We’ve heard it before from the suits in Munich: “The next BMW 3 Series will be even better than the last 3 Series.” Yet somehow, subsequent iterations of the iconic sport sedan have gotten steadily duller, more disconnected. With an all-new BMW 3 Series expected by 2018, we’re hearing the same refrain again. But this time, there’s compelling evidence to support that claim, starting with what we care most about: vehicle dynamics.
Stay with us here. The next-gen 3 Series, reportedly code-named G20, is expected to have a softer ride than the present (F30) car but should also have a sportier, more capable framework. So how will the engineers pull that off? With a little help from adjustable suspension dampers, switchable anti-roll bars, active steering, and a torque-vectoring system that integrates with the car’s ABS and stability control. A longer wheelbase, wider track, lower center of gravity, and lighter curb weight should help, too. Then there’s the really good stuff: stronger brakes, reduced-friction wheel bearings, adaptive suspension that can modulate camber on the fly, all-wheel drive with quicker torque distribution, and aluminum and carbon-fiber compound wheels.
Moving from under the car to under the hood, we expect to see tweaked versions of familiar engines. The 2.0-liter turbo-four in the 328i should put out a healthier 260 hp, and the upgraded 3.0-liter six-pot in its big brother should be good for 365 hp. The diesels will remain loyal to the classic straight-six engine. The M3 and M4 will adopt electronic turbochargers and water injection to push engine output to around 500 hp. We should also see at least two plug-in hybrid variants: a 1.5-liter three-cylinder with a 60-kWh motor that can go for 30 miles of EV-only driving and a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with a 90-kWh motor good for 50 electric-only miles.
The next 3 Series will be built atop a new, highly flexible matrix known as CLAR — short for cluster architecture — that is set to be the backbone of all future rear-drive BMWs. The sedan’s overall appearance will be more self-conscious with a more muscular body, a sleeker greenhouse, and a sportier stance. The means to these ends include sharper creases, harder edges, more adventurous radii, and even tighter cutlines. The cabin will look similar but boast a variety of high-definition instrument graphics and a more comprehensive head-up display. A large color monitor in the center stack will blend touchscreen feedback, gesture control, and voice activation with the iDrive dial. The next 3 Series will trade attention-drawing frivolities such as pop-up speakers and light-up badges for substance, character, craftsmanship, and visual and haptic quality. To close the gap with its high-polish German competition, BMW plans to invest in better materials and higher-quality details such as carpets, rubber seals, and sill covers.
The G20 3 Series will continue to offer lots of optional extras, including bespoke driver-assistance systems that should include active lane-keeping assist, automatic braking, self-parking via remote control, automatic overtaking under certain conditions, and semi-autonomous driving both on the highway and in stop-and-go traffic at speeds up to 40 mph. The G20 3 Series will also continue to be available in a number of body styles. The four-door sedan (G20, 2018) will arrive before a Euro-only Touring model (G21, 2019) and a long-wheelbase version (G28, 2019) for the U.S. and China. The long-wheelbase platform could be used for the next 3 Series GT (G24, 2020) and 4 Series Gran Coupe (G26, 2021), but demand for GT and Gran Coupe is so ho-hum that it might end up making more economic sense to combine the two models into one. (We should have more on that by the end of next year.) Still on schedule are the 4 Series coupe (G23, 2020) and convertible (G22, 2020), which will trade a retractable hardtop for a classic softtop.