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Everything making the new BMW 3 Series better than the old one

BMW has officially launched the 3 Series LCI (Life Cycle Impulse) in South Africa and the difference between the pre-facelift model and the LCI edges on just enough to call the new one a next-generation product.

The 3 Series is one of the brand’s most important vehicles as every seventh BMW sold carries this nameplate, said the company.

Since its debut in 1975, the mid-size sedan has sold over 16 million units around the globe, so it’s vital that BMW delivers a car that can keep up with the daunting expectations its predecessors built.

We spent the day with the seventh-generation LCI in popular 320d M Sport and range-topping M340i xDrive specifications, and it’s safe to say the sedan is better than its ever been. 

A sharper design

In the past, BMW’s LCI models were only visible to those who knew what they were looking for as the enhancements were subtle. However, for its latest-generation products, the mid-cycle updates have been highly impactful on facets such as the exterior design as well as equipment.

In the looks department, the newcomer has been made to strike a more athletic stance than before thanks to a new front apron consisting of a larger central air intake in a honeycomb pattern, more angular side vents, and slimmer “inverted L” LED lights which are now equipped on all variants.

The optional adaptive LED headlights, if selected, now also get blue accent strips whereas there were no obvious indications for these lamps on the previous model.

At the rear, cosmetic touchups on the LCI comprise a sportier diffuser incorporating a few additional fins wrapping around vertical reflectors to “emphasise a wide stance,” said BMW.

The entire facelifted 3 Series family also boasts 100mm exhausts, the same as the previous-generation F80 M3.

A modernised cabin

While the shell is verifiably different than the outgoing 3 Series, the most notable enhancements of the LCI took place inside the cabin.

Chief among these is the new curved Live Cockpit system that is standard on all models, consisting of a 12.3-inch digital driver’s display and 14.9-inch infotainment panel under one glass housing. In contrast, the pre-facelift model saw two screens being split across the dash measuring 12.3 inches for the instrument cluster and a much smaller 10.25 inches for the middle display.

Additionally, noteworthy interior changes include a shrunken gear lever and the removal of the central row of radio and climate buttons which can now be found on the touchscreen – with these changes being made in the pursuit of “decluttering” the cabin and bringing the design in line with the modern aesthetics of its competitors. However, important controls such as those for the radio volume, hazards, and window defoggers remain physical switches.

The cabin also stands tall above its German rivals for build quality and material feel, not squeaking or rattling in the slightest even under pressure, and answering each touch with a premium texture.

Apart from the beautifying tweaks, the LCI has gained enhanced capabilities thanks to the eighth-generation iDrive software.

As before, the programme offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Spotify streaming, navigation, real-time traffic information, and access to the BMW ConnectedApps store.

Its new tricks encompass an advanced voice assistant with features such as online accuracy improvement, three-zone climate control with cabin pre-cooling, and a personal eSIM that turns the car into a “WiFi hotspot” with 5G connectivity.

It also has clever features such as “Automated Habits” which will perform certain actions at locations that you regularly visit. For example, if you drive through a boomed-off residential area every day and have to open the window to wave your hand in front of a sensor, the car will make sure the window opens autonomously right as you get there.

To then simplify the acquisition process, BMW has bundled some of the available options as well as removed the extras that were rarely selected by previous buyers. One of these is the LED laser lights, which customers saw as an aesthetic rather than a functional upgrade and therefore didn’t often purchase, said the company.

However, those who want a more distinctive 3 Series have not been left out, as the M Sport Pro package can now be installed for the first time, which adds to the well-known M Sport option with M performance brakes and calipers, a black grille, black windows, a black gurney flap, M seatbelts – and for M340i, also a Sprint function.

Tried-and-true performance

The powertrain line-up for the LCI remained unchanged, with five engine options to go around.

The model designations and specifications for these units are as follows:

Drivetrain Power 0-100km/h Top speed Consumption
318i 115kW/250Nm 8.6 seconds 223km/h 6.5l/100km
320i 135kW/300Nm 7.4 seconds 235km/h 6.5l/100km
320d 140kW/400Nm 7.0 seconds 235km/h 5.0l/100km
330i 190kW/400Nm 5.8 seconds 250km/h 6.5l/100km
M340i xDrive 285kW/500Nm 4.3 seconds 250km/h 8.0l/100km

As before, each LCI is equipped with an eight-speed automatic gearbox, and paddle shifters, which were previously optional on the 318i, are now standard fitment.

You’ll be glad to know the BMW has not forgotten its roots and despite becoming more calculated and clinical as the years went by, it’s still a proper driver’s car.

In M340i spec the sedan sports the well-known B58 3.0-litre, straight-six, turbocharged powerplant matched with the xDrive four-wheel-drive system with a rear-wheel bias. The scales are perfectly balanced as 50% of the weight is on the front axle and 50% on the rear, resulting in a highly-controllable ride that can get raucous if the driver so wants.

The halo model also gets launch control and M suspension honed for performance enabling it to claim 100km/h in 4.3 seconds, though as is often the case, the performance-oriented brand understates its figures and said during testing, the sports car was often found to come in under the four-second mark.

@topautosa The new BMW M340i xDrive LCI does 0-100km/h in 4.3 seconds. To us, it felt quicker! #BMW #BMWM340i #TopAuto #fyp #SouthAfrica ♬ original sound – TopAuto

BMW South Africa’s Ryan Warnasuriya, the 3 Series product manager, said this beloved six-cylinder powertrain will still feature in the manufacturer’s cars for at least another four years to come, giving us enough time to thoroughly enjoy the fossil-fuel-burning, exhaust-popping performance sedan before the world inevitably switches to cleaner forms of propulsion.

The 320d wasn’t lacking in the slightest, either, its generous torque resulting in many of the same personality traits as the 340i, with the added benefit of better fuel economy.

Unfortunately, the longstanding 3 Series is no longer in reach of the average buyer as it now demands a minimum price of R767,894 for the entry-level 318i, with the flagship M340i asking R1,338,207.

But spend time with it and it’s not hard to see why it costs this much, and if it’s in your scope, it’s still one of the most complete packages you’ll find in the shrinking sedan segment.

BMW M340i xDrive


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