The BMW 3 Series has been a hallmark of the German brand for almost five decades. Now in its seventh generation, the venerable compact executive sedan is known for its all-roundedness, fulfilling the Goldilocks principle of size, handling, performance, practicality and styling.

As competent as it may be, the G20 3 Series, like its predecessors, was always due for an update in the years after its release in 2018. That’s precisely what happened last year, as BMW gave its core model a facelift, or Life Cycle Impulse (LCI) if you prefer BMW speak.

So, just how did BMW improve the G20 to keep it relevant while the company focuses on readying its Neue Klasse? Are the changes significant enough to warrant existing owners to trade up? We were brought to Germany to find out for ourselves.

Sharper suit outside works from most viewpoints

With a starting point that is already quite handsome to begin with, BMW opted to refine its design rather than make changes deemed debate-worthy (consider the X7). As such, the kidney grille has not been enlarged, but rather reprofiled to have a more octagonal shape. This should please fans that were concerned the regular 3 Series would also get the “beaver teeth” after what happened to the M3.

The refinement process also extends to the headlamps, which no longer sports the pre-facelift car’s notched design and now comes with inverted L-shaped daytime running lights instead of U-shaped elements.

Of course, while the upper aperture stays reasonable in size, the same cannot be said of the lower one, especially on the M340i xDrive variant we spent all of our time in. The lower intake on the new M Sport package, which is standard on all variants sold in Malaysia, is much larger than before.

G20 BMW 3 Series facelift without M Sport package (left), with (right)

However, not all of the increased vertical height is functional, with the increased real estate being a black panel that “swallows” up the painted bodywork where the number plate recess used to reside. With the lower intake taking up more space on M Sport-equipped cars, the corner sections of the bumper are now smaller and only accommodate the air curtains.

This look is somewhat replicated on the rear, with the black diffuser element now encroaching further into the bodywork, joined by two vertical columns, also in black. On a white car, the effect is immediately noticeable, but is more muted with darker hues like the stealthy Frozen Pure Grey metallic finish you see. Those taillights with the L-shaped light signature are carried over and remain unchanged.

The M340i xDrive wasn’t part of the facelifted range that was recently launched in Malaysia, but we are told to expect it, along with a long-wheelbase variant, sometime in March this year. In its latest form, the range-topping M Performance model appears even more special thanks to its honeycomb grille mesh, new M3-style side mirrors and trapezoidal-shaped exhausts. Throw in the entire M Performance Parts catalogue and you’ll get a car that appears properly racy.

The styling changes do result in a more striking look for the G20, but from certain angles, it’s hard to unsee the new maw that is visually contoured to protrude much more than it did on the pre-facelift model. Without the M Sport bits, the 3 Series is a lot more appealing and reserved, at least to this writer.

More tech inside, but not necessarily better for it

To match more recent BMW models, the G20 3 Series adopts the company’s Curved Display, basically carrying it over from the i4. With a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster placed right next to a 14.9-inch central touchscreen within a single frame, screen real estate has gone up and does wonders for showroom appeal.

Powered by BMW Operating System 8, the interface is packed with rich graphics and sharp text that will impress onlookers. The carmaker’s digital voice assistant is back too, and the interface now includes an app drawer for a simpler overview of available functions, some of which are optional add-ons like the IconicSounds.

BMW has done well to inject some pizazz into cabin, but some sacrifices had to be made in that pursuit, which some might find less than savoury. For instance, the pre-facelift car had physical climate controls and a small screen to show the air-conditioning status, and while the latter is now integrated into a permanent bar on the large central display, the former is gone entirely.

This means you’ll be tapping on a screen to change the climate settings, although the options presented are limited, with more detailed controls requiring you to enter a separate screen that has on-screen buttons strewn about.

It’s something that users will need to get used to as muscle memory develops, but when using it for the first time in a foreign country, I had to take my eyes off the road to see what I was tapping. As an alternative, you can use your voice (by saying the trigger phrase “Hey BMW”) to change settings if you get your accent right, but for more precise adjustments, you’ll still need to dive into the screen.

Another set of physical buttons are that gone with the facelift is the favourites row, which allowed users to assign up to eight specific functions that they frequently use – it even shows what you’re about to press when hovering over the buttons. While some might not miss the favourites row, it was certainly useful to me, more so than just being a means to change radio stations quickly.

Thankfully, BMW wasn’t too ambitious in wanting to integrate everything into the screen, as the volume dial is kept around along with the forward/back track buttons. These continue to occupy the area where the favourites buttons used to be, joined by controls for the demisters.

