A new BMW 3 Series is a big deal, and after 43 years and six generations, it’s now time for the seventh-generation G20 to make its highly-awaited debut. Long a benchmark for the compact executive segment, the new model aims to take back the crown with a whole host of technological and mechanical updates.

First things first, the new model is much larger than its F30 predecessor, measuring 76 mm longer (at 4,709 mm) and 16 mm wider (1,827 mm); its 2,851 mm wheelbase is also 41 mm longer. It is, however, only one millimetre taller than the old car, at 1,442 mm. The track widths are also wider by 43 mm at the front and 21 mm at the rear, which BMW says improves poise and agility.

The exterior is dominated by the massive double kidney grille, now joined in the middle. It is connected to the headlights, which have a notched shape similar to recent Peugeot models and feature LED technology as standard; enhanced headlights with U-shaped daytime running lights are available as an option. Also available are adaptive LED units with Laserlight technology and three-dimensional hexagonal DRLs.

On standard, Sport Line and Luxury Line models, the fog lights and Air Curtain inlets are inserted in the corners of the front bumper in a T shape that is inspired by NACA ducts; this is repeated with the reflectors at the rear. The long bonnet and wheelbase, short overhangs and sweeping roofline give the car a typical sporty look, while the trademark C-pillar Hofmeister kink receives a beveled edge on the top corner.

Along the sides, there’s an upswept contour line that draws the eyes towards the prominent character line over the rear wheel arches; BMW’s Air Breather vents, which usually sit aft of the front wheels, are notably absent here. The LED tail lights feature a three-dimensional L-shaped design and tinted lenses.

The interior features styling cues taken from other new BMW models such as the G15 8 Series, G05 X5 and G29 Z4, with a clear horizontal design, electroplated silver trim around the air vents and controls and a tall centre console. The latter gets a new control panel incorporating the starter button, a redesigned gearlever, the iDrive controller and a new electronic parking brake that replaces the old manual handbrake.

As standard, the new 3 Series comes with a 8.8-inch centre display and a black panel instrument cluster with a 5.7-inch colour display. The optional Live Cockpit Professional throws in a 10.25-inch centre screen and a full 12.3-inch instrument display with a reverse-direction rev counter. The upgraded system also incorporates the new BMW Operating System 7.0, featuring a revised user interface with larger panels.

The system can be controlled through the centre touchscreen, the iDrive rotary controller and the optional Gesture Control feature. Certain markets will also get the Intelligent Personal Assistant, a more advanced voice control system that can learn the user’s routines and habits, similar to the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) system. A 16-speaker, 464-watt Harman Kardon sound system is optional.

Elsewhere in the cabin, the seats have been redesigned for improved long-distance comfort, and buyers can also specify sports seats, a heating function, powered adjustment with memory and Vernasca leather upholstery. Munich claims that cabin refinement – an area in which the previous F30 has always fallen short – has been improved with tweaks to the body to reduce wind noise, structural foam in the A-pillars and the use of acoustic glass for the windscreen as standard (side windows optional).

Increased interior space has also been claimed, including gains in front shoulder room, rear legroom and all-around headroom. Rear entry and egress has also been improved with an increaser door aperture height, and while boot space remains the same at 480 litres, a new partitioning system has freed up an additional 36 litres of storage space. Improved outward visibility and a larger glass sunroof has also been touted.

At launch, the new 3 Series will be offered with a range of new four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines and a six-cylinder diesel. As before, the 320i and 330i utilise a 2.0 litre turbocharged mill, now with higher-pressure direct injection system, a lighter crankshaft, reduced internal friction, optimised heat management and a new digital engine management system, plus a particulate filter to meet Euro 6d-TEMP emissions standards.

As a result, the 320i makes 184 hp from 5,000 to 6,500 rpm and 300 Nm of torque (up 10 Nm) between 1,350 and 4,000 rpm, goes from zero to 100 km/h in 7.2 seconds and delivers a fuel consumption figure of between 5.7 to 6.0 litres per 100 km. Meanwhile, the 330i produces 258 hp (up 6 hp) and 400 Nm of torque (up 50 Nm) from 1,550 to 4,400 rpm, does the century sprint in 5.8 seconds and returns 5.8 to 6.1 litres per 100 km.

