The styling changes, while not enormous, were apparently intended to make the cars look sleeker and wider, and these include LED headlights, new air ducts, tweaked bumpers and a few other relatively minor items.
The platform and most of the body remains the same - the car is the same width and height as before, but the new bumpers extend its overall length by 9mm. BMW's also tweaked the suspension across the range, and the interior has been restyled with, the factory says, classy new materials and chrome highlights.
Not having driven a 3 Series for some time I can't compare the old and new models except to say that the sporting and quality feel of the new cars would be hard to beat.
Driving the new 318i, 320i and 320d with their new engines was an interesting experience. First up was the 320d which shouted "excellence" from the word go. I've never got behind the wheel of a BMW that wasn't fun to drive, but this one felt special in terms of solidity, lack of noise intrusion, ride quality and performance. The new two-litre turbodiesel puts out 140kW of power at 4,000rpm and 400Nm of torque, and it's a lively performer with all of that grunt available between 1,750 and 2,500rpm. Our motoring editor in Durban, Noreen Perryman, did a 400km round trip to the northern Drakensburg in it and averaged just 5,1 l/100km driving normally, which is, for her, usually brisk. The factory claims 4 l/100km but I doubt anybody will see that in the real world.
The standard car starts off at R480k with no options and manual transmission and tops out at R503k for the Sports auto.
Next came the 320i two-litre four-cylinder petrol with 135kW at 5,000rpm, and 290Nm at 1,350rpm. This feels more sporty than the diesel car because it revs harder, but lacks the big wave of grunt and actual performance is much the same, with the 0-100 km/h sprint taking around 7,3 seconds and top speed being 230 - 235km/h. Pricing for the standard car ranges from R450K for the manual to R474K for the automatic Sport version.
The third BMW 3 Series to come our way was the three-cylinder 318i that retails at R415k for the manual and R434k for the auto. This remarkable turbo engine, also used in some of the Minis, coaxes 100kW at 4,500rpm and 220Nm at 2,250rpm from just 1,500cc - enough to get it to 100km/h within about nine seconds, with a claimed top speed of 210km/h. Although not as luxuriously appointed as the other models the entry level 3 Series is still fun to drive.
All of these cars are also available with M Sport, Sport Line and Luxury Line packages that add tens of thousands of rands onto the ticket price, and many of BMW's best features are optional. When buying, make sure you know exactly what you're getting for your money.