Is the fresh G20 3-Series the new compact executive sedan benchmark (again)?

Whenever BMW launches an all-new 3-Series, this is a big deal on the sporty executive sedan scene. It’s like when Mercedes launches a new S-Class, only at the other end of the size scale. The new 2019 G20 BMW 3 Series promises a lot and I got to drive the grippy, frugal and very fast 320d xDrive for a few days to see if the model has reestablished itself as the class benchmark.

It is a bit bigger and also has different proportions compared to the outgoing 3-Series, the F30, and the visual changes really make it seem new and also stand out among other BMWs. The front part is unusually long, and you especially notice this from a side profile view mainly because the windscreen pillars are positioned quite far back. But this is not a negative point as it gives the car a lot of presence.

BMW has definitely managed to freshen it up a bit compared to the old model, and the same can be said of its interior which now feels far more contemporary than that of the F30. The interior is completely new, hardly anything has been carried over, and the result is a much more modern ambiance than what you felt in the old model which was really starting to feel... old.

In terms of driving experience, the new 3-Series does drive like the slightly bigger car than it is. In fact, you feel like you’re in a bigger car with that huge hood extending in front of you from the driver’s seat, but once you show it some corners, it’s definitely a 3-Series through its high level of agility and not the larger and slightly more comfort-oriented 5-Series.

  • 2019 BMW 320d xDrive - driven
  • Year:
    2019
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    inline-4
  • Transmission:
    six-speed manual
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    190 @ 4000
  • Torque @ RPM:
    295 @ 2500
  • Displacement:
    2.0 L
  • 0-60 time:
    6.8 sec.
  • Top Speed:
    149 mph
  • Price:
  • car segment:
  • size:
  • Purpose:
  • body style:

Exterior

2019 BMW 320d xDrive - driven
- image 839555

This new G20 3 Series really looks a lot different compared to the F30. Its front part looks much longer and more phallic, and it looks like the windscreen starts considerably further back.

The greenhouse itself feels like it’s set further back and ad the rear the trunk area looks small and pert, even though the space it offers inside is actually very generous.

BMW says that the notch in the lower edge of the new 3-Series’ headlight cluster design is a direct nod to the E46 3-Series of the late 1990s, early 2000s. And it certainly looks as such, although the actual design looks fresh and doesn’t seem derived from anything else. Overall, I think it is one of the best looking BMW fascias in the manufacturer’s current lineup, even my tester which didn’t have the more aggressive (and I think better looking) M Sport bumpers.

2019 BMW 320d xDrive - driven
- image 839542

The grille on the new 3 is active, and unless extra air to cool the engine is needed, it remains shut. You don’t really notice this from a distance thanks to some clever design trickery applied by BMW designers and another aspect about it that I really like is that it’s not oversized like it is on some other models in the range. It looks just the right size for a 3-Series front end, and it is considerably wider than it is tall - this adds to the planted overall look.

The G20 comes as standard with adaptive full-LED headlights that not only provide excellent illumination, but they also look very sharp.

I can’t imagine this car with halogen light clusters and, thankfully, BMW couldn’t either. They suit the character of the car and its design very well.

2019 BMW 320d xDrive - driven
- image 839551

Some have called the side of the G20 a bit dull and uninteresting, and I have to admit that it looked like that to me in the official press photos. However, once I saw the car live, that impression immediately vanished, and I quickly grew to love the side profile. It doesn’t have very obvious creases or details, but there is a sculptural elegance about it that is hard to describe - you have to see it to understand what I’m on about.

And the side is not lacking in detail. There is the character line that runs from the front fender all the way to the C-pillar.

Then there is another line below it that runs right through the rear door handle and underneath that there is a subtle bulge in the doors that runs all across the side of the car. Below that is another sharp crease that rises towards the rear - on some BMW models, the front of this last crease usually has a fake vent, but here they decided to do away with it, and the design is all the better (and cleaner) for it.

