BMW 3-Series LCI

When the E90 3-Series first came out, it was not to many people’s tastes. The signature L-shaped tail lamps were gone and the front kidney grilles had a little chrome bar running across the top, a design feature nicked from the 6-Series.

The 3-er had also swelled to proportions nearly the same size as the E39 5-er, so enthusiasts started to worry whether it would lose the qualities that made the E46 so popular. Despite all of this, it sold well of course, and minor design concerns can barely do any damage to the 3-er’s fantastic road-holding and agile feel.

The 3-Series facelift is now in Malaysia, with a new variant, the 323i. We’re not going to touch on that today, instead let’s go into the details on what has changed in the new 3-Series on the overall, as it’s not just a reskin on the outside, but it introduces BMW’s new and much improved iDrive sytem. We’ll also look at BMW ConnectedDrive and the features it offers the owner.

You’ll also read our impressions of a 335i automatic and a 330d manual, which features BMW’s new and improved 3.0 litre single turbo diesel engine.

Have a look at our write-up after the jump.

LCI Changes (Life Cycle Impulse, BMW nomenclature for facelift)

BMW 3-Series LCI

BMW has definitely been listening to the grouches from consumers about the 3-er’s styling. Frankly the slightly oddball cues were made even worse by the E92 3-Series Coupe released later which looked perfect, hardly anything to complain about. When the M3 Sedan came out it had the benefit of the 3 Coupe’s front-end, while the Sedan soldiered on with the flat kidney grilles until this facelift.

The 3 Facelift returns to a 1-piece kidney grille design. The bonnet gets a new set of crease lines in the middle that’s meant to look like the narrow and sharp nose of a Formula One car. The bumper is also different. Headlamps have been revised to use LED signal indicators.

BMW 3-Series LCI

On the side, there is an additional line carved into the side skirts give the side profile a little more character and it helps with the car’s stance as well because of the way it curves from the front to the rear. The side mirrors are also larger to offer a larger view to the driver.

On the rear end, the butterfly lights are finally gone and we’re back to the traditional L-shape design of the E46. Because of the reshaped tail lamps, the boot lid has also been redesigned. The tail lamps have two strips of LEDs into them, which seems to be a new design direction for the tail lamps of all BMWs these days, something that was also found on the E39 5-er. Like the front, the signal lamps light up with LEDs. The rear is supposed to look wider because its rear track has been widened by 24mm thanks to a new wheel carrier and other modified suspension parts.

BMW 3-Series LCI

The bonnet has been reshaped to include an extra two profile lines in the middle, which BMW says mimic the thin and sharp nose of an F1 car.

The front bumper’s lines are more curvaceous now and I feel the looks of the front end of the regular E90 and the M-Sport E90 are closer now. On the rear end there are various different tailpipe configurations. The regular cars will get a twin tailpipe design on the left side, which is similiar to the 330d that you will see in this post’s photos. The 335i gets a twin tailpipe design too, but with a large tailpipe on each side of the rear bumper. Quad tailpipes are of course reserved for the M3.

BMW 3-Series LCI

There are not much changes in the interior in terms of looks, just a few extra chrome highlights around the aircond vents, push-button starter and various other control knobs. BMW says the center console (arm rest storage area) offers a larger storage compartment now, and within it is an aux-in socket, a power socket and a special recess for a MP3 player to be stored in.

Other than the new iDrive system which we will cover later, one of the best changes in the interior is the fact that BMW has improved the door armrest padding. It’s much more comfortable for you to rest your arm there now. On the driver’s side, the power window and side mirror adjustment control panel have been moved back 2cm towards the driver for more comfortable access.

The Drive

BMW 3-Series LCI

I have been on some international media drives before but this time it was unique as I had a chance to drive the car alone, after my driving partner had to leave mid-way to settle some issues. Driving in Munich (or any other similiar European country) in the beginning of Autumn is truly an experience as you take in all the amazing colours in the show that nature just begins to put on for the people living there right before they have to go through a grey, wet and gloomy winter.

I’ve always remembered the 3-Series to be ever so slightly on the harsher side of things when it comes to ride comfort and compliance in Malaysia but it was amazing in Germany, where the roads are just so much better, especially on the Autobahns. I am not entirely sure whether this is because the 3-er has had some sort of change to the springs to make them softer, or it’s just the difference in roads. It probably explains why BMW was so eager to go all run-flat especially with the latest run-flat technology.

BMW 3-Series LCI

But in any case if indeed the 3-er is softer now it’s a wise move to make in a world where a facelift model is contending with the new A4 and the new C. Being more comfortable would give the 3-series more appeal while reserving the best driving experience for those who opt for the M-Sport suspension.

Driving dynamics is still the best in class in terms of steering feedback, body reaction to steering input and lane change composure. There’s just something about the way the tight BMW chassis responds to a quick lane change maneuver that the W204 and the B8 just cannot seem to match at the moment, at least according to my personal experience. They’re close but its just not the same, and it is this magic ingredient of the driver feeling so connected is what pushes the E90 or just any other sporty BMW sedan ahead of its competitors.

Sweet 6-potter petrol and diesel engines

BMW 3-Series LCI

This trip was the first time I was getting to sample the new twin turbocharged 3.0 litre petrol engine, mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The engine is a true cracker, serving loads of boost from the get-go pretty much immediately, and sustaining it all the way to the redline.

306 horsepower and 400Nm of torque means overtaking without dropping a gear is seriously possible, if you are lazy to shift down with a manual of course. With the auto the gearbox is pretty responsive to downshift commands. I only have on complaint, somehow I suspect the direct injection has spoiled the engine note a bit.