Elsewhere in the otherwise familiar cabin, the gear lever is swapped out for a toggle switch to select P, R, N and D/S, which isn’t a big deal as some thought. It’s intuitive enough to use, with the new S being how you enter manual mode. It’s not as satisfying as pushing the gear lever to the side in D, but it does help in providing a cleaner look for the cabin.

The new toggle switch is the only notable change on the centre console, which continues to house familiar controls like the iDrive controller dial, drive mode selector, engine start/stop button and access to specific driver assists.

Performance and driving dynamics are assuredly familiar

In M340i xDrive guise, the 3 Series packs a 3.0 litre turbocharged straight-six that delivers 374 PS (369 hp) from 5,500-6,500 rpm and 500 Nm from 1,900-5,000 rpm. That’s slightly less than the pre-facelift version of the range-topper sold in Malaysia, which had 387 PS (382 hp) and 500 Nm, but this is due to emissions requirements in Europe, which necessitates the addition of particulate filter.

The mill, which was already fitted to the previous M340i xDrive in Europe, also comes with a 48-volt mild hybrid system that includes a starter-generator capable of providing a boost of 11 PS (11 hp or 8 kW) and to assist with brake energy regeneration as well as supplying the vehicle’s 12-volt electrical system.

The 13 PS (13 hp) deficit may be substantial to a picky few, but the engine is still plenty mighty, dispatching the 0-100 km/h sprint in just 4.4 seconds and capable of bringing the sedan to a top speed of 250 km/h. An M3 Competition is faster in the century sprint, sure, but only by half a second for a much, much higher asking price.

If you need the fastest 3 Series, the M3 is the one to have, but the M340i xDrive perfectly treads the line between performance and daily usability. On the road, the straight-six is smooth in its power delivery, with the silky-smooth ZF eight-speed automatic transmission being nearly imperceptible with its gear changes.

There’s no fuss if you want to drive tamely, with a comfortable ride on smooth German roads. Primary ride is good, but secondary ride can be a tad firm that serves as a reminder of the sporty credentials lying in wait.

Tap into that potential and you’re rewarded with a car that is nicely weighted through the corners, aided along by an electronically-controlled, fully-variable M Sport differential and xDrive all-wheel drive system that optimises traction and cuts down on understeer – inspiring given the consistent rainfall during our time behind the wheel. Steering feel is a little light with all the electrical assistance in play, but there is accuracy to it, and the Servotronic system can add some weight to it when in Sport mode.

When you’re really getting a move on, the 3 Series makes short work of corners with poise and balance, with a high threshold of grip that inspires confidence to push further. On deceleration, the red-painted brake calipers are easily modulated and powerful, but one still needs to wary of the M340i xDrive’s 1,725 kg heft.

Changing up the drive modes also affects the adaptive M dampers, which does reasonably well to isolate the environment, although you’ll still get that rough feeling when road imperfections make themselves known. In the real-world roads these exist. It’s best to leave the suspension in Comfort mode until you’re on a track.

For Malaysia, we will get the M340i xDrive with adaptive M suspension alongside the 330e, but the 320i and 330i will get the passive system, which many will find far too stiff. We have yet to test whether the LCI version is any more forgiving than before, so look forward to our local review.

One novelty feature added to the mix is IconicSounds, which pipes artificial engine noise into the cabin to amplify the aural experience This isn’t very necessary in my books, especially since the new valved exhaust system already delivers on the pops and bangs, with a nice burble on the overrun.

An exercise in refinement

The original G20 3 Series was already a good all-rounder, and the facelifted model does improve on it, although it may be hard to justify an upgrade for existing owners. The refined design is inoffensive and will undoubtedly attract fans, but the outgoing car wasn’t exactly ugly to begin with, is it?

As for the interior, the fancy BMW Curved Display brings the 3 Series in line with the rest of the modern range, bumping up wow factor by several folds. However, it does require more on-screen interaction compared to the previous Live Cockpit Professional and its physical buttons, which can be an annoyance to those not wanting to adapt.

In terms of driving dynamics, there was little fault with how the previous iteration of the G20 drove, and that hasn’t changed by a huge margin now. In the one-car garage game, the M340i xDrive was one of my picks as an answer and continues to be included in facelifted form.

For those looking to purchase their first compact executive sedan world, it’s effortless to recommend the new G20, which makes a strong case for itself by continuing to be a good all-rounder. If you already own the pre-facelift car, maybe hold out for the next generational leap that is the Neue Klasse, which will reportedly be spearheaded by a 3 Series class vehicle, along with an X3-sized SUV.

The new G20 BMW 3 Series facelift has already been launched in Malaysia and is available in three variants priced from RM263,600 to RM297,600 with a standard two-year warranty. With the optional five-year extended warranty and service package, the starting price is from RM283,800 to RM317,800.

GALLERY: G20 BMW M340i xDrive facelift media drive official photos