2019 BMW 320d xDrive - driven
- image 839538

My tester rode on optional 19-inch wheels which really filled the wheel arches well. I’m not sure how good the 3-Series looks on smaller rims (probably not as good and/or sporty), but as of yet, I have not seen one on smaller rims so I can’t quite make this judgment. The suspension ride height seemed quite high too, and while the new 3-Seris is only 1 millimeter taller than the car it replaces, from the side, it seems somehow even bigger than that. But this might just be a byproduct of the rising beltline more than anything else.

The rear end is probably my favorite part of the car’s exterior.

Viewed from a three-quarter perspective, the fenders seem quite wide, and the wheels fill them nicely.

The crease that runs from the rear door handles to the light clusters adds extra depth to the design and the light clusters themselves are probably some of the nicest looking on any new car. They are very well integrated into the design, so much so that I don’t know how they could be improved upon - they are obviously the main feature of the rear end, and they are both pretty to look at and very distinctive.

2019 BMW 320d xDrive - driven
- image 839541

What I found unusual on my diesel tester was the fact that it has two real exhaust pipes sticking out from under the bumper. Not that long ago, BMW was even fitting proper performance-oriented models with a single exhaust, so this is a new direction they’re going in. I don’t remember there ever being a 320d with dual exhausts.

The only part about the car’s exterior that I wasn’t happy with was the design of the front and rear bumpers.

Sure, they go well together and share gloss black design elements to tie them in with the design, but they look nowhere near as good as the M Sport bumpers fitted to other 3-Series examples that I got to see. The visual difference for me is quite noticeable, and if I were looking to buy a 3-Series, I’d really want one with the more aggressive bumpers that just seem more suitable for it.

2019 BMW 320d xDrive - driven
- image 839557

It’s also worth noting that all its subtle swoops and creases aren’t there just for show. BMW has somehow managed to improve the car’s drag coefficient compared to the last generation. It has dropped from 0.29 to 0.26, although this is not only because of the shape of the body. It also has to do with the active grille that stays closed off most of the time and the fact that this new 3 has a flat, sealed underbody a feature that not only improves aerodynamics but also high-speed stability as well.

2019 BMW 3 Series exterior dimensions
Length 185.7 inches
Width 71.9 inches
Height 56.8 inches
Wheelbase 112.2 inches

Interior

2019 BMW 320d xDrive - driven
- image 839569

BMW interiors are usually an evolution of the model they replace. Not the new 3-Series, though (or any of the newer crop of BMW models for that matter), because it is a huge step up in every regard aside from assembly quality which was already top notch. This new 3-Series interior has better materials; it feels more upmarket, more modern, it has more space and more tech. There is literally nothing to complain about even if you try to pick faults with it - I struggled to find parts of the interior that had issues.

My tester had a decent spec, so it came with the new 12.3-inch fully-digital gauge cluster (called Live Cockpit Professional) that does away with traditional dials.

It seriously helps lift the cabin even further adding to the techy feel. The very clean and minimalist design improves things further, and the overall impression is one of quality and contemporary design.

2019 BMW 320d xDrive - driven
- image 839575

The center console, which in true BMW spirit is angled towards the driver, is dominated by the optional 10.25-inch screen that runs the very latest version of BMW’s iDrive infotainment system (version 7.0). This top of the range screen can also be specified with gesture control, a feature lacking from my tester. The infotainment can be operated either by touching the screen or through the rotary controller surrounded by shortcut buttons located to the right of the gear selector.

The center stack itself is far more modern looking in terms of design compared to the F30.

The design, the automatic climate controls, the vents, and the buttons are very similar to what you might see in BMW’s larger models like the 5-Series or the new X5. The metallic finish of the climate control buttons adds an extra dose of fanciness to the console as their shiny silver finish contrasts with the darker, more matte dashboard materials nicely.

2019 BMW 320d xDrive - driven
- image 839574

One thing I didn’t like was the look and feel of the automatic gearbox selector. It is the same shape as the Swarovski crystal one found on more expensive BMWs, but here it’s just shiny plastic. It will not only scratch easily, but it really looks cheap compared to the high standard set by the rest of the cabin - they should have found a way of making the knob at least out of metal or just a material that’s nicer to the touch.

