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A legend improved - six generations on, BMW 3 Series


IN WHAT must be regarded as an astonishing achievement, the sixth generation of BMW's popular 3 Series has been given yet another host of improvements with which to continue the legend of this iconic model, which has seen some 14 million sales over the past 40 years. This represents 25 percent of all BMW sales since 1975.

AS BMW AG's all-time most popular model, the 3 Series continues to impress and increase in popularity with ongoing mechanical and build improvement without drastic exterior changes, which could have an adverse effect on the pre-owned market.

This means, in effect, that 3 Series owners will not have to endure the negative effect of frequent and often irrational changes in appearance. Autodealer, in the company of other South African media, recently attended the international launch of this model in Austria - experiencing the superlative 340i as the official launch vehicle.

It did not disappoint. Stylish and sporty, with sharper front and rear ends, the 3 Series even offers full LED lighting, while the interior has received a major overhaul with the liberal use of new materials. Broader side air intakes add a more muscular appearance - almost as if the car is saying - "I may resemble a mere sedan, but within beats the heart of a sports car." Even the headlights have been moved slightly further apart to emphasise the wider and more aggressive appearance.

In a nutshell, improved ergonomics has made Die Kabine an even more inviting place - a cockpit where the rich aroma of top-grade leather adds to the sense of quality, which has always been a 3 Series hallmark.

But the best news, surely, must be the sensational new gearbox, an optional eight-speed, which gives credence to the theory that in a few years' time, one would have to specify manual shift as an option. If all automatic 'boxes could match the BMW unit, this day is closer that one would think.

With eight gears to choose from, it stands to reason that such a transmission will link seamlessly with the 240kW twin-turbo straight-six for optimum performance, not only in terms of top speed, but also the vital aspect of fuel economy.

Starting off from BMW's Garching media centre on the outskirts of Munich, the route organisers deliberately chose secondary roads through quaint villages in order to show off the 3 Series' ability to handle tight spots and sweeps through villages and fields of sunflowers and maize. Yes, the Germans also plant mielies, but in an area considerably greener and prettier than, say, Viljoenskroon.

Maybe it was the excellent quality of the Bundesstrasse surfaces, but the 340i was whisper-quiet on all surfaces with super-precise steering and braking. In fact, the 3 Series is not only sporty and quick - it's probably one of the safest mid-range luxury touring cars on the market. Six airbags, ABS, traction control and cornering brake control are merely some of the delectable systems on offer as standard, with dynamic suspension control as an option.

While some lesser rivals may feel slightly cramped when it comes down to interior space, the 3 Series offers almost business-class legroom, a Harman Kardon sound system, which brought forth rich, dynamic sound and various other standard features and options such as a camera-linked, anti-dazzle high beam assist, which adjusts the car's lights dynamically using actuators to ensure the road is illuminated as well as possible without affecting oncoming traffic.

Perfection, as is well known, is an illusion, and not even the 3 Series would dare claim that it has all the answers to questions that have yet to be asked. Why, for instance, would one choose Veneto beigewhen there’s a more functional (and elegant) saddle brownon offer, as a first choice for the interior?

The SatNav system also had some moments - occasionally leading the occupants astray with strange and inexplicable deviations. Recovery was always quick, however, and our three-hour journey to Achenkirch in Austria evolved without incident.

Last word

BMW, as with many other German carmakers, has a huge list of optional extras from which prospective buyers may choose to their heart's desire. But the reality is that, even in basic guise - if there is such a vehicle on offer - the BMW 3 Series has come to represent the company's greatest success story. There are very sound reasons why the 3 Series has been around for 40 years: traditional craftsmanship, build integrity and that elusive pride-of-ownership,which has become a 3 Series hallmark. BMW's inherent respect for its clients through extremely subtle styling changes has done the brand a favour, with even pre-owned prices at a high level. If you build them to last, your customers will stay with you - and the 3 Series is tangible proof of this philosophy.


BMW 340i Sedan

Price:  R661 335
Engine: In-line six-cylinder TwinPower turbo
Max power: (kW @ rpm)   249 @ 5 500-6 500
Max torque: (Nm and rpm)   450 @ 1 380-5 000
Transmission: Six-speed manual, optional eight-speed
Top speed:  250 km/h
0-100km/h: 5.1 seconds
Consumption: 6.8 litres/100km
CO2:   152 gm/km


A delightful touch of nostalgia to the world launch of the 3 Series was added by the inclusion of immaculate 3 Series models straight from the BMW Welt (World) Museum.

These beautiful examples of the art of car design and build - some with only 1 800 kilometres on the odo - reminded those who drove them (with care and love) that there, indeed, was a time when cars (even BMWs) did not have airbags, SatNav, fancy alloy rims (steel was perfect, remember?) or ABS brakes.

Seeing the light of day for the first time in May 1975, the E21 (as it was known at the time) featured two doors only and was also available as a convertible, with the original M10 four-cylinder engine joined by the M20 six-cylinder in 1977.

The year 2002 was, from a sales position, an excellent period for the 3 Series (E46) with total sales of 561 249 units.

Another milestone was reached in 2007 with the introduction of the E30 M3 coupé - a development which set this model on the path of exceptional performance - a reputation which BMW enjoys to this day.

It was a great decision by BMW to entrust these old-timers to the care of those old enough to remember the time when these cars were the very epitome of taste and desirability. 

Images by BMW and Bernard K Hellberg

Article written by Bernard K Hellberg Snr
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