BMW prepares to redesign what was once a segment benchmark
Although the BMW 3 Series is still a top-seller in its segment, a disappointing seventh-place finish in a recent eight-car comparison reveals how much ground the former segment leader must make up to better compete with well-rounded cars such as the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Audi A4. The 3 Series has often been a Motor Trend favorite, but considering how much more emphasis BMW has placed on luxury over sport for the midsize 5 Series, we’re cautiously optimistic. Likely debuting as a 2019 model in sedan form with 4 Series variants to follow, keep reading for our best guesses on what to expect for the 2019 BMW 3 Series.
Photos of the outgoing 3 Series and camouflaged next-gen 3 Series are pictured below
Thanks to a move to BMW’s flexible KLAR architecture that also underpins the new X3 crossover, the 2019 3 Series could drop a few pounds compared to the current car. That’s a change that should benefit drivers across the expansive 3 Series lineup, from the entry-level successor to the 320i all the way up to the next M3 and M4.
Along with a slight reduction in weight, the 2019 3 Series should also see a bump in power for the 340i model that might be renamed M340i. The current 340i makes 320 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque from a turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine, but we expect a 2019 M340i model to match the 2018 X3’s 355 hp and 369 lb-ft. We’ve tested a 2016 340i with a manual transmission accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds (BMW estimates 4.9 seconds for the manual and 4.8 seconds for the automatic) and expect the 340i’s successor to dip closer to 4.5 seconds.
A plug-in hybrid model will also return, though BMW will probably want to transition some of those customers to an upcoming four-door inspired by the fully electric i Vision Dynamics concept.
Want a Manual?
If you’re the type of driver who still wants a manual transmission, you’re probably not buying a luxury sport sedan, but BMW will be happy to oblige if that’s important to you. Although a six-speed manual is currently available on the 320i, 330i, 340i, and M3, BMW might restrict the do-it-yourself option on the 2019 3 Series to one or two variants so that Audi doesn’t own those bragging rights alone among top-rated competitors—the A4 2.0T with all-wheel drive is offered with a six-speed manual. As for the extremely entertaining Alfa Romeo Giulia, the automaker doesn’t currently offer a manual transmission. At a launch event for the Giulia, in explaining why there was no option of a manual transmission in the U.S., Alfa Romeo cited extremely low take-rates for manuals as well as the expensive nature of getting the additional variant emissions-certified.
Most 3 Series models will probably use different versions of an eight-speed automatic. In a review of the new 2018 X3 M40i, we said the eight-speed feels “alert and responsive.” And in that eight-car comparison that included a 330i, despite the issues we had with the BMW, we appreciated its “linear acceleration, minimal turbo lag, and excellent transmission programming.”
An Interior More Befitting That Price Tag
Part of what sank the 2017 BMW 330i in that eight-car Big Test comparison was an interior that hadn’t aged well compared to some of the other competitors we tested at the same time and the average materials quality. We’re hopeful here. We described the new 2018 X3’s interior as “plush and premium”—a noticeable step up from the cabin of the cheap-feeling outgoing car. BMW’s 10.0-inch central screen will likely be an option on higher trims, and the car will also offer a digital instrument cluster display. As for the Gesture Control feature that has been spreading around BMW’s lineup, just keep in mind the gimmick is actually useful when you want to skip ahead to the next track (but otherwise not worth paying extra for).
Will It Get Bigger?
We hope not. In that eight-car comparison, the 3 Series was lauded for its interior comfort and decently sized rear seats. The new 2018 X3 is longer and a little wider than its predecessor, but we hope the 2019 3 Series won’t get bloated. Instead, a lighter-weight and similarly sized car that handles better and is more connected to the road sounds like a better focus to us. Then again, a slightly larger 3 Series might make sense to BMW if, despite the SUV-crazed automotive market, product planners decide there’s still enough of a gap at the bottom of its lineup for a 1 Series four-door or 2 Series Gran Coupe. Currently, the 320i base model and X1 crossover are the only four-door BMWs available for under $40,000 USD.
Will the Coupe and Wagon Return?
Before the 6 Series lineup added a Gran Turismo model, it discontinued the coupe model. We wonder what BMW will decide to do with its U.S. lineup for the 3 and 4 Series, specifically with the 4 Series coupe and 3 Series wagon. BMW’s 3 Series wagon is refreshingly offered without a crossoverlike visual appearance package, but the automaker also has the 3 Series Gran Turismo for customers who want more cargo-carrying capability. Aside from the 3 Series sedan and the possibility of a 3 Series Gran Turismo and 4 Series coupe, the lineup will also likely include a 4 Series convertible and 4 Series Gran Coupe (a stylish four-door).
Radical New Styling!
Just kidding—thanks to a handful of extremely well defined brand-design traits that we’ve seen for decades across the lineup including the Hofmeister kink and dual-kidney grille, the new 3 Series will clearly resemble the 5 Series and 7 Series but with some important detail changes to give the car its own identity.