues with the larger 2.5-litre turbo boxer four, producing an unchanged 221kW (at 6000rpm) and 407Nm. Power hits the road via all four wheels in a fairly attacking fashion, with the centre differential switched out from the viscous coupled one in automatic to a driver-configurable version called "DCCD".
The 0 to 100km/h sprint for the 1572kg STi is dispatched in 5.2 seconds, lopping 0.8 seconds off the standard car's time, which is significant.
BMW 3 Series8/10
The 320d is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo-diesel, featuring common-rail direct-injection and variable inlet timing. It produces 140kW at 4000rpm and 400Nm between 1750-2500rpm.
The turbo's multi-stage design incorporates a small, high-pressure, fixed-vane turbocharger as well as a larger, low-pressure, variable-vane turbo to maximise response, performance and efficiency.
A 2.0-litre single turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine sits under the 330i's bonnet incorporating direct-injection, as well as variable valve and cam timing. Peak outputs are 190kW from 5000-6500rpm and 400Nm between 1550-4400rpm.
Mark the date because this is the first time the BMW 3 Series has been offered in Australia without a manual gearbox option. Both launch models send drive to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic (with wheel-mounted shift paddles) only.
BMW 3 Series8/10
Despite each car's performance potential claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is commendably low.
BMW says the 320d delivers excellent diesel fuel economy, consuming a miserly 4.5L/100km, emitting 119g/km of CO2 in the process, with the 330i's fuel consumption figure coming in at 6.4L/100km and 147g/km.
You'll need minimum 95 RON premium unleaded in the 330i, with both petrol and diesel requiring 59 litres to fill the tank to full capacity.
There are a number of significant differences between the basic WRX and the STi. For a start, the steering in the STi is old-school hydraulic, and it shows. While it might follow ruts a little more assiduously than I'd like, it's much better than the electric rack in the WRX.
The engine is half a litre bigger, with 221kW and 407Nm, the centre diff is driver controllable, the gear ratios are different and there is a shorter final drive for extra punch. The all-wheel-drive grip is further augmented with a set of delightfully sticky Yokohama tyres wrapped around 19-inch alloys.
If you want, you can also have a ludicrously large rear wing. Well, on the Spec.R, you've got it as standard. If you're a bit of a wallflower, you might want to delete that. There are also a set of bright yellow six-pot Brembo brakes, properly high-vis yellow, gripping drilled discs.
The standard WRX was a hard-rider, with a difficult clutch and gearshift. Surely the harder, more focused STi will be a less appealing day-to-day machine?
Nope. I know, it makes no sense, but it's true.
The real revelation is the ride. The WRX's disjointed suspension setup makes for an unholy experience on poor suburban roads while (mercifully) delivering in the twisty stuff. Both the city and getting-up-to-mischief rides in the STi are excellent. It's not soft, but the concretey feel of the WRX has been replaced with a more compliant, less busy ride. And that's despite bigger wheels and lower-profile tyres and a bit more weight.
On top of that, the hydraulic steering is way better, with more feel, more communication and more precision, apart from a slight wooliness a couple of degrees either side of dead-ahead. While the WRX is better in the faster stuff than the slow, the STi is more comfortable and usable everywhere. The extra power and torque is easy to feel and use and the clutch and gearbox are much more interested in not making you look like a goose.
The torque curve does seem a bit different to the 2.0-litre machine - you can't bumble along in a high gear, you will have to keep the left arm and leg working to maintain stately forward progression. Get lazy and you'll be bumping and shunting a bit, but again, the shift and clutch are far less obstreperous. And this is a car for people who want to drive, and be involved, anyway.
In the fun stuff, the STi is a joy. It really hooks up and you don't need to fiddle with the diff setting, which seems like a silly gimmick. Just leave it in auto and enjoy the taut, responsive chassis, the way it grips and grips and grips, and with a bit of power shuffling, resists understeer like a vegan fails to resist telling you about their veganism.
BMW 3 Series8/10
First, the performance figures. BMW claims the 320d will accelerate from 0-100km/h in 6.8sec, which is agreeably quick, while the 330i knocks that down to 5.8sec, which is properly fast.
Both engines deliver the same 400Nm of maximum torque at low rpm; 1750-2500rpm for the 320d, and a broader 1550-4400rpm spread for the 330i. Mid-range acceleration is strong and satisfyingly linear in each, the 330i that bit more urgent at the top end.
