The Bavarian masterpiece
New BMW 3 Series may look mean but is easy to tame
By Kim Da-ye
Both foreign and Korean automakers have every reason to fear the launch of the all-new BMW 3 Series.
The BMW 3 Series has been the premium German automaker’s best selling line with 12.51 million sold since 1975. The sixth generation models will surely boost that figure further than any of the predecessors.
The new BMW 320d, the first of the series to be launched here, is a significant improvement from the 2005 model, even considering the six-year gap. It has improved to the extent that the old E90 drove like an old banger right after a test drive of a new F30.
The F30 hits a perfect score on every imaginable feature ― the design of the interior and exterior, power, handling precision, stable chassis, spacious inside, smart gadgetry and price.
One drawback of owning this model would be that drivers are very likely to no longer stand out from the crowd just because they drive a BMW.
In Korea, imported vehicles are often associated with high social status and wealth and their drivers are instantly labeled as rich.
Such a trend caused the local imported car market to develop in a somewhat abnormal way.
While foreign brand vehicles on Forbes’ list of best-selling cars of 2011 in the United States are all affordable Japanese models such as the Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Honda Accord and Toyota Corolla, premium German automakers have been dominating the best sellers’ list in Korea.
BMW touted a 22.18 percent share of the imported car market by sales last year, followed by Mercedes-Benz’s 18.6 percent, Volkswagen’s 11.84 percent and Audi’s 9.85 percent.
BMW’s growth is particularly remarkable. In January this year, It sold a whopping 2,347 vehicles here, up 54.7 percent from a year ago, while Mercedes-Benz’s sales dropped 24 percent to 1,330.
Even within BMW’s models, abnormality exists. In Korea, the best selling cars aren’t from the 3 but the 5 Series.
The new 3 Series may be able to correct that abnormality. It has great potential to appeal to those who didn’t dare to previously purchase an imported vehicle.
Hopefully, gone are the days when owners of expensive imports behave like the kings of the road. Drivers of Korean-brand vehicles also avoid getting too close to them because any accident incurs huge insurance costs caused by the actual price of the cars and the difficulty in obtaining parts.
As it is unusual to see foreign cars crashing into each other, this reporter hopes more BMW 3 Series vehicles on the road leads to more careful drivers.
The new 320d comes in five different types ― Efficient Dynamics, standard, Modern, Sport and Luxury.
The driving performance of the Sport is outstanding while that of the four others is similar.
The steering wheel of the Sport is comfortably sensitive and the vehicle responds quickly but stably. On the test track, the vehicle drove in zigzags effortlessly and precisely while turning the steering wheel all the way to the right and to the left in passing an extremely twisted path provided more fun than a headache. It felt as though hundreds of sticky hands grabbed the ground when the car made an abrupt turn or a sudden stop.
You can feel that this car moves as a single unit ― not that common feeling of the front and the rear moving separately.
Although the other four lines’ precision of handling and stability of the chassis aren’t as fine as those of the Sport, they are still great cars.
It took just a test drive of a fifth-generation 320d to figure that out. A group of reporters who finished a rollercoaster-like test track in the old 320d limped out, complaining of headaches. Don’t forget the E90 was one of the best cars of its time, winning various awards including World Car of the Year in 2006.
The new model’s joystick-like automatic gear shift is another improvement from the predecessor.
All five lines are built with two-liter engines that pump out 184 horsepower and 38.8 kilogram/meter torque.
In the test drive, they sped up effortlessly to 200 kilometers per hour. BMW says that it takes just 7.6 seconds for the model to reach 100 kilometers per hour.
The fuel efficiency should also be noted. Born after the 1973 oil crisis, the 3 Series has been designed for both luxury and economy.
The ED line touts a fuel efficiency of 23.8 kilometers per liter and that of the four others lines is officially approved at 22.1 kilometers per liter ― up from 17.6 for its predecessor.
Exterior and interior
The new 320d is a mean-looking machine with its slender headlines connected to the signature kidney grills.
The 1.81-meter wide front makes the model look very big, especially the Luxury line. This reporter loved the combination of that prestigious look of a wide front and the advantages of a compact car including greater fuel efficiency and easy parking. As families are becoming smaller, why bother buying a 5 or 7 Series?
From the side, the long, curved hood, the relatively short rear and character lines make it resemble an agile predatory underwater creature.
The interior is spacious. The body of the new 320d is 93 millimeters longer than its predecessor’s, the wheelbase 50 millimeters longer, the legroom for rear passengers 15 millimeters more and the headroom 8 millimeters higher.
And a thumbs up for the seats that are accommodating near the hip area as well as extra-comfy pelvis-hugging front seats that are available on some lines.
Each line comes with a different interior and the name of each line speaks for itself. The combination of black and red in the Sport line reminds drivers of a racing car while the light brown leather seats and use of real wood make the Luxury line interiors uber-luxurious.
BMW Korea has managed to bring all these packages at reasonable prices. They range from 45 million won for the ED, to 48.8 million won for the standard, 54.1 million won for the Modern and 55.4 million won for the Sport and 56.5 million won for the Luxury.