The BMW 3 Series is a car that needs no introduction, but it won’t be fair to kick things off without a glance at the nameplate’s previous iterations and how they have contributed to the development of the latest model, known by the chassis code G20.
Starting with the E21 in 1975, the template for BMW’s sports sedan was set. Aggressive stance and powerful engines ensured sporty handling and control in the compact executive class, at a time when those qualities were mainly found on purpose built sports cars. The E30 introduced in 1982 was ahead of its time in terms of design and performance, and this iteration saw the introduction of the M3 high-performance saloon. To this day, the E30 is truly in a class of its own in terms of handling and dynamics and is probably one of the best proportioned & balanced cars ever made (at least in my humble opinion). 1990 saw the introduction of the E36, now larger but no less aggressive, this car was hailed by no less than Lexus as one of the best handling sports saloons, which they studied during development of their IS/Altezza sport sedan, picking it even over the slightly ‘chunkier’ E46, introduced in 1997. The E46 was decidedly curvier but no less sporty and was the model which introduced a lot of luxury features and electronics to the nameplate. The E90 retained some of the curves of the previous iteration but introduced the trend of downsized engines, being the first 3 Series to be sold with a turbocharged petrol engine. This generation notoriously had models codes that confusingly didn’t match up to engine capacities as before.
The F30 that followed was designed with sharper & cleaner lines. This generation elevated interior comfort and quality for the 3 Series, where even the base models didn’t remind owners that they skimped on a lot of options. This was the first 3 Series to use a Turbocharged 3 cylinder petrol engine, which worked great with our tax structure, though not the quickest car off the line.
These cars though unique models, build on the same core-attributes of what defines a 3 Series Sport Sedan. Practical, econo-box to luxo-barge range, aggressive design, Rear-Wheel Drive, and a sporty chassis designed to take more power than on offer(as they were designed in conjunction with the M3 models as well). All iterations on offer were available in the forms of coupe, convertible, estate or even, GT, and succeeded in catering to various markets and demographics, and earning BMW sales of over 15 million units. Each 3 Series launched so far, has managed to become the benchmark car for handling, and the G20 seeks to build on these qualities and retain the crown as the best Sports Saloon car in the compact executive class.
Our tester was finished in the paint code MINERALGRAU METALLIC (B39) or Mineral Grey, which really did bring out all the contours of the car. The front is given sharp headlamps which have a pair of LED daylight running lamps that accentuate the aggressive look of the car, almost etches a personality that is raring to go. The headlamps, equipped with LED extended scopes, flank the signature BMW ‘Kidney Grille’, which has come a long way since the E21 in terms of width. Hopefully BMW don’t follow through with the ‘chipmunk-teeth’ variety that is found on the X7, on the 3 Series in future. Thankfully, the G20 has a very good looking iteration of the grille, behind which sits a set of slats that open up only when the car requires cooling!
The rear lights are interesting, in that they are quite reminiscent of Lexus’ current rear lamp cluster design, although BMW fans argue that the manufacturer has been using L shapes since forever, and this is the evolution of that design language. Be that as it may, it is a very attractive rear end, taut and wide, matching the proportions of the rest of the car, and indeed the blueprint for the compact executive rear wheel driven saloon car.
It must be noted that our tester was equipped with the M-Sport package, for which M-Sport bumpers are affixed. These bumpers elevate the level of sportiness from the base model, and are unique for both front and back. The rear has a lovely diffuser effect, less visible on darker hues, but looked perfect on the tester, and was finished with a lovely pair of chrome tailpipes, which were real, unlike some ‘aesthetic’ exhausts found on the competition. The Front M-Sport bumpers had LED fog lamps in place and struck a perfect balance in terms of sportiness and subtlety.
There is quite a lot of design work apparent when you frame the G20’s side profile into perspective, and in our opinion, provides just the right amount of beauty to complement the sporty front and rear. The 18-inch alloys found on our tester were a work of art. Also apparent is the ‘Hofmeister-Kink’, named after former BMW design chief William Hofmeister, during whose reign this forward slant C or D pillar was introduced extensively as a BMW calling card. This was featured prominently on the 850Ci featured in Motor a few months ago as well.
