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Munich makeover

Subtle changes: BMW will be hoping its mid-life facelift will revive flagging Australian sales.

BMW’s evergreen 3 Series goes under the scalpel for an early 2009 debut

15 Jul 2008

BMW hopes to steal the limelight away from the best-selling Mercedes-Benz C-Class and revitalised Audi A4 range with a facelifted 3 Series sedan and wagon.

Unveiled on Friday in Germany a week earlier than expected thanks to an embargo-breaking publication in the United States, the visual makeover is a relatively minor one for the three-and-a-half year-old range.

It includes subtle headlight, bonnet, bumper, side skirts and tail-light treatments, with the latter’s more pronounced ‘L’ shape and LED illumination being probably the most obvious to the casual observer. They are designed to emphasise the car’s width from behind.

If you look more closely you might also pick that the grille is now larger, the optional Bi-Xenon adaptive headlights incorporate new LED indicator lamps, there are a pair of bonnet lines for a “more muscular” look, the rear track is up to 24mm wider on six-cylinder cars due to some suspension modifications, there is a new bootlid handle and the door mirrors have been restyled.

Inside, current 3 Series owners are likely to appreciate the use of higher-quality cabin trim and increased number of storage facilities.

BMW’s “ergonomic” automatic transmission shifter that was first seen on the current X5 filters its way down to some of the 2009 models, better anti-whiplash head restraints are on the menu and some minor switchgear has also been repositioned for easier usage.

14 center imageAn improved iDrive system is also included, with programmable “favourite” buttons for easier and faster access to some of the more prominent functions.

A new 80GB hard-drive improves the speed of the revised satellite navigation set-up while the audio system has also been upgraded.

Whether Australian-bound models will score BMW’s new ConnectedDrive internet facility remains to be seen.

In the engine room, the 320d four-cylinder turbo-diesel has been massaged for EU5 emissions compliance, while the 330d model we don’t yet see here (but surely will soon, to combat the Benz C320 CDI and Audi A4 3.0 TDI) scores a newly developed 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder turbo-diesel.

With the aid of third-generation common-rail direct injection with Piezo injectors (capable of delivering 1800 bar of pressure) and a variable turbine geometry turbocharger that helps to generate 180kW of power and 520Nm of torque, the 330d does 0-100km/h in 6.1 seconds, returns 5.7L/100km, emits 152g/km of carbon dioxide and meets EU5 compliance.

Of more interest to keen drivers is that the stonking 335i Coupe and Convertible models will gain BMW’s new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission in lieu of the revised and smoother ZF six-speed automatic gearbox that serves other versions. Sedan and Touring models may follow suit later. The six-speed manual will continue as before.

While first-half sales of the equivalent C-Class (from 963 last year to some 3809) and A4 (from 1279 to 1932) are well up, and the Lexus IS 250 has remained steady, 3 Series sales have tumbled over the same period, from 2912 to 2659.

BMW is also mindful of a facelifted IS 250 model heading our way late this year, which is also expected to feature an increased number of variants.

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