Our exclusive image shows how the all-new BMW 3 Series could look, while we have a Q&A with BMW's driving dynamics boss
BMW is gearing up to launch its most important car of the decade. The seventh-generation BMW 3 Series will be the brand’s star at September’s Paris Motor Show and will usher in a new platform and more electrification when it arrives in UK showrooms early next year. Our exclusive image previous how the all-new car could look.
Ahead of its Paris debut the new saloon has been spied testing numerous times. The latest, at the end of May, showed the wraps are really starting to come off the firm’s next Mercedes C-Class rival, confirming an evolutionary redesign.
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Under the skin the new 3 Series makes the switch to BMW’s new CLAR platform, which also underpins the larger 5 Series and X3 SUV. This allows a new generation of powertrains to be fitted.
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The most significant of these is a fully electric version, which will sit on the same platform and be badged i4. Based on the Vision Dynamics concept from the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show, it’s set to arrive in 2020 and will have an all-electric range of up to 435 miles.
Before that, two plug-in hybrid variants will be launched to satisfy consumers’ growing appetite for PHEVs. The first, expected to be badged 325e, will feature the same powertrain as the MINI Countryman PHEV, which comprises a 148bhp 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine and a 110bhp electric motor.
It’s likely BMW will also roll out a second, more powerful plug-in hybrid, badged 330e, which will make use of a 2.0-litre turbo and electric motor to develop around 280bhp. The pair will also be compatible with BMW’s inductive charging tech, which launches with the larger 530e later this year.
Of course, the plug-in hybrids will still play a secondary role in the engine line-up; a new range of petrol and diesel powerplants will continue to be the more popular options with buyers.
The petrol motors will kick off with a 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine in the 318i, while a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo will feature in the 320i and 330i, with power expected to range from 190bhp to 260bhp.
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All of the diesel engines used will be 2.0-litre four-cylinder units, with outputs starting at 150bhp and going up to around 230bhp. Lower-powered models will come paired with a six-speed manual box, while an eight-speed automatic will be standard on the more potent versions. BMW’s xDrive four-wheel drive will continue to be offered on selected variants, too.
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Based on a wealth of spy shots and our exclusive images, we know the new 3 Series won’t benefit from a dramatic redesign. Sharper lines and a new headlamp and kidney grille arrangement will feature. It’s important that BMW keeps the design of the 3 Series as inoffensive as possible to ensure it remains one of the brand’s biggest sellers with fleet and private buyers.
The car’s new backbone also means the German manufacturer doesn’t have to alter the size of the 3 Series in order to gain improvements in passenger or luggage space. The Mk7 saloon will grow slightly in length and width and shed around 30-40kg of weight thanks to the cutting-edge architecture.
Auto Express understands the cabin will feature an evolutionary design, while BMW has confirmed the latest model will benefit from the car maker’s latest iDrive 7.0 operating system.
Once the bread and butter of the line-up has landed in showrooms, BMW will then turn its attention to the M Performance and full-blooded M models. The M340i and M340d are likely to be the only variants in the standard range available with a six-cylinder engine, developing around 360bhp and 320bhp respectively. Both will be four-wheel drive as standard and use an eight-speed auto.
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The new M3 isn’t due to arrive in dealers until 2020, but will make the switch to all-wheel drive for the first time. It will get a version of the selectable 4WD system that first appeared in the latest M5.
The 3.0-litre six-cylinder twin-turbo motor will be reworked from the existing M3 to develop around 460bhp – a 30bhp boost over today’s model. While this is not a dramatic increase, the addition of 4WD will significantly improve the M3’s performance stats.
The 3 Series range will also expand to include a more practical Touring estate by the middle of next year, while the Convertible and more svelte 4 Series and 4 Series Gran Coupe will appear before the end of the decade.
Q&A with Jos van As
Head of application driving dynamics
Dynamics are a key area for the new 3 Series to get right. Jos van As and his team were tasked with achieving that aim. Here he explains how they did it.
Q: What were the targets for the new 3 Series?
A: “The 3 Series has to be the best-handling car in its class; our customers have a certain expectation. I told you this car feels like an ‘old-school’ BMW, so that’s what we’ve tried to do: make it engaging and fun to drive. But improving the comfort alongside this was also an important point, while adding more assistance and safety systems as well as extra tech.”
Q: Where are the big advances in this seventh-generation car over its predecessor?
A: “We understand the model’s platform even better now, so our technical appreciation of the mechanical and electronic systems in the car is even greater. We’ve been able to understand how the structure, the suspension and everything works together. It means we’ve saved weight but gained rigidity, so we can improve the handling and performance as well as comfort and efficiency. The advances are everywhere.”
Q: How have new development tools helped to improve what you can deliver to the customer?
A: “We’ve used some new, more powerful simulation tools so we can better map out how the car works together. It means we can push what’s possible and develop things quicker.”
Q: How would you characterise this new seventh-generation BMW 3 Series?
A: “More advanced than ever, but it’s still a great driver’s car, like a 3 Series should be. Its dynamics are core to the positioning of the model.”
What does the new BMW 3 Series have to beat? Check out our list of the best executive cars on sale…