The overall design of the G20 3 Series is not just characteristically BMW, it is distinctly 3 Series, and will fit in quite well in a heritage line-up photo. Top marks for the design team for continuing the key attributes of the nameplate to ensure novelty through evolution.
Mech & Tech
The car featured is the 330i, which has a 1998cc inline 4 cylinder Twin Scroll turbo, the B48B20, pushing 255bhp @5000-6500RPM & 400Nm of torque @1550RPM - 4400RPM.This is mated to an 8 Speed StepTronic (Automatic) Sport Transmission with Paddle Shift and a ‘Sport’ mode.
The suspension features double-wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear suspension, and is equipped with a hydraulic damping system which absorbs most of the imperfections of our roads. In addition to what is mentioned officially, you can be assured that BMW’s finest have worked and reworked their magic to ensure the car handles like a sports car, with their usual arsenal of stabilizer bars and chassis reinforcement that is included as standard unlike most manufacturers.
With the G20, the engineers have managed to cover the under-body and make it completely flat, thereby achieving a reduced drag coefficient of 0.23 Cd. The G20 is also 55 kg lighter, 85 mm longer, and 16 mm wider. They have also managed to retain the proposition of perfect balance, a 50:50 weight distribution. The body rigidity has also been increased by 50%.
All this sounds like a great template for a superlative driver’s car, though does the G20 really make the cut?
Our tester was the only car imported by the agent, Prestige Automobiles, at the time of testing, so we were asked to be gentle with it. Though it felt like we were ‘locked out of heaven’, we made use of our relatively docile test to determine whether the G20 threw us hints of its potential.
From the start, what was noticeable was how direct the steering was. The feel and weight would vary with speed (again relative), and showed how controllable and communicative the car was. Having clocked some hours behind the wheel of a few of its predecessor’s competitors, the G20’s heft was felt, but not unpleasantly so; in-fact it was reassuring. Even at those normal speeds, with minimal fervour, the BMW felt to build an inexplicable connection with the driver on an almost extra- sensory level.
Comfort was impeccable, and the dampers absorbed a few nasty imperfections we found with ease. Feedback from Motor photographer ‘officialé’ Chamila Pieris who occupied the back seat, was that the ride was very comfortable, even when driven briskly. Driving in traffic was a breeze as well, as the G20 steering was lighter at slow speeds, and also possessed an impressive turning circle. Braking gave no fuss too, and was a solid, stable affair.
The G20 3 Series shows great promise as a driver’s car, and no doubt is a solid chance to retain the crown of best driving sport saloon in the compact-executive class, even in the face of ever-increasing competition from around the world. We yearn to get a proper go in a G20 and wring it out, should the opportunity arise, to fully realize the driving prowess that the G20 seems to suggest. All the clues were on-point to a winning driver’s car formula, in our opinion, but until we get to properly wring it out, it’s hard to say…
Living with the G20 3 Series
The interior of the G20 3 Series appears to be very plush, especially when finished in Canberra Beige (with décor stitching) leather upholstery and the ‘aluminium tetragon’ inserts accenting the cabin. The seats both front and rear look like they mean business, and are extremely supportive and adjustable, essential in a car with sporting intent. The interior is finished in high quality resin/plastic as well, and feel great to touch. Only the plastics found closest to the carpets are a little ‘plasticky’. Overall though, a good mix of high quality material has been used to ensure that the occupants feel the premium nature of the car that they are travelling in.
With the cockpit, BMW have taken a new approach, in that the gauge cluster is now a fully digital affair, and the tachometer runs anti-clockwise. This might take some getting used to, although it frees up the rest of the display for a larger interface which showcases navigation information, in addition to fuel economy, range, engine stats and service reminders.
The steering and seating position from a driver’s perspective is spot-on, and in typical BMW fashion, the centre console is angled towards the driver for ease of control. The 3 spoke M-Sport steering wheel is chunky, but inspires confidence, and the buttons on it are laid in a clean and functional manner. Well done BMW for keeping the steering wheel simple yet effective!
