The new BMW 3 Series brakes well, handles a slalom just fine at 60kph, manages lane changes at 80kph, and also accelerates from 0-100kph. Oh, and it can reverse into a parking spot.
That's the gist of what I deduced from a half-day of driving the latest executive slash family saloon at the Dubai Autodrome. But I guess if we must go into the particulars, then I also managed to analytically discover that the new 3 Series is ruddy brilliant. And while the increased space in the rear (a whole 15mm of added leg room) is jolly nice, I can't say the same of the new headlamp design that resembles a pair of tired eyes with eye boogers in the tear ducts. Every time I look at the front of the new 3 Series I have an uncontrollable urge to poke my pinky at its headlights. "Wash your face when you wake up, you lazy git!"
Don't worry though, I came away from my Autodrome excursion with more than just a sore pinky. That's the power of a seasoned automotive journalist, to ‘get' a car during a test drive that can be measured in centimetres, rather than kilometres. I've driven everything else that the 3 Series needs to take on to triumph in this hotly contested segment to know a good ‘un when I see it. OK, I'm lying: actually, the only thing I can tell you about the new 3 Series is that its chassis is ridiculously taut and composed, and I can't even decide if that's the highlight or the excellent engines on offer. You'll just have to read the brochure yourself or speak to an actual live dealer to find out whether you're happy with the options, warranty, service arrangements, comfort (How am I supposed to tell you about that from a drive on a pristine track surface?), styling, practicality, and all that. No matter how charming the salesman is, though, you certainly won't be happy about the astronomical price, but since I'm not the one buying these things, I'll leave that to you.
As for the two engines that I tried - the good old turbocharged straight-six 3.0-litre and the new 2.0-litre turbocharged four-pot — we already know that the bigger one is amazingly stretchy with its power band and as torquey as a Massey Ferguson. But the little one… That one's an enigma. Could it be, um — I can't believe I'm even contemplating this — better than the great force-fed six? Blasphemy!
So I'd like to focus on that engine. And it's not at all because I have absolutely nothing else to focus on. Unless you want me to talk extensively about how new BMWs reverse into parking spots.
With the four-cylinder workhorse sitting longitudinally right over the front axle, you'd think it would be awkwardly tall and ruin the beautifully engineered advantages of that stiff new body — 93mm longer, 37mm and 47mm wider front and rear, with a 50mm longer wheelbase for stability. In fact, this thing is based on the familiar sixer, so someone just basically took a hacksaw to that. But, not exactly. Badged as a 328i (they can design amazing engines, but they can't count), this 2.0-litre features Twin-Power turbo technology, which means that cylinder one and two use separate spiral-shaped paths to the turbocharger than cylinders two and three. Result? No back pressure. Translation? No lag (well, very little of it) and instant throttle response.
In addition, BMW stuck to its Double-Vanos system and direct injection, but improved them significantly so that the variable valve gizmos act faster while dispensing with the throttle valve, which can be somewhat slow to act. A genuine engineer told me that while I pretended to understand.
What's indisputably clear though, is that all the optimised characteristics of the new 2.0-litre have worked wonders, as this thing produces 245bhp at 5,000rpm and a diesel-like 350Nm from pretty much idle speed. The torque curve is actually a plateau that just keeps on going all the way to 4,800rpm. You have eight gears to choose from in the silky new ZF transmission too, but why? You may as well stick it in fourth and keep it there all day, even in traffic. The engine's that good.
You know what else is amazing? The 328i accelerates to 100kph from rest in 5.9 seconds, whereas the six-cylinder 335i in standard trim just pips it with a time of 5.5 seconds. Is that even worth mulling over? With a klutz behind the wheel of the 306bhp 335i, you could actually have him in the new four-pot 328i.
Let's get back to the chassis. The smartest men in Munich managed to cut weight across the board, saving you about 40kg compared to the last dreir through the use of lightweight alloys, with a 50:50 ratio of axle load distribution. The new 3 Series' front end is pretty much the same as before, however. The rear also still uses the proven five-link design, but it's been extensively rethought with more suspension travel and stiffer control arms. As a result the 3 Series was as planted as they come through the Club layout of the ‘Drome, with only the lower-rolling resistance tyres limiting grip.
In fact, significant weight-saving, this brilliantly stiff yet compliant chassis, and this mind-blowing small-capacity turbo motor make me want a four-cylinder M3 all over again.