Since 2015 celebrated the fourth year of production for the current F30 3 Series, it was only natural that BMW launched a refreshed version of their top seller – in the typical Life Cycle Impulse fashion. Right around July 2015, the facelifted 3 Series was unveiled and proved that the Germans are keeping true to their ways, no matter what.
Now in its sixth generation, the 3 Series received small design changes on the outside. The Bavarians are not known for completely revamping a model mid-cycle, and the F30 generation couldn’t stray from the norm. You’d be hard pressed to find a model that was drastically changed once it reached its fourth year of production and the best example would have to be the Bangle era cars.
That’s because the blue and white roundel company received a lot of flak for what Bangle came up with and even under all that pressure, they refused to give in. The facelifted E60 5 Series received minuscule changes on the outside, and so did the E90 3 Series as well as the E63/64 6 Series. The one that was changed the most was the E65 7 Series but even that one could be considered a mild refresh.
So if the Bangle Butt cars were not drastically changed when the refreshed models came out, why would the F30/F31 3 Series?
Like all the recent BMW LCIs, he key focus points for a design change were the front and rear fascia, with particular attention offered to the headlamps and taillights.
If you want to separate the pre-facelift models from the facelifted ones all you need to do is take a look at the taillights, where the changes are most noticeable. The new design features a different shape for the LED strips , one that stands out as the most as we found while spending some time behind the wheel of our tester. The turn indicator lights are also sharper and are visually more impressive when in use.
Some small changes were also applied to the front and rear bumpers, but they are so little it will take Sherlock Holmes to spot them.
The headlights are also sporting new design changes – the trademark corona rings are more elongated, dropping the traditional round shape for a more dynamic appearance. The LED strips are giving the impression of connecting to the kidney grille. Some might prefer the old design but to our eye, the new one is a step forward.
Other than these two major components, it’s hard to distinguish the pre-LCI from the LCI version. Some small changes were also applied to the front and rear bumpers, but they are so little it will take Sherlock Holmes to spot them.
The biggest changes occurred under the hood where BMW introduced a new family of engines.
Some of them have been used on a variety of other models for quite some time now, but the world didn’t really pay attention to them – until now. Since the 3 Series is still one of the best-selling cars BMW makes today, once these new mills debuted under its hood everyone took notice.
The biggest surprise must’ve been the introduction of the 1.5-liter three-cylinder B38 engine of the MINI Cooper. Looking over its specs you’ll notice there’s no significant difference between the performance of the current model and what the entry-level European 316i model used to have. Admittedly, the 316i badge is gone – being replaced by the 318i – and while the 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine has the same amount of power and torque as the old 1.6-liter 4-cylinder – 136 HP and 162 lb-ft of torque – the new EU6 compliant unit consumes less fuel and weighs less.
Sport wagons are extremely popular in Europe and for many, it’s the perfect 3 Series car.
Another big change in the 3 Series lineup was the new 340i model which replaced the 335i. We already reviewed the top model earlier this year in Mexico and found it to be a definite step up – a real successor of its popular forerunner.
THE BMW 320d xDRIVE TOURING
While in the U.S. this will be the weapon of choice for most enthusiasts, in Europe things are a bit different. On the other side of the pond, diesels rule, so we decided to pick out the best-selling model on the Old Continent and take it for a spin to see what it’s made of. Sport wagons are extremely popular in Europe and for many, it’s the perfect 3 Series car. Some Americans take pride in their 328d xDrive Sports Wagon, while Europeans swear by the sporty, yet extremely efficient 320d xDrive Touring.
In the U.S., the 2-liter diesel engine used on the 3 Series is the old N47 unit that makes 180 HP and 280 lb-ft of torque. However, in Europe – and the rest of the world as a matter of fact – this unit was replaced by the new B47 mill that brings a drastic improvement regarding NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness) – a change that is noticeable as soon as you start the engine. The new powerplant is not only a lot more refined but delivers more oomph as well – 190 HP and 295 lb-ft of torque. Chip in the fact that the entire amount of twist is delivered from just 1,750 RPM and you have a true sprinter on your hands.
This combination of a 2-liter diesel engine, with the brilliant 8-speed ZF automatic gearbox and xDrive, has so much appeal that it will undoubtedly become a fan favorite.
The safety the all-wheel-drive system brings to the table is nothing to scoff at and if you’re thinking that it will take away some of the fun you can have with an RWD model you’d be terribly wrong. The facelifted F31 Touring is still using the old rear-wheel biased xDrive system which sends more of the power to the rear axle than the front one. This translates into one of the best all-wheel-drive systems on the market when it comes to the driving experience, and the 20d model comes to attest to that. The 190 HP and 295 lb-ft of torque are available almost instantly, and the throttle response is sharp – especially in Sport mode.
