The lowest ownership costs in its segment will delight business customers as well as putting smiles on the faces of company accountants, believes BMW GB general sales manager Bernard Bradley.
He said: ‘This is a hugely desirable product for any business fleet. Used as a recruitment tool, it fits the brief both as a great driver’s car and practical family transport. We’ve just raised the bar again by setting a standard that others will strive to reach.’
Speaking at the launch of the UK versions, Bradley said specification levels and details of potential running costs had delighted key industry operators who had attended special preview events.
He said: ‘A lot of fleet managers thought they knew all they needed to know about the 3-series, but when we showed them this version and gave them the information, their eyes lit up. We know we’re offering key benefits for the corporate market.’
Backed by estimated residual values of up to 48% after three years/60,000-miles, the new range is being offered with restructured standard servicing packages. Priced from £390, they include oil, filter and spark plug changes for three or five-year periods.
Wiper blades, clutches and brake components are also accounted for in other packages that include maintenance options and cost up to £1,300.
Insurance ratings start at group 13 and an all-new line-up of power units attracts lower tax liability than rivals from Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar.
Bradley said: ‘We started showing the car to industry leaders back in November because we wanted to overcome the traditional time lag between on-sale date and the start of corporate orders.
‘That exercise was followed by the first roadshow event we’ve staged in secret, which involved taking the car around the country under wraps for viewings by user-choosers. Then we held a driving event in Athens.
‘The result has been an influx of orders. Our corporate roll-out has been more successful than what was achieved with either the 1-series or the 5-series. We have a substantial order bank and our problem now is making sure our customers don’t have to wait longer than 12 to 16 weeks for delivery.’
Despite the high level of interest, no more than 18,000 examples of the model will reach UK roads this year – 45% of them 320d versions and 35% petrol-powered 320i cars.
The 330i is expected to account for 10% of registrations with a similar proportion going to the 325i, due next month. Current Coupe, Touring and Convertible models will continue for around another 12 months.
With 318i, 318d and six-cylinder 330d models available later this year, sales are likely to reach around 22,000 in 2006 – 1,000 up on 2004 but still below registrations in the peak year of 2003.
Bradley said: ‘While our long-term strategy is for growth, all the extra numbers will come from variants. We’re obviously keen to protect residuals, so we will never flood the market, irrespective of demand.’
Though the entry-level 318 will nudge the £20,000 mark when it arrives in October, BMW GB managing director Jim O’Donnell maintains the model will represent the best value in the segment.
He said: ‘Five generations on, the 3 remains faithful to the original concept and still sets the benchmark.
‘The reason why there are more 3-series on the road than Audi A4s, Jaguar X-types or the Mercedes-Benz C-class is that we’re winning new customers by moving on the car both in form and function. I think we’ll be upsetting the competition for many years to come.’
Better equipped than the outgoing E46, all versions of the new model get six-speed manual transmission, air conditioning, six airbags, an on-board computer, run-flat tyres on 16-inch alloy wheels, dynamic stability control and powered windows as standard.
ES badging adds front foglights, body-colour exterior components and different wheels.
The alloys change again on SE models, which also have automatic climate control, cruise control, front fog lights, a multi-function steering wheel, rear parking assistance and an auto-dimming interior mirror.
Billed as neither a big 1-series nor a small 5-series, the 3 features upgraded styling to go with the increased rear legroom and 20-litre bigger boot provided by bodywork that is 49mm longer, 6mm higher and 78mm wider than before but is around 20kg lighter, thanks to the use of aluminium for suspension parts and the battery tray, panels that differ in thickness and eliminating the spare wheel.
Behind the wheel
SPORTY and dynamic describe the styling of the 3-series, which continues BMW’s design philosophy for an aggressive frontal appearance – and the same words also sum up the interior environment.
But get behind the wheel of this new car and you’re in for a treat and an experience that’s unique in the sector. Driving pleasure rates highly with BMW, and the company’s engineers have excelled themselves by somehow managing to improve on the charismatic E46.
Honed to perfection, the front engine, rear- drive chassis has 50-50 weight distribution that delivers the poise and superb balance that makes the 3-series a transport of delight that turns almost any journey into an occasion to be savoured by the driving enthusiast.
Though it needs to be revved fairly highly to give of its best, the Birmingham-built Valvetronic motor under the bonnet of the 320i is such a smooth performer that you could be forgiven for thinking it has six cylinders, but there’s no doubt that heavy-oil beats petrol as the star two-litre motor in this application.
With 163bhp and a massive amount of torque producing faster acceleration and super-quick response for overtaking, even more refined motorway cruising and the potential to eke 60 miles from just one gallon, the 16-valve turbodiesel unit is a class act.
Though noseweight is higher than on the petrol version, there’s no trade-off in handling finesse either. Both the cars we drove had a firm ride, tremendous roadholding and the precision control that makes visibility the only factor that influences the speed at which corners can be taken, yet a suspension system designed around the run-flat concept still managed to absorb the worst of ruts and potholes and provide a comfortable ride.
BY all accounts, queues are already forming for the car that sets even higher standards in an exclusive class. The 3-series will make life even harder for its peers – and a daunting prospect indeed for the increasing number of volume manufacturers who have ambitions for a slice of the premium cake.
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||150/6,200||218/6,500||258/6,600||163/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||148/3,600||184/2,750||221/2,500||251/2,000|
|Max speed (mph):||137||153||155||140|
|Comb fuel (mpg):||38.2||33.6||33.2||49.6|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||178||203||210||153|
Fuel tank (l/gal): 60/13.18
On sale: now
Prices (OTR): £21,090-£28,455