Longer and wider than its predecessor, the new car manages improvements in several key areas which concern practicality. Occupants of both front and rear seats will find greater shoulder width and useful extra amounts of elbow room - and there's more space for luggage as well.
But forget it if you think the welcome added versatility puts a dent in the charismatic appeal of this image-builder for the next millennium: the enlarged 3-series is still sports transport par excellence. Propelled by a choice of brawny six-cylinder engines, initial examples from the line-up created to repel a fresh crop of rivals from Mercedes-Benz, Peugeot and Audi show the Munich technocrats still know a thing or two about how to keep the driving enthusiast happy.
Given their heads over some of southern Spain's excellent tourist-free roads during the international media launch, both the 323Ci and 328Ci displayed chassis manners which were as impeccable as ever.
The suspension of each test car was supple enough to treat surface irregularities with the aplomb of a saloon despite having immense reserves of grip for high speed cornering without a hint of protest from the tyres. And while the 2.5-litre version's 175bhp gave it the ability to sweep along in near silence on the motorway, the 193bhp of the 328Ci made it all seem even more relaxed in the grand touring manner.
In terms of outright performance, neither can ever be described as lacking and each is capable of seriously quick travel. But ultimately, bigger is better - while the smaller six hits the 62mph benchmark acceleration rate in eight seconds, its bigger stablemate gets there a full second earlier and always responds to a dab on the throttle with surging power however fast you happen to be travelling at the time. When they go on sale in June, the models will cost £25,945 and £28,995 respectively.
With the latest 1.9-litre, 118bhp engine under its bonnet, the 318Ci version is expected to cost £22,145 when it becomes available at the end of the year. Though styled to be overtly sporting with more prominent headlights, a bolder kidney grille surround and bigger airscoop, the Ci seems well able to double as a family car sufficiently comfortable for long distance use. Front seats slide forward when the backrest is tilted to allow easy access to the rear.
Handy cargo ties are located in the boot, and the split rear seat backrest folds forward to accommodate bulky loads. To compensate for the extended length of the door in confined parking spaces, a double push of the key fob allows unique gadgetry to lower the driver's frameless window so entry is easier. As soon as the door closes, the window slides up again automatically.
'We believe our coupe will prove more than a match for the CLK and 406 Coupes in its latest form,' said BMW AG coupe and convertible product manager Dieter Hilsch. 'We've dominated the segment across most markets for the last six years and are confident for the future.'