What is it?
The first F30 (sixth generation) BMW 3-series that we’ve got behind the wheel of, which goes on sale at the start of 2012. It’s bigger than before (37mm wider in the front track, 47mm in the rear, with 50mm added to the wheelbase), and yet it’s 40kg lighter. All 3s will now be turbos, and the 328i is now fitted with a 245bhp four-cylinder unit.
There are four different handling modes - Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+, each altering ride, steering and throttle responses. In Eco Pro mode even such things as the level of air con, heated seats and mirrors are reduced to help you make that next petrol station. The six-speed manual comes as standard, but BMW’s eight-speed auto is also now available across the range (for £1500).
What’s it like to drive?
Very impressive. Despite being a bigger car it doesn’t feel it, thanks to that 40kg weight loss over than the outgoing model. It retains the same balance and handling qualities from before, only now it also rides better. Improvements to run-flat tyre technology allied to damping developments and a stiffer chassis have combined to make this 3-series more composed than ever before. Sport mode can be used all the time, and Sport+ won’t rattle your fillings out.
How does it compare?
Positively. It steps the game on from the previous generation and is destined to build on the success that has seen some 12.5 million 3-series sold since 1975. Chief rivals - the Audi A4 (261bhp/214g/km) and Mercedes C-class (201bhp/161g/km) - can't match the BMW's 245bhp/149g/km performance and economy balance, and it's more fun to drive, too.
Anything else I need to know?
Inside the cockpit remains as driver focused as before – to the extent that front passenger space feels a little impinged. There are three main trim levels - Modern, Luxury and Sport – although we won’t get the Sport here in the UK, as M Sport will arrive in March.