The next BMW 3 Series, codenamed G20, aims to close the gap with the new class-contenders, the latest Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Jaguar XE. Gone are the days of BMW hegemony in this important sector, and they're pulling out all the stops to keep the gaps close, although we still think it’s the best steer in its class.
It's not so long ago that Munich released a facelifted version of today's 3 Series, but now we can lift the lid on its successor - the all-new model coming in 2018 that won’t be built if Rosslyn Pretoria anymore. The 3 Series is BMW's best-selling model by some margin - it's vital that they gun for class honours.
The current 3 Series is aerodynamically efficient and cleverly packaged, if a little generic. The design needs to move on, insiders admit, and it will do so by redefining the overall proportions, the relation between the more muscular body and the sleeker greenhouse, and the stance which will likely be sportier. Sharper creases, harder edges, more adventurous radii and even tighter cutlines are likely to be the outcome.
What helps in this department is the highly flexible new architecture known as CLAR - short for cluster architecture, which is set to form the backbone of all future rear-wheel drive BMWs. Forget for one moment planned eye-catchers such as polished wheels, matt paint, LED matrix headlights and motorised grille louvres. These items may be currently en vogue, but the next 3 Series is less about equipment-related bling than the car it replaces. It's more about substance, character, craftsmanship, visual and haptic quality. Which is relatively easy to implement but positively expensive to fund, especially for a high-volume product like this.
BMW must invest in better materials, enhanced specification and higher-quality details such as carpets, rubber seals and sill covers. While G20 will again offer a choice of equipment packs, this time it is safe to expect more content as well as more variety and better value for money. Expect the option of upgraded sport brakes, power boost for the M pack, bespoke assistance systems and a top-notch infotainment for the luxury model lines.
There will be a new generation of three-cylinder engines powering the next 3 Series. To that end the G20 is all-set to undercut the 100g/km CO2 emission mark by introducing the miserly three-cylinder engine to the premium segment. While the new 316i will be powered by the 102kW 1.5-litre unit we know from the 218i, one rung up, the modular 2.0-litre four-cylinders are going to account for the lion's share of future 3 Series sales. Other new engines include:
3.0-litre sixes which gain approximately 22kW in power and 30Nm in torque over the current vintage, the 328i is rated at 194kW, 340i six-cylinder is good for 276kW, and M3 and M4 straight six, e-chargers and water injection for 372kW.
As far as assistance systems go, the new 7 Series sets the template for the G30 new 5 Series and its little brother, the G20 3 Series. This car will park itself via remote control, stay in lane or change lanes, overtake self-actingly under certain conditions, brake when required, monitor turns and crossroads, drive semi-autonomously on the autobahn and in stop-and-go traffic at up to 65kph.
Unlike the C-Class and the new 5 Series, G20 will not be offered with optional air suspension. But it will get adjustable dampers, switchable anti-roll bars, second-generation active steering and a new torque vectoring system which piggybacks ABS and DSC. The longer wheelbase, wider track, lower centre of gravity and lighter kerb weight should enhance handling and roadholding, too.
*spy pics courtesy of our sister publication in the UK