The gear level is a glossy affair, and feels good to use. The key change that we noted about the instrument panel and centre console was the ‘elegant minimalism’ in the logical placement of buttons and knobs. All the buttons felt luxurious to the touch, and seemed robust enough to withstand heavy use. There is also a large central cubby, where a phone can be charged with a USB cable or without any wires at all (yes, wireless charging is on board). Two large cup holders were placed conveniently, along with a number of bottle holders in the door bins.
The G20’s central display, through which the car’s functions can be changed and customized can be controlled by the iDrive controller. BMW’s iDrive has seen many iterations and the manufacturer has nailed it for many years as the most impressive system on offer. This holds true even with the current version as found on the G20. Fuel economy statistics, drive modes, audio settings, lighting options, and even G-force can be accessed through iDrive. The features are too extensive to mention here, and would delight the technically inclined providing them with hours of entertainment.
While our tester was equipped with the standard BMW HiFi system, this came with 10 speakers and a 205-watt digital amplifier complete with Bluetooth, auxiliary and USB connectivity along with Apple CarPlay. The system was of a very high standard, and would satisfy all but the pickiest of audiophiles.
With the wheelbase increase, the space in the rear too has increased significantly over the previous generation F30. There is ample room for a tall passenger in the rear, but the width means it would suit 2 adults and 1 child comfortably, 3 adults would be a bit of a squeeze. The rear passengers get an armrest, their own climate control with vents and USB outlets along with a 12v socket to power devices. The boot has a capacity of 480 litres which is ample space for airport runs.
The G20 3 series is an all-around package when it comes to interior and practicality, with the right mix of luxury, robustness and ease of use, well-appointed and equally well laid-out. The biggest improvement we thought, was the increased space for rear passengers. Considering the fact that this car’s wheelbase is longer than the E39, this is expected, but props to the engineers for capitalizing on this and realizing more space than any 3 series has ever offered; this will definitely keep most back-seat drivers quite happy.
The BMW 3 Series G20 scored a full 5 stars in the ANCAP tests, with a higher aggregate score over its predecessor. Just going through the features should tell you why. 8 Active Protection Airbags, front airbags for driver and front passenger, side airbags for driver and front passenger integrated in the seat backrest bolsters, head airbags for all 4 outer seats, Central locking with electronic immobilizer • Dynamic braking lights Automatic Stability Control (ASC), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Braking Assistant, Cornering Brake Control (CBC), Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) Warning triangle and first aid kit AND Runflat tyres. Phew.
Fuel Economy & Price
It was challenging to estimate a fuel figure for the car, given the short drive, but some quick math with the help of the G20’s display worked out to around 10km/l for our test, which included a mix of start stop traffic and quick bursts of acceleration, which is quite impressive for such a vehicle, especially one with 255hp on tap. Surely with normal use this figure can be expected to increase, especially with a mix of highway driving and additional engine run-in.
Pricing at the time of testing was yet to be finalized completely, but Prestige Automobiles estimates, with the latest tax revision, for the G20 330i to be priced at LKR 28Million; a hefty premium even over the eye-watering figure of 23.5Million for which it was originally imported. With permits this should be cheaper; but we write with the hope that someday soon, universally beneficial logic may be applied to tax structures especially in the automotive segment.
The G20 3 Series is a comprehensive offering in the compact executive sports saloon class. BMW have leveraged it’s prowess at crafting driving machines, drawing on the brand’s heritage, as well as the sturdy lineage of the 3 Series. Though they seem to have given the G20 the right formula to be a proper driver’s car, BMW has not forgotten key criteria that makes a car in this class a winner. Practicality, safety, technology, sharp looks and sharper performance have all been mixed in, to create a meld of perfection, and launched in a rather timely interval.
The G20 is the newest of all the top competitors of the class, and by far is the most cutting edge. If you do have the resources to pay full tax, then this is a car that actually feels premium, and might help ease the pain of excessive taxation. If, like me, you do not, then you may as well start praying now and hope that change for saner taxation policies, among other sane things, will be the order of the future for us…
Direct injection, turbo
255bhp @ 5,000-6,500rpm
400Nm @ 5,000rpm
Front Double Wishbone
Front Vent. Disc
Wheels & Tyres
Front 225/45 R18
Rear 255/40 R18
Top Speed 250km/h
Kerb Weight 1,470kg
Fuel Tank 59L