Urban driving highlights the superb engineering between the car’s heart and the ZF gearbox to deliver the best MPG possible.
Sure, this is a diesel after all, and some lag is noticeable but considering the size of this family hauler and the mpg numbers it returns, it is almost a perfect blend of practicality and fun.
Modern BMWs are using electric steering systems, leaving hydraulic system on the shelves of history, and while we will miss the feedback we were getting from the old ones, we can’t help but admire the work that has been put into making arguably the best electric power-steering on the market. The facelifted models are now using an improved steering version and while not perfect, it still manages to deliver on the connection between the drive and the car.
Driving around town, using the Comfort mode, you could go from lock to lock using just one finger, without too much hassle. Having a fairly light steering can help with those tight parking situations where maneuverability is key. Urban driving highlights the superb engineering between the car’s heart and the ZF gearbox to deliver the best MPG possible.
The cog swapper from ZF upshifts as quickly as possible, often at around 2,000 RPMs. That also translates into an unusual amount of vibrations being sent into the cabin. However, thanks to the new diesel plant and the sound insulation used for the engine bay, the noise is hardly noticeable. In stop-and-go situations, the 320d Touring and its new diesel is less rougher than its predecessor, delivering a soother ride.
The average fuel consumption numbers we saw while driving around town revolved around 30 mpg (8 liter/100 km) which is impressive by any standards – even more impressive considering the bumper-to-bumper traffic we encountered during our daily routes.
Our tester was fitted with the optional M Sport package that will cost a pretty penny, but brings about a couple of significant add-ons. The adaptive dampers, the exterior kit and the M Sport seats, as well as the steering wheel, make for an interesting combination, yet not one that will be picked by most customers. After all, buyers of the 3 Series Touring will be looking for practicality and hypermiling most of the time.
To test its practicality and interior space, we set out to a road trip for the ultimate test and this is when we ran into some a small issue. The rear seats can’t offer a comfortable long trip for three adults sitting abreast. For young families, with up to three children, the room back there will suffice but if you want to take adults along with you they shouldn’t be over 5 ft. 7 inches (175 cm) tall. As for the luggage room in the back, you won’t be disappointed. BMW says it goes from 495 liters (17.5 cubic feet) with the rear seats up to 1,500 liters (52 cubic feet) with them folded (in a 40:20:40 split if you want to).
There are also a lot of useful tricks inside the car such as all sorts of hidden compartments for storage, under the boot floor or inside the cabin.
What impressed us the most though was the fuel consumption. Even at highway speeds around Europe – 130 km/h or 81 mph – the fuel consumption was sitting at 33.6 mpg (7 l/100 km) which is impressive for a car that weighs over 2 tons (including the five passengers and their luggage).
After the short time spent in the company of the 320d xDrive Touring, we started to understand why this bimmer is such a high seller.
Even under full load, the power output was more than sufficient. For any regular, law-abiding driver that doesn’t want to turn the highway into his playground, the 2-liter diesel mill and its 190 HP is enough for any given situation, accelerating hard to around 100 mph (160 km/h). Hit a couple of winding roads and you’ll also be able to exploit the xDrive system as it was designed – sporty, grippy and safe.
Even when pushed hard into a corner you won’t notice severe understeer. The initial turn-in will bring forward some slide from the front axle but as soon as you lean even more into it, the rear end starts to make itself noticed and by the time the car slides into oversteer, the front axle pulls you out of the bend. It’s a great feeling, and the 320d xDrive Touring model goes to show that you can blend a fun driving experience with practicality and low fuel consumption.
SHOULD I BUY ONE?
After the short time spent in the company of the 320d xDrive Touring, we started to understand why this bimmer is such a high seller. The 320d xDrive Touring is truly an all-rounder, offering everything a modest German family could wish for. The driver can have as much fun with it as he pleases while the comfort and practicality won’t suffer a bit.
Before BMW launched its SUV offensive and before crossovers became the go-to all-wheel drive winter vehicles, the touring was the weapon of choice for most people looking for a versatile package.
To this day, the attributes that made the Touring 3er a top-selling model remain intact, the only problem this car faces today is a similar pricing as some of the new entry-level crossovers. However, the driving dynamics of a vehicle with a higher center of gravity won’t be the same, and if the experience behind the wheel is more important to you than going off road or conquering potholes in the city, this 320d xDrive Touring is the one car you should be looking at.