It’s been a year and a half since the newest-generation G20 BMW 3-Series was released.
Since its launch, we’ve also seen the arrival of the new Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-class.
This once again raises the question: Is the BMW 3-Series still the king of sporty sedans?
To answer that we’re going to inspect the 318i, the cheapest G20 3-Series you can currently buy, to see what it offers for R700,000.
The standard features brochure for the G20 3-Series is extensive, and features innovative accessories such as a digital air-conditioning operating screen, keyless start, handsfree Bluetooth connectivity, and ConnectedDrive.
The latter, says BMW, keeps you in touch with your world by providing the driver with real-time updates.
This includes live traffic information; BMW Teleservices, which provides automatic reminders about service and maintenance appointments; and an emergency call button.
The concierge service then provides a 24/7 BMW operator that will assist you with almost any request.
Another feature, in the form of the BMW Connected App, lets your 318i learn your frequently-travelled routes to let it find an optimised path.
It also gauges your estimated time of arrival and when the best time is to leave; and remote services – powered by Google – will find your vehicle’s location and allow you to lock and unlock it.
Infotainment features are covered by the iDrive commander dial and 8.8-inch touch display on the dash, and are easily navigable as BMW follows a logical layout and operating procedure.
The display lets you adjust the sat-nav, make phone calls, change music volumes, and adjust mood lighting – to name a few – and it enables smartphone mirroring features such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
If you opt for the the upgraded system, you will receive larger displays, infotainment controls on the steering wheel, and a voice assistant that responds to “Hey BMW”.
The standard BMW Live cockpit sees a 6-inch display situated in the instrument cluster between the two analogue counters for speed and revs.
It shows information such as vehicle status and warnings, average consumption and speeds, remaining range, and temperature.
The cabin itself then features leather seats, a leather-covered centre console, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and grained silver veneer finishes.
Several controls and buttons, along with the start button and the gear lever, are located on the transmission tunnel – and two cup holders with a cigarette lighter is located at the front under a stylish cover.
A lot of the interior bits, such as the door handles and air-conditioning vents, follow an angular design and silver accents on the door along with ambient lighting adds fine details.
The cabin is spacious enough to fit five people, and provides 993mm and 957mm of space between the seats and roofline at the front and rear respectively.
It can also be adapted to fit long objects thanks to the 40:20:40 rear bench split, and it provides 480 litres of luggage capacity in the boot.
Safety systems galore
BMW is at the front of the market when it comes to safety systems.
The 318i has ABS, airbags, ISOFIX child seat supports, run-flat tyres, and parking sensors – along with cruise control with automatic braking, and a top speed limiter.
Furthermore, follow-me-home headlights, attentiveness assist that monitors how awake the driver is, and the BMW mobility kit for emergency tyre repairs assures that you arrive safely at your destination.
Dynamic traction control and stability control will ensure that you only oversteer if you intend to, thanks to pull away assist, braking readiness, dry braking, and fading compensation functionality.
All of these features combined lead to a 5-star Euro NCAP safety rating for the 3-Series range.
The 3-Series has always been revered for its great handling and performance characteristics.
This is largely due to the focus on targeted aerodynamics, equal weight distribution, a fast-changing automatic gearbox, and a sporty suspension system that provides minimal body roll.
The signature kidney grille on the 3-Series is standard fitted with active air stream technology, which sees flaps between the vertical slats open and close depending on the cooling needs of the engine and air-conditioning system.
The driving experience is controlled through the Servotronic power-steering system, while a drive mode selector allows elements such as the suspension stiffness, handling response, and throttle sensitivity to be changed.
Brake energy regeneration redirects wasted energy back to the battery, too, and mild-hybrid powertrains are offered further up in the line for the eco-conscious consumer.
At the heart of the baseline 318i lies a 2.0-litre, turbocharged engine that produces 115kW of power and 250Nm of torque.
This may not sound like much, but it still beats the baseline Audi A4 in power, the baseline Mercedes-Benz C-class in torque, and both in 0-100km/h times – at 8.4 seconds.
The car also keeps in line with BMWs habit of sending power to the rear wheels, and an 8-speed steptronic transmission is provided to facilitate smooth shifts.
This combination provides a claimed combined fuel consumption of 5.3l-5.7l/100km.
The BMW 318i is currently around R15,000 more than the base Audi A4, and starts at R697,524.
Pricing for the new C-class has not been released yet, but rumours of an above-R700,000 price tag will make the 3-Series the second most expensive vehicle out of the top German trio.
Included in the price of the 318i is a 5-year/100,000km Motorplan maintenance contract, 24/7 BMW on-call services, and BMW accident management.