BMW 3-Series LCI

The N52s in the 325i etc we have here in Malaysia are alot more metallic and screaming like a banshee towards the high-ends of the rev range, in a very good way of course. The turbocharged direct injection N54 just did not sound as good somehow. It’s a bit muted and somehow just not as smooth.

The N52 is being replaced with the new direct injection (High Pressure Injection) normally aspirated N53 around the world, and although I’ve never driven one yet I hope they don’t end up sounding like the N54. It’s a good thing our petrol is shit, otherwise we won’t be able to still continue enjoying the N52!

BMW 3-Series LCI

As for the diesel, we used to have a 320d in Malaysia in wagon form but with the LCI that’s been removed. I managed to sample the 330d with a 6-speed manual. It was my first time driving a modern manual BMW. The clutch was not overly light but far from heavy either, the feel very just nice. No complaints about the shift feel. But what truly surprised me was the diesel.

This is a new diesel engine, a development over the previous generation 3.0 litre. It has an aluminium crank case and is lighter in many areas. Some of you who drive diesels would probably know this common trait of many diesel engines – they start off very strong but taper off shortly after, sometimes feeling very heavy-ish even as early as 3,500rpm. This VGT-equipped diesel was not like that.

BMW 3-Series LCI

It was bloody amazing! It stayed strong all the way to the redline, just like a petrol engine. In fact, you could hardly tell you were driving a diesel if not for the slightly different gruntier engine note, but there’s not much injector clatter either.

But then again it’s not to the point where you would wind down your windows in a tunnel at night and really work the engine just to hear the engine note. No, it doesn’t sound THAT good of course. You’ll wind down your windows to hear the woosh and whine of the turbine, but that’s about it. So BMW still has more room for innovation, so until the next diesel.

The new all-improved BMW iDrive

BMW 3-Series LCI

All in all iDrive is so much easier to use now especially the maps and address searching because it runs from a hard drive now so access speeds are much faster than loading stuff from a DVD. I believe the processor also must be faster. Maps are now from TomTom’s TeleAtlas subsidiary, instead of the DVD-based Nokia-owned Navteq system.

There is a map 3D view now that shows gradients. Apparently there is also a version which can show the buildings around you but I think our route did not go through an area with that kind of detailed mapping, but it did have the gradients though, showing uphills, downhills and the mountains around us.

BMW 3-Series LCI

In our journey we managed to try out how iDrive works with traffic info systems, something that we cannot try in Malaysia. On the journey to the airport for our trip home, some of the other media got trapped in a massive traffic jam which caused them to miss (or nearly miss, I forgot) a flight. iDrive actually warned us of the traffic jam and took us around it.

The user interface takes cues from one of the most popular consumer electronics out there, the iPod. Rotating knob interfaces are always associated with the iPod anyway and most of us already intuitively know how to operate it thanks to Apple having already “trained” us.

BMW 3-Series LCI

The new iDrive system’s hard drive can also function as a music jukebox, so you don’t have to carry your CDs around with you and risk them being damaged from being in a car that’s being baked under the hot sun all the time. Just load them in and rip them. iDrive will store them on its built-in hard drive. Only a couple of gigs out of the whole large drive will be used for music of course, because in Europe the 3D maps and etc are huge and take up alot of hard drive space. These maps do not take up as much space in Malaysia so there will actually be alot of wasted hard drive space that’s not being used by maps but not allowed to be used by music.

We had the opportunity to test out BMW’s new ConnectedDrive web browser which uses a SIM card for an EDGE speed data connection. The web browser is based on NetFront, which is a commonly used web browser when it comes to embedded applications. It is also used in devices like the Amazon Kindle, and the PSP as well as the Playstation 3. No Flash support yet though, and Gmail loads up in HTML.

From the video above I think you can already see one improvement that BMW can make – when you key in the website address there should be predefined choices for “.com”, “.net” and “.org”. BMW has already realised this of course and it is planned in the next version. It’s quite interesting that BMW’s rationale for Google to be its starting website is that so many people use Google as their start page these days, so it helps the user feel that the web browser can access “real internet”, not a special limited “BMW internet”.

I tried the browser again later and the speeds are actually quite bearable, EDGE is much faster when it works properly compared to the kind of 3G/3.5G service we get here (I’m looking at you, Maxis). Text can be small and hard to read at times but there is a zoom feature.

On local soils

BMW 3-Series LCI

The 3-Series LCI is already here, with some new models and some models gone. The 320d Touring will be missed by the likes of enthusiasts but the common folk really won’t notice its gone. The 323i is a good move, replacing the regular 325i without the M-Sport kit and allows a cheaper entry into 6-cylinder BMW ownership.

I still like the 3-Series the best out of the German trio that compete in the premium C-segment. Discounting the 320i of course. I love the tight chassis and the way it responses to driver commands. To me, it’s really not about how each car does at the very edge of safety but how it handles regular spirited driving, something you do when the roads are a little more empty and you stick the gear shifter into DS. The 3-Series does that the best and provides the best feedback.

It still retains the throne of the best driving car in its segment. But for those who don’t care about driving that may not be enough looking at its competitors compelling features and “new factor” (they’re just released).

BMW 3-Series LCI

Oh yeah, not to forget, I wanted to show you guys this comparison photo above. The 3-Series is so much bigger now that it’s almost as big as the previous generation E39 5-Series! How much larger will it grow?

Please enjoy the large set of high-resolution images below.

GALLERY: BMW 330d LCI

GALLERY: BMW 335i LCI

GALLERY: BMW E90/E91 LCI

GALLERY: BMW E91 LCI (Touring)

GALLERY: BMW E90/E91 LCI International Media Launch