The cabin of my tester was spruced up by some textured aluminum trim bits courtesy of the SportLine package.

This is so much better (and less prone to scratches) than the gloss black alternative and its light shade of silver nicely contrasts with the rest of the cabin most of which is quite dark and sober. The same pack adds rear climate controls and this, in conjunction with the much improved rear legroom, helps it feel like a mini-limousine in the back.

2019 BMW 320d xDrive - driven
- image 839580
Speaking of the back, rear passengers are treated to impressive levels of legroom.

They can not only stretch their legs out as you would in a 5-Series, but they can also slide their feet under the front seats without any issue. I always check this because in some cars you can’t, and even though you have sufficient knee room, overall rear occupant comfort takes a dive because there’s no room for your feet.

The rear bench can be split-folded 40/20/40, and this allows the new 3-Series to carry quite a big (and especially long) cargo. Quoted maximum cargo volume in the new 3 is 17 cubic feet (480 liters) with the seats up, so it’s already quite cavernous. The figure drops to 11.6 cubic feet (330 liters) for the 330e plug-in hybrid as that model houses its battery pack in the trunk.

2019 BMW 320d xDrive - driven
- image 839586

My Sport Line tester had the higher spec sports seats that get full electric adjustment, even for the side bolsters which you can tighten or loosen depending on how wide your body is, but also depending on your mood - you might want to have them tight when you do corner carving in the 3-Series, while you may want to loosen their grip when you’re just pootling on the highway at a leisurely pace.

Seating comfort up front was surprisingly good.

Oftentimes after driving BMWs for extended periods, I sometimes got a lower back ache which was thankfully nowhere to be felt in this new 3, even with the sportier seats.

These are truly great seats that feel sporty but not at the expense of long-distance comfort.

2019 BMW 3 Series interior dimensions
Shoulder width front 56.0 inches
Shoulder room rear 54.6 inches
Legroom front 42.0 inches
Legroom rear 35.2 inches
Headroom front 38.7 inches
Headroom rear 37.6 inches
Trunk volume (SAE) 17.0 ft³

Drivetrain

2019 BMW 320d xDrive - driven
- image 839588

The latest 320d is powered by a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel with 188 horsepower (190 PS) at 4,000 rpm and 295 pound-feet (400 Nm) delivered flat between 1,750 and 2,500 rpm. There is a lot to say about this engine, but I will start by mentioning just how fast it makes the car feel.

I’ve driven all generations of 320d from the E46 on, and this latest one really shows how much progress has been made over the years.

It is considerably more refined than the 2.0-liter diesel used to power the 320d version of the old F30. Noise vibration and harshness levels are very low, and the engine’s sound note is probably subtly enhanced through the speakers - but this isn’t intrusive, and it actually adds a sporty twist to an otherwise flat sounding engine (there’s nothing you can really do to a four-pot oil burner to make it sound sporty).

2019 BMW 320d xDrive - driven
- image 839589

In terms of performance, it is blisteringly quick for what it is. Launching the car off the line, you are pinned to your seat as the car accelerates to 100 km/h / 62 mph in 6.9 seconds in the case of my xDrive-equipped tester. The rear-wheel drive-only 320d slashes one tenth off that time, but the tradeoff is that it will struggle off the line in the wet. And I tried launching this 320d with xDrive in the wet, and it just gripped and went.

No drama, no fuss, and no flashing dashboard light to indicate that traction control had intervened.

The new 320d is really quick, both off the line and in-gear. BMW will probably make an even more powerful version of this unit, branded either 325d or 330d, and I expect that will be a properly sporty thing to drive. But even the 320d is more than fast enough for most people, especially since it is extremely good on fuel.

2019 BMW 320d xDrive - driven
- image 839536

BMW says it should return 4.7 l/100 km (50 U.S. mpg) on the combined cycle, but the figure I achieved was 7 l/100km (33.6 U.S. mpg). Still very good for a car with all-wheel drive and acceleration as brisk as this one. You could obviously get closer to the claimed average, but I didn’t really drive the car economically, and most of the driving was done in town, sometimes in stop-start traffic.

