Launch Drive: 2015 BMW 3-Series

Launch Drive: 2015 BMW 3-Series

No, this might not be a quiz night question you get down at the local pub.

Nonetheless, see if you get the answer right. What do former soccer great David Beckham, South African-born actress Charlize Theron and the BMW 3-Series have in common? Answer: They all turn 40 this year.

Yep, 40 big ones for one of the best soccer players of his generation; for an Oscar winner; and for the legendary 3-Series — a car that has sold more than 14 million units in over 130 markets since its introduction in 1975. But of more relevance to BMW, perhaps, is that the 3-Series accounts for a quarter of the group’s sales worldwide — an impressive statistic indeed.

And, with success such as that, perhaps this is why changes to what is now the seventh-generation are fairly conservative. Exterior changes at the front include new bumpers, revised air intakes and new light design leading to the legendary kidney grille. Full-LED lighting is optional. The result is a sharper design. The rear has also been revised with LED lights as standard.

Step inside and again it has been a tweak here and there. Expect additional chrome highlights and a new centre console with a sliding cover over a couple of drinks holders, while black high-gloss surfaces are now in place. But the major changes are at the heart of any BMW — and that is under the bonnet. The BMW 3-Series now has on offer four petrol engines finding their way into the 318i, 320i, 330i and top end 340i. Power output for the petrol engines ranges from 100kWto 240kW.

One interesting fact is that the 318i, which replaces the 316i, is the first mid-sized model from BMW to have a three-cylinder petrol engine. For those who prefer a diesel power-plant, there are two engines on offer in the 320d and 330d, with power output ranging from 140kW up to 190kW. All engine derivatives feature BMW twin-power turbo technology.

Transmissions include a six-speed manual gearbox or an eight-speed steptronic gearbox (standard on the 330d and 340i). Wheel sizes vary from 16inch for the entry level 318i through to 19-inch for the 340i. As with many vehicles in the wide BMW range, there are three packages available when it comes to interior customisation — sport line, luxury line and the M-Sport.

For those diehard 3-Series petrolheads — who are always on the lookout for something extra — there is the option of the 40th year special edition which comes kitted out with the M-Sport package, exclusive paintwork, 19-inch BMW individual light alloy wheels, individual instrument panel finished in leather along with piano black interior trim with a 40-year edition logo and to finish it off, a Harman Kardon surround system.

At the launch last week, I managed to spend time in the driver’s seat of both the 340i and 330d. First up was the 340i. Replacing the 335i, this vehicle certainly cuts to the chase very, very quickly. Packed with a three-litre six-cylinder power-plant — a 15kW improvement over the previous version — it’s sit-back-and-enjoy lightning fast, with a claimed 0-100km/h time of 5.1 seconds.

Point it in a straight line, punish the right pedal, and the lovely scenery around the Cradle of Humankind quickly become a blur. The eight-speed automatic transmission is also a treat, with gear changes barely noticeable and the steering wheel paddle shifters available if needed. Noticeable is a stiffer suspension, but the ride quality is of a typically high class. The surprise for me was perhaps the 330d.

Also no slouch — and boy did we give it beans! — it returned the incredible fuel consumption figure of 7.6l/100km over a 200km dash through the mealie fields of Koster and Derby in North West. It may be 40 years on from when that first car rolled off the assembly line, but if anything, the 3-Series just keeps getting better with age.

• Adding to the 3-Series lineup in March next year is the 330e plug-in hybrid. A quick glance at the figures And it looks mighty impressive: 0-100km/h in 6.3 seconds; top speed of 225 km/h, a combined fuel consumption of just 2.1l/100km and CO Emissions of just 49g/km. The Car has an electric range of 35km.

The Facts:
318i —100kW; 220Nm; 5l/100km; 116g/km; R409 000
320i —1998cc four-cylinder;135kW; 270Nm; 5.3l/100km; 128g/km; R443 000
330i —1998cc fourcylinder; 185kW; 350Nm; 6.1l/100km; 129g/km; R516 000
340i — 2998cc six-cylinder; 240kW; 450Nm; 6.5l/100km; 152g/km; R656 000
320d — 1995cc 4 cylinder; 140kW; 400Nm; 4.0l/100km; 106g/km; R472 000
330d — 2993cc 6 cylinder; 190kW; 560Nm; 4.9l/100km; 129g/km; R596 000

-Bruce Fraser