Here's a new version of the world's quintessential sport sedan and perpetual All-Star, the BMW 3-series -- the designated target for car manufacturers everywhere. There'll be sleek convertibles, sporty wagons and coupes, and clumsy-looking SUV variants of this design from BMW in the coming months, but the whole of this iteration's character is embodied in the first-out four-door, the volume seller. At first glance, the 3-series sedan seems softer, more consensual, and less idiosyncratic than the last couple of Bangle-body 3s, but there is a lot more to this car than jumps to the untrained eye. I can confidently predict two things: that it will be another best-seller, and that it will evolve considerably during its production period. The first because it looks very good, the second because it has been cleverly designed to be easily and inexpensively changed visually.
Both ends of the car, from the lamps downward and well into the wheel openings, have molded plastic skin that can be made to totally alter the appearance without the least change to the underlying structure, meaning that an extensive face-lift can be undertaken without the necessity of a completely new crash-safety test program. Variations among models, a useful gambit when there is as great a range of available powertrains as BMW employs, means that an economical four-cylinder-diesel model can have a different face from one housing the biggest gasoline six-cylinder. And although BMW likely won't do it, the company could probably afford to give the 3-series a different look every year without changing the upper section, glass, doors, or indeed any chassis elements.
As a matter of personal taste, I don't much like the headlamps touching the grille nor that patch of chrome on the sides of the grille, exposed as though some of the sheetmetal had melted away, but I do find the total composition more attractive than the last couple of generations. And I really like the fact that there is almost no decor on the body sides, around the windows, or all over the front and rear ends, just those small horizontal chrome bars low on either end. All the interiors I have seen, whether at the Detroit show or in photos, are pleasing. Were I to buy a 3-series for myself, I would surely not choose wood interior trim. I love wood as a structural material and think it definitely had its place as trim in cars during the first half of the last century -- but no more.
The nice thing about this midrange BMW is that it can easily be configured to suit the desires and requirements of almost anyone. It's big enough to be comfortable, small enough to be agile and easy to manage in urban situations, and has an available range of installed power that is really wide. Looks like another winner to me.