BMW 3 Series specifications
BMW 330i BMW 320d BMW 318d
Engine 2.0-liter four-cylinder 2.0-liter four-cylinder 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Engine power 255 HP @ 5,000 – 6,500 RPM 190 HP @ 4,000 RPM 150 HP @ 4,000 RPM
Engine torque 295 LB-FT @ 1,550 – 4,400 RPM 295 LB-FT @ 1,750 – 2,500 RPM 236 LB-FT @ 1,500-3,000 RPM
Transmission type 8-speed automatic Six-speed manual Six-speed manual
0-60 mph 5.6 seconds 6.8 seconds 8.5 seconds
Top speed (optional w/perf. tires) 130 (155) mph 149 mph 149 mph

Driving Impressions

2019 BMW 320d xDrive - driven
- image 839535

BMW is presenting the 3-Series as a handling benchmark in the segment. And the manufacturer is not far off; it’s just that in the particular spec I tried it in, it wasn’t perfect. I will get the negatives out of the way first so that I can then talk about the positives in more detail.

While the G20’s steering is direct and precise, and you can point the car just the way you want to and also make minute corrections, it is completely devoid of feel.

It feels like a steer-by-wire system and not a very good one. There appears to be no mechanical connection between the helm and the wheels. It’s as if it’s all done by software - precise, well thought out software, but software nonetheless. This prevents you from gaining as much confidence as you’d maybe like in order to really throw the car around and have some fun in it.

2019 BMW 320d xDrive - driven
- image 839563

To me, this really detracted from the overall sporty feel of the car, and while the previous F30 3-Series also had an electrically-assisted steering rack, that car had much more feel, and the steering itself was considerably more positive. With that being said, the more relaxed Mercedes-like steering of the new G20 does go well with the car’s newfound mini-limo character that it didn’t possess in any of its previous generations.

This essentially means that cars like the Jaguar XE (recently facelifted and apparently even better to drive than before) and the Alfa Romeo Giulia will remain at the top of the class when it comes to how sporty they feel to drive. The new 3-Series is clearly after the Mercedes C-Class with its more comfort-oriented approach now.

2019 BMW 320d xDrive - driven
- image 839555
My tester rode on standard suspension (which may or may not be stiffer than what base cars come with because it was a Sport trim example) which proved extremely comfortable over varying road types.

And the car rode on 19-inch rims, so this made the fact that rode so well all the more impressive. Opt to have it with 18-inch rims, and it will ride even better without losing too much handling sharpness.

What really blew me away was the acceleration, though. I was expecting it to be quick after glancing through its specs and performance data, but the way the car launched itself off the line was hugely impressive regardless. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more pinned to my seat in a 2.0-liter diesel car ever - there’s no denying BMW’s new twin-turbo four-pot diesel is a powerhouse, and I can’t wait to see how much more shove can be extracted from it in higher-powered versions because it feels like it has even more to give. But even as is, it really gives you a strong kick in the back, especially off the line (helped in part by xDrive).

Prices

2019 BMW 320d xDrive - driven
- image 839540

My 320d xDrive Sport Line tester with all-wheel drive, the optional fully-digital gauge cluster, the larger infotainment screen, and a few other style options was just under €50,000. That is a lot of money for what is essentially the smallest rear-wheel drive BMW that you will be able to buy (in the near future when the new front-wheel drive 1-Series enters the scene).

However, the more you drive one of these new G20s, the more you start to think it’s worth it, and you begin to make excuses why you would need one in your life. If it is within your budget, then it is well worth the cash, although I missed the cool gesture control feature that my tester didn’t have and I would have preferred a different style of trim material across the width of the dashboard. Adaptive dampers aren’t a must as my tester on normal shock absorbers was a superb compromise. Maybe I would have also opted for the variable ratio steering that makes the whole package feel a lot sportier - it won’t add any more feel, but it will add to the sporty feeling behind the wheel.

