Why new BMW 3-Series still deserves pride of place in the company car park

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New G20 3-Series builds on lauded merits of its predecessors

Up until relatively recently the arrival of a new BMW 3-Series would have been a very big thing for successful business car drivers. As aspirational cars went, BMW’s longest running and most popular model was right up there as a status symbol of upward mobility. In a market where the badge on your car is a reflection of your success at work, the 3-Series has long been a benchmark  in the compact executive segment.

The proliferation of crossover SUVs into the market has meant that the traditional saloon or estate is no longer the automatic choice for business users – these days they are as likely to opt for an X3 as a 3-Series. So does BMW’s compact saloon still have what it takes to tempt the upwardly mobile executive?

Unsurprisingly they haven’t gone too mad with the styling of the new ‘G20’ model which is clearly an evolution of earlier versions. The front kidney grille is large, but thankfully not overwhelming as on some recent BMW models. Overall the new 3-Series is larger, wider and taller than before, with a wheelbase longer by 41mm. That helps to address one of the bugbears of the last ‘F30’ generation, namely rear passenger room. Legroom now is quite adequate, while there is noticeably more head and shoulder room than before. 

The interior is classic BMW with a high resolution central display containing the latest Operating System. Ergonomically it’s second to none, with controls where you want them and an intuitive and easy-to-use user interface via the iDrive Controller. Somehow though, although you cannot fault the materials and build quality, the interior of the 3-Series feels more functional than luxurious, lacking the same wow factor of premium-ness that rivals from Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo offer. And are we the only ones thinking that BMW steering wheels are just too thick-rimmed for comfort these days?

A 330e plug-in hybrid is likely to prove increasingly popular, while, until the arrival of the next M3, performance buffs can enjoy the 374hp M340i X-Drive. Most sales though will be achieved with the 320d and 330i 2.0 litre four cylinder offerings. We’ve driven both – of the pair we’d probably prefer the smooth delivery of the 258hp 330i petrol, though for business users doing higher mileage the 190hp 320d diesel continues to make good sense. Matched to BMW’s 8-speed Steptronic transmission – one of the best you can get – both engines offer seamless power delivery and excellent noise refinement with the kind of acceleration that would be considered fast from a performance car of a few years ago. 

Over the years the 3-Series party-piece has been its excellent driving dynamics – it has regularly been lauded as the finest handling small saloon on the market. Enthusiasts will be pleased that the G20 maintains the tradition – the steering gives excellent feedback with increasing weight with speed. Ride is on the firm side, especially in the slightly lowered M-Sport versions driven, which at times can feel a bit jiggly on less well surfaced roads. Slightly softer SE versions might be a better compromise for many roads, but overall the 3-Series offers a fine balance between handling agility and comfort. Equally the chassis does a good job of communicating what is happening at the wheels, with a poise that only well sorted rear wheel driven cars can provide.

Verdict

The new G20 3-Series is worthy of warranting a place in the company car park for a while yet. It remains one of the best driver’s cars you can buy, while engines offering strong performance and fuel economy with the choice of advanced diesel, petrol or plug-in hybrid, plus the latest safety equipment make it an appealing choice for the fleet customer. Add in improved interior space and it makes a strong case against any rival – saloon/estate or crossover currently on the market.

Cathal Doyle

Spec Check

BMW 330i M-Sport BMW 320d M-Sport
Price for this model before options €53,460 €49,213
Price as tested €61,086 €59,286
Horsepower 258 hp 190 hp
Torque 400 Nm 400 Nm
0-100km/h 5.8 seconds 6.8 seconds
Top Speed 250 km/h (electronically limited) 239 km/h
CO2 emissions 132g/km 110g/km
Fuel Consumption (combined) 6.1 – 5.8 l/100km 

(46.3 – 48.7mpg)

4.7 – 4.4 l/100km 

(60.1 – 64.2mpg)

Length/width/height  4709 / 1827 / 1442 mm 4709 / 1827 / 1442 mm