BMW 3-Series mid-life refresh: Is it enough?

Is this update to the 3-Series good enough for it to fend off its rivals? We take a closer look

Of Greeks and Gods

There’s a certain arrogance when BMW executives talk about the 3-Series. And it’s not of the “smug ridicule” variety so often favoured by some of our beloved leaders here in Malaysia. Rather it’s the boyish glint-in-the-eye of confidence, as if they know something that you don’t.

And why not? This was the car that created the segment after all. A segment, poo-pooed by its rivals at first but saw them all served heaps of humble pie, as they raced to build worthy challengers. Four decades on, the BMW 3-Series still straddles the compact executive mountain like an omnipotent Zeus, lauding it over the rest of the gods on Olympus.

And just like Typhoeus, there have been many challengers who have come very close to unseating the 3-Series, but the wily wizards of Munich have somehow always been able to fend off usurpers with a cocktail of technology, design and engineering.

Barbarians at the gates

Each time however, it’s clear that their rivals have been getting closer. The new C-Class has all but cast aside any aspersions about the Mercs’ driving chops while the Audi keeps upping the ante on finish and quality. Of course, all of this is great news for us as consumers because it means that they all keep each other honest.

Rear tail-lamp with new composition is one of the few visual giveaways

The current 3-Series has been able to beat out the competition because the car is greater than the sum of its parts. When dissected, the competition can lay claim to trouncing it in different areas like comfort, styling and quality. But as a total package, it’s hard not to see how the 3 edges out the rest.

So what do you do when you are King atop The Mountain? This is the BMW conundrum. Stay the course and get called boring or attempt some new trajectory and risk the bird in hand?

If the 3-Series LCI (Life Cycle Impulse or facelift in the BMW vernacular) is anything to go by, Munich is sticking to the script. The company says that, “The design of the new BMW 3 Series stands out with even greater precision and various detail improvements“, which is marketing speak for, “we changed some of the lights and fixed a new bumper”.

New, did you say?
Bumpers and lighting equipment get expected updates

They weren’t kidding about detail improvements, blink and you’ll miss them. Despite the reams written about “revised headlights, LED eyebrows, broader side air intakes and line specific trim element on the rear apron“, only the most discerning of enthusiasts will be able to spot the differences. Then again, too much change and you risk the ire of current model drivers who don’t want to look like yesterdays’ news two years into ownership. And more importantly, this is just an update.

While the visual changes are forgettable, BMW has been busy bees under the bonnet. No less than seven new engines can be had with the LCI, all of which are Euro-6 compliant. And while the output figures are P90180563_editedimpressive, it’s clear that the company is flexing its’ “green” muscle here. With pressure mounting from most of the civilized world for better emissions, BMW is cruising smoothly with the Efficient Dynamics juggernaut (of less significance to us here in Malaysia where the average Metrobus could account for emissions from a small German town).


Greener but meaner

At the bottom of the petrol rung will be the 318i with the 1.5-litre 3-cylinder engine that is also deployed in the 218i, we expect the 318i to replace the current 316i. Churning out 136hp and 220Nm of torque, this will be the “little turbo that could”, sipping only 5.5L per 100km but with a 0-100km/h time of 8.9 seconds, it won’t be the rempit choice for sure.

Underneath the familiar outer skin lies a range of new engines that are leaner and meaner

The big news is the new four-cylinder and six-cylinder engines which promises to be more powerful while consuming less fossil fuel than the engines they replace. The B48 2.0-litre turbo will debut in the 320i and 330i (replacing the current 328i). In the 320i, it promises 184hp/290Nm while consuming a 5.9-5.3 litres per 100km. In the 330i, you’ll get 252hp and 350Nm with 6.5-5.5 litres per 100km.

While all of this is nice, its the 3.0 litre turbocharged six-cylinder engine in the upcoming 340i, that’s got everyone hot under the collar. Replacing the outgoing 335i, the 340i’s six will produce 326hp/450Nm and do the century in 5.1 seconds. Seeing that the outgoing engine has achieved near cult status with enthusiasts for its silky-smooth power delivery and wonderful soundtrack, the smart money is that the new engine will be another tour de force.

There’s a range diesels motors but the only one of interest to us will probably be the 320d. This four-potter comes with improved numbers, offering a slight bump of 6hp to make for 190hp with similar torque at 400Nm and CO2 emissions of just 106g/km. Tweaks have also been made to the 8-speed ZF automatic transmissions and to the chassis which should make for some compelling driving.


Throw in new bits of kit in the Navigation system alongside a sprinkling of cabin material upgrades, it is clear that BMW has not been sitting pretty. However, the question still remains, “Will it be enough?”. After 40 years at the top, one would expect that BMW knows what it is doing. Then again, while the tech is impressive, in the car business, sometimes beauty is only skin deep.

(We expect the locally-assembled 3-Series LCI or facelift model to be available in Malaysia towards the end of 2015 in Malaysia)