Competition

Mercedes C-Class

2018 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Exterior Interior
- image 769397

Mercedes recently facelifted its C-Class sedan, and while the visual makeover was not excessive or extensive, you can fairly easily tell it apart from the older model. It is now available with a fully-digital gauge cluster; it has more tech than when it was first launched, and it can be specified with options that you cannot have on any other rival in its class. The main one being the air suspension that completely transforms how the car drives, feels, and is perceived by the driver and passengers. It’s still a sharp and fairly sporty thing to drive, but its main quality is comfort.

It also looks somehow more dignified and classy than the BMW, but I can’t quite put my finger on why. Its interior, even though it’s a few years old and only subtly updated as per the facelift, still feels more special and it makes you feel more special when you’re aboard. The swooping style is completely different to that of the more angular BMW, and overall it just feels like a more soothing, relaxing place to travel.

However, it can’t match the BMW for cornering prowess. The C-Class is not bad (in fact, it’s the sportiest and sharpest feeling C-Class ever) but the 3-Series does nudge ahead when it comes to providing enthusiasts with laughs behind the wheel.

Read our full review on the 2019 Mercedes C-Class

Alfa Romeo Giulia

2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
- image 676899

Many automotive journos agree that the Alfa Romeo Giulia is the sportiest entrant in its class. It has a superb chassis that even in the lesser-powered versions is way more fun than you would expect. It also has the best steering in the class, providing not only sharpness but a connected feel too - you do know what the front wheels are doing in a new Giulia, much more so than you do in any of its rivals; the only rival that comes close to it in this respect is the Jaguar XE.

It’s also better than you would expect inside. It’s not up to the standard set by the Germans in terms of fit and finish, but it’s not far off either. Everything feels very well screwed together, and its doors shut with a reassuring thud. The driving position and the design of the interior also make it feel more special than some of its more retrained rivals. Regarding the way it looks, many criticize its front fascia, but I think that if you get a Veloce trim level model with the nicer bumper and finished in “Blu Misano,” with the larger wheels, it is quite a looker in my book.

Its engine range is somewhat less diverse than that of its German rivals, but the power outputs that are available cater for most needs. There’s even a fire-breathing Quadrifoglio version at the very top of the range which is easily as good as its German rivals on track and comes with trick bits of technology that no other cars in the segment have - like that front bumper spoiler lip that lowers at speed in order to improve downforce and reduce lift.

Read our full review on the 2019 Alfa Romeo Giulia

Video Review

You can also check out our video review of the new 2019 BMW 320d xDrive where we highlight its many qualities and put it through its paces around a damp, twisty forest road.

Conclusion

2019 BMW 320d xDrive - driven
- image 839537

The automotive game moves on faster than you could say Bayerische Motoren Werke and at this very moment, the BMW 3-Series is probably the best car in its class (a class that is slowly shrinking and currently being taken over by crossovers). It does sportiness well, yet it’s comfortable. Its interior is modern, supremely well screwed and brimming with tech. Its new diesel engine is a joy to exploit (no, I haven’t lost my marbles, this is a genuinely fun diesel) and when you throw it into a corner, it responds with positive excitement - it relishes being thrown into bends, and as an enthusiast, I have to appreciate that.

However, its design may not please everyone, and in comparison to some more flamboyant rivals, it looks like BMW was playing really safe. I like the way it looks, especially from the outside as I think it looks really distinctive, but it seems that the wider majority of people think more could have been done to make it stand out.

It’s definitely at the top of very nearly at the top of the compact executive sedan segment and is an even better all-rounder than any 3-Series that preceded it. If you are looking to buy one of the vehicles in this price and size bracket, you can’t not include it on your shortlist, especially if you are a European who wants to buy a diesel car. In that case, no other rival diesel engine can match it, and it comes out on top.

Photography by Andrei Nedelea

  • Leave it
    • The steering feels dead
    • The interior could have used just a bit more flamboyance in its design
    • It looks so big from the outside; people might think it’s a 5-Series
    • It’s pretty expensive, and options bring up the price alarmingly quickly
    • You need a well-specced example to really enjoy it

Further reading

2019 BMW 3 Series
- image 798251

Read our full review on the 2019 BMW 3 Series.

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