From a distance, the Montserrat Mountain in Spain brings to mind the jagged peaks from the Lord of The Rings trilogy. Visible from some parts of Barcelona, it’s a beautiful backdrop to the Catalan landscape.
The Montserrat Mountain range is perhaps well known for one thing – the location of the Holy Grail according to Arthurian myth. Or so they say.
Nearly at the top of Montserrat and standing at an intersection amid centuries-old abbeys and sanctuaries, the only thing I can’t get my eyes off is the beautiful winding road heading downhill – it’s like a World Rally stage. To a motorhead, this is paradise.
I’m not here as a history lover, I’m here to be a part of the continuation of history – BMW’s history. Ahead of me is BMW’s all-new 3 Series, it’s an important model for BMW as the 3 Series range is the best-selling model across the BMW line-up.
And judging from the way it looks, the only thing that BMW has to worry about is keeping up with demand.
It’s a beautiful car; it’s wider, longer and a little taller than its predecessor, and better looking as well. It now has a sportier, muscular stance. And thanks to the slimmer headlights, the iconic “angle-eyes” or “Corona-eyes” as BMW calls it, is no longer a perfect circle but is now flat at the bottom.
This makes it easier to spot the new F30 when it’s creeping up at you in darkness.
The interior takes a whole new step into accommodating taller drivers as there’s now an abundance of space.
Previously, I could not quite get comfortable in the 3 Series as the footwell lacked knee space and it was a little cramped for a six-footer who happens to be the shortest in the family.
But the F30, the code for the new 3 Series, features lots more room thanks to it being wider and longer.
The design of the interior is also now elegantly simple with the iDrive monitor now standing alone at the top of the dash rather than being built into it as before.
However, the real highlight of the interior is the trim, the cars we drove either came with a basic matte satin silver finish, which I thought looked a little normal, and a very elegant yet beautifully finished burr walnut wood which is my personal favourite. It’s textured like the bark of a tree and lends a sense of elegant finesse to an otherwise sporty car.
But the choice of trim will be extended as BMW offers its new 3 with four different trim levels – Sports, Luxury, Modern and M Sport. Each will have its own unique trim and accessories.
My first drive started off with the new 328i – powered by a four-cylinder two-litre TwinPowerTurbo engine, and integrated with various other engine technologies – the engine produces an impressive 245hp and 345Nm of torque.
And all that power is available from a lowly 1,250rpm all the way to a screaming 7,000rpm. It does the sprint to 100kph in just 5.9 seconds.
Thanks to the twin-scroll turbo, there’s absolutely no turbo lag whatsoever. Instead, what you get is instant response to the slightest dab of the throttle.
As for handling, our cars came fitted with BMW’s Drive Experience Control operated by a collection of buttons that read, Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport +.
Each setting does something to the throttle sensitivityand suspension settings. Depending on the choice of setting, the car either gets lazy to respond so as to save fuel, or it performs like a bat out of hell.
I chose Sport mode down the sweeping roads of Montserrat, Sport+ turns off traction control and I didn’t want to end up in a mangled mess, so Sport mode it was.
Comfort is more suited to the highways as the suspension softens up and the car generally breezes along. Eco is best left to city driving.
But whatever mode you choose, it is immediately obvious from the get-go that the new 3 Series retains BMW’s signature characteristic, brilliant and yet comfortable to drive.
In Sport, you get very little body roll and the well adjusted chassis set up with a lightning quick steering rack ensure the car responds to your slightest demands.
After what seemed like over a hundred corners, we were at the bottom of Montserrat and in the car tasked to us back to the hotel – the 320d. Unlike the 328i, the diesel engine has its own unique character and though it can sprint to 100kph in a respectable 7.5 seconds, it definitely doesn’t like to be wrung out like the petrol engine.
The diesel engine is the same unit that powered its diesel predecessor but tuned for improved fuel efficiency. It produces 184hp and a massive 380Nm of torque, but unlike the 328i, the diesel engine is more suited to non-spirited, traffic driving or highway cruising.
The 320d also came with the Drive Experience Control mode but as I found out the next day at the Circuit de Catalunya, the 320d somehow doesn’t like to be chucked around in corners like the 328i does.
It just feels heavy and hesitant. The petrol unit however completely comes alive at the circuit, you can take corners flat out, brake late, work the paddle shifters to use engine braking, it’s amazing how “track-able” the 328i is.
That’s saying a lot of its handling prowess.
But the 320d has its strengths, too.
Both petrol and diesel engines are mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox and this vastly improves fuel efficiency.
The fun petrol engine consumes 7.5-litres of fuel over 100km and the docile diesel uses just 4.5-litres of fuel over the same distance.
So it’s up to you to decide whether you want decent consumption and great fun, or a wallet friendly highway cruiser. Personally, I’m in love with the petrol engine.
There’s no news on pricing as yet and neither is there news on which specifications will make it here, but you can expect the new 3 Series to be here by the first half of 2012.