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2019 BMW 3 Series gets trick chassis and iDrive tech, $40,200 price tag – Roadshow

The seventh-generation BMW 3 Series has a clear objective: To once again be the benchmark by which all other luxury/sport sedans are measured. A drive in a preproduction prototype made a solid first impression from a dynamic standpoint, and now, at this week's Paris Motor Show, I can bring you the full smattering of details about BMW's all-important G20 3 Series.

BMW will initially offer the 2019 3 Series in 330i and 330i xDrive guises — the former with rear-wheel drive, the latter sending power to all four wheels. Power comes from a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 engine, with 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque — gains of 7 and 37, respectively, over the 2018 model. This is essentially a reworked version of the 2.0-liter engine found in the last-generation 3 Series, and it's a smooth, refined powerplant. BMW says the rear-drive 330i will be able to hit 60 miles per hour in 5.6 seconds, which is actually one-tenth of a second slower than its predecessor, though still respectably quick.

More powerful M340i and M340i xDrive models will arrive next spring, with "a new six-cylinder inline gasoline engine," according to BMW's statement. My best guess is a massaged version of the 3.0-liter turbo I6 BMW uses in its other 40i-badged cars, and the automaker says this new engine will produce 382 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque — healthy increases over the 320 horsepower and 330 pound-feet offered by today's 340i sedan. BMW also says this new M340i should be capable of sprinting to 60 mph in about 4.2 seconds. And really, this increased power and better performance just better aligns the M340i with the sportier versions of competing sedans, like Audi's S4 or the Mercedes-AMG C43.

But get out your sad trombones, folks: BMW confirms the new 3 Series models will only be available with an eight-speed automatic transmission. That's right, regardless of engine, the six-speed manual is dead. No matter, the eight-speed auto is a great transmission, firing off smooth, quick shifts, and even works with navigation data and the adaptive cruise control radar to make sure the transmission is always on its best behavior. For example, map data will tell the 330i to hold gears if it knows you're moving quickly through tight bends. And if you're approaching a lead car in traffic, the transmission will downshift in advance to use engine braking in order to reduce speed.

As for future powertrain offerings, BMW says an "iPerformance model with the latest plug-in hybrid drive technology" — which will simply be called 330e — will arrive in 2020.

The new 3 Series is 121 pounds lighter than its predecessor, but keeps its perfect 50:50 front/rear weight distribution. The body structure is 25 percent stiffer than before, with as much as 50-percent improvements made in specific areas throughout the chassis. Combine that with excellent new suspension technology, and the 3 Series is poised to offer truly excellent handling on both smooth highways and bumpy back roads.

The big trick up the 3 Series' sleeve is its set of lift-related dampers, something I discussed in detail during my prototype drive this past summer. Basically, this system "adds extra hydraulic damping at the front axle and a compression limiting system at the rear," according to BMW. In not-so-technical terms, it means the car is both more comfortable over broken pavement and more natural in the way it rebounds. But it doesn't come at a loss of overall control or firmness under more dynamic settings. It's the best of both worlds.

The G20 3 Series' front fascia is heavily sculpted, and uses a single-frame kidney grille.

BMW

BMW will use these lift-related dampers on both the standard and M Sport suspensions, the latter of which gets more rigid bearings, additional body struts and firmer springs and antiroll bars. The M Sport setup also lowers the ride height by about half an inch.

Opt for the Adaptive M suspension and you get more traditional damper technology, which combines the M Sport setup with electronic adjustability. Drivers can switch between Comfort and Sport profiles, as well as a fully Adaptive mode that makes adjustments based on driving style. I'll be eager to test the Adaptive M setup to see if it makes a noticeable improvement over the lift-related system. But from my test on German back roads — as well as the Nurburgring — I can't imagine people finding much fault with the new standard setup.

The one improvement I'm really hoping for involves the steering feel, or more importantly, the lack of it in the previous-generation 3 Series. Variable sport steering comes with the M Sport and Adaptive M suspension setups, and BMW says it's "more direct in its responses, even when only a slight steering input is applied." I wasn't totally in love with the setup in the prototype test car I drove this summer, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that a few tweaks were made prior to primetime.

Driver-assistance systems are in high supply. The new 3 Series can be equipped with adaptive cruise control with a stop-and-go function, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-change warning, rear collision prevention and cross-traffic alert. BMW's Driving Assistant Professional bundles the adaptive cruise control, steering assist and lane-keeping tech into one, semi-automated experience, not unlike Nissan ProPilot.

The interior is exactly what you'd expect to see in a new 3 Series, and the 10.2-inch center display houses the latest iDrive 7.0 tech.

BMW

BMW kept the 3 Series' dimensions roughly the same for its seventh generation. Yes, the 2019 model is 2.9 inches longer than its predecessor, but it's only about half an inch wider and taller. Unsurprisingly, the sedan doesn't appear to be too far beyond what you'd expect for a new 3 Series, though there's certainly a lot of sculpting happening up front. Elements like BMW's chunkier headlights (with standard full-LED lighting) and single-frame kidney grille link the new 3 to other, recently refreshed models. BMW offers optional adaptive LED headlights with its Laserlight tech, and feature a hexagonal daytime running lights. The Laserlights work by offering variable illumination of what's ahead with "a nondazzling high beam."

Moving inside, the 3 Series' interior design is, again, familiar. The optional, 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster from the new X5 is found here, as are bits of metal brightwork on the dash and digital readouts for the climate control temperature. The trunk's a bit bigger now, able to accommodate 17 cubic feet of cargo (up from 15.8). And hey, you can even order the 3 Series with a glass roof.

Myriad screens make up the 3 Series' cockpit, and two infotainment choices are available. Base cars use BMW's iDrive 6.0 tech, housed in an 8.8-inch central touchscreen with a 5.7-inch display set behind the steering wheel. Upgrade to what BMW calls its Live Cockpit Professional pack, and you get a 10.2-inch center display, complete with iDrive 7.0 — the same as what's available in the new X5.

The 3 Series introduces BMW's new Intelligent Personal Assistant (no, not IPA, though one of those sounds delicious right about now), which works sort of like the AI tech built into Mercedes' new MBUX system. Basically, use the phrase "Hey, BMW" to activate the digital assistant, and use natural speech commands to control a number of functions. "Hey, BMW, I'm cold" will raise the interior temperature; "take me home" will put your address into the navigation system. BMW says you can even ask things like "Is the oil level OK?" or "What warning messages do I have?" to be updated on pertinent vehicle information. I'll be curious to test this tech in person, especially since my experiences with MBUX have been hit or miss, to say the least.

The 330i and M340i will go on sale early next year, with the 330e plug-in hybrid following in 2020.

BMW

The 330i will start at $40,200 with rear-wheel drive, not including $995 for destination and handling. The good news is, that's actually $50 less than the outgoing 330i sedan, though it's unclear exactly how much more xDrive all-wheel drive will cost, or what kind of premium you can expect to pay for the upcoming M340i.

Look for Roadshow's first test of the production 330i in the coming months, ahead of the car hitting US showrooms next March.

Paris Motor Show 2018

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