The eight-speed auto is velvety smooth, with the wheel-mounted shift paddles on hand for rapid 'manual' changes. Engine noise is muted at low revs but nice and rorty under pressure.
A stated aim in the development of this 3 Series was "dynamic engagement", and the standard strut front, multi-link rear suspension has been tuned to reinforce the driving part of the brand's long-standing 'ultimate driving machine' promise.
The standard suspension includes tricky two-stage dampers front and rear, but with all cars at the local launch fitted with the optional active damper system we'll have to wait to report on its quality (or otherwise).
This car's centre-of-gravity is 10mm lower than the model it replaces, which may not sound like much, but in engineering terms, absolutely is. In concert with a perfect 50:50 front-to-rear weight distribution, and wider tracks front and rear, it helps deliver an overall planted feel and predictable cornering balance.
The electro-mechanically assisted steering is accurate and linear with good road feel, which is not always the case in recent Beamers.
The launch fleet was also rolling on 19-inch rims (standard on 330i, optional on 320d) shod with Bridgestone Turanza run-flat rubber (225/40f - 255/35r) and despite that type of tyre's reputation for harsh characteristics and a moderate level of road noise, ride comfort on the typically coarse rural roads we covered in the Victorian high country was impressive.
Braking on both models is by ventilated disc front and rear, and even in spirited cornering maintained their power and efficiency. The M Sport brake package fitted to the 330i dials things up with four-piston alloy calipers (sourced from Brembo) up front.
The standard sports steering wheel is fat and grippy, the sports front seats combine firm location with long-distance comfort and overall noise levels are low. Overall, this is a super-impressive touring car.
The WRX has seven airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, reversing camera and brake assist. The STi picks up lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane change assist and high beam assist. There's also a camera that looks forward down the side of the car to help you park and a front-facing camera.
ANCAP awarded the WRX a five star ANCAP safety rating in March 2014.
EyeSight is not available on manual WRXs and you can't get a CVT STi, so no camera-based cleverness for you.
The front-facing camera hangs off the left-hand door mirror and for some reason points forward. It's not especially helpful for parking.
BMW 3 Series9/10
The new 3's active safety package is exactly where it needs to be, with all the 'cost-of-entry' items like ASC, DSC, ABS, 'Braking Assist', and traction control included. But additional tech includes everything from all-speed AEB, 'Lane Departure Warning', 'Lane Change Warning', head-up display and 'Front Collision Warning' (with brake intervention), to 'Cornering Brake Control', 'Rear Cross-Traffic Warning', 'Rear Collision Prevention', 'Speed Limit Information', 'Parking Assist' (with 'Reversing Assistant') and 'Dynamic Braking Lights'.
Step up to the 330i and you can add 'Steering and Lane Control Assist', 'Emergency Stop Assistant', 'Auto Speed Limit Assist', 'Lane Keeping Assist', 'Front Cross-Traffic Warning', 'Evasion Aid', 'Crossroads Warning' (with 'City Braking' function), 'Wrong Way Warning', as well as 'Parking Assistant Plus' (with 'Surround View Camera' and 'Remote 3D View').
On the passive side, the airbag count runs to eight (front and side airbags for driver and front passenger, and head airbags for all four outer seats). 'Intelligent Emergency Call' is also included.
There three top tether anchors for child seats/baby restraints across the back seat, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer positions.
This seventh-generation 3 Series is yet to be assessed by ANCAP or EuroNCAP, but it's a safe bet it will pick up a maximum five-star safety rating.
Subaru offers a three year/unlimited kilomtre warranty with matching roadside assist.
Servicing is capped for the first three years/75,000km on the WRX (Subaru appears to be in some kind of transition to a different style of service pricing). Intervals weigh in at six months/12,500km with prices ranging from $302 to $604 for a total service bill of $2295.72 or $765.24 per year. Oddly, the STi's service pricing is slightly cheaper than the base WRX.
BMW 3 Series7/10
BMW offers a three year/unlimited km warranty, which is drifting off the pace now with the majority of mainstream brands stepping up to five-year cover, with some at seven.
On the upside, bodywork is covered for 12 years, the paint for three, and 24-hour roadside assistance is complimentary for three years.
Servicing is condition based, so the car tells you when maintenance is required, and BMW offers a range of service packages in 'Basic' and 'Plus' grades up to 10 years/200,000km.