On the oil-burning side, the 150 hp/320 Nm 318d and 190 hp/400 Nm 320d also use a 2.0 litre unit, outfitted with twin turbos to improve high-end performance and fuel economy. The 330d gets a 3.0 litre turbo straight-six that produces 265 hp and 580 Nm. All diesel models get a particulate filter, an oxidation catalyst and a nitrous oxide storage catalyst, along with selective catalytic reduction (SCR) with AdBlue injection.

Next year, the lineup will be expanded with the introduction of the 330e plug-in hybrid, promising a total system output of 252 hp (or up to 292 hp with the new XtraBoost mode), a zero-to-100 km/h time of 6.0 seconds, fuel consumption of as low as 1.7 litres per 100 km and an all-electric range of 60 km. There will also be the 3 Series’ first M Performance variant, the M340i xDrive, which utilises a 3.0 litre turbo straight-six petrol that delivers 374 hp and 500 Nm, along with a zero to 100 km/h time of just 4.4 seconds.

Only the 318d and 320d will be available with a six-speed manual transmission, with all other models getting an eight-speed automatic as standard. The latter gets a wider gear spread, increased internal efficiency, reduced vibration and a new control unit for improved shifts. The company’s xDrive all-wheel drive system is optional on the 320d and standard on the M340i.

Under the skin, the new 3 Series benefits from an increased use of aluminium and high-strength steels, so it’s now up to 55 kg lighter than before. Aerodynamics have been improved with an almost completely sealed underbody, optimised wheel designs and the use of front Air Curtains and active shutters for the grille and front air intake, reducing the drag coefficient from 0.26 to 0.23.

The new chassis delivers a 25% increase in overall rigidity, and features aluminium suspension components to reduce unsprung weight. The double-joint MacPherson strut front and five-link rear suspension uses specially tuned kinematics to improve steering precision and handling, while at the rear, rigid control arms and subframes and the use of thrust arms for body mountings ensure precise wheel location.

For the first time, the standard chassis is equipped with lift-related dampers that provides additional hydraulic damping at the front and limits compression at the rear. With continuously variable damping rates and progressive stiffness according to spring travel, the new dampers provide a better compromise between comfort and sporty handling.

The M Sport suspension gains more rigid bearings, additional body struts, firmer springs and anti-roll bars, increased wheel camber and a 10 mm drop in ride height, delivering an increased differentiation over the standard setup. Adaptive dampers are now only available with the M Sport suspension.

Models fitted with M Sport and Adaptive M Sport suspension get variable ratio steering as standard, and an M Sport braking system with blue callipers is also available. As standard, the new 3 Series gets Performance Control brake-activated torque vectoring, while an electronic M Sport locking differential is offered as an option on the 330i and 330d for the first time, in conjunction with the M Sport suspension.

Safety-wise, the new 3 Series finally comes with Collision and Pedestrian Warning with City Braking (autonomous emergency braking) function as standard, together with Lane Departure Warning. On the options list is the Driving Assistant that adds Lane Change Warning with steering assistance, Rear Collision Prevention and Cross-Traffic Alert, along with Active Cruise Control with Stop and Go.

At the top of the list is the Driving Assistant Professional that offers semi-autonomous driving features such as steering and lane control assistant, Lane Keeping Assistant with active side collision protection, evasion aid (which now works to avoid pedestrians), priority warning and wrong-way warning and Cross-Traffic Alert.

Meanwhile, the Parking Assistant package provides steering, acceleration, braking and gearshift assistance to park the car, and features a Reversing Assistant that memorises your steering inputs of the last 50 metres to back out of a parking spot. Parking Assistant Plus offers a three-dimensional 360-degree camera, which can be accessed through your smartphone using the Remote 3D View feature.

New connectivity functions include the BMW Digital Key that enables a Samsung smartphone with NFC to be used as a key, an NFC BMW Key Card, Connected Navigation with Parking Space Assistant, On-Street Parking Information and ParkNow services and Remote Software Update that allows for over-the-air updates.