What It Is: A camo-wrapped prototype of the seventh-generation BMW 3-series sedan caught running around Germany.
Why It Matters: For generations, BMW’s 3-series sports sedan has been seen as the consummate example of its breed, though the last version fell closer to par for the class in terms of design and performance as BMW chased sales in the soft middle-belly of the premium car segment.
When we published an artist’s renderings of a possible 2019 3-series sedan last year, we had been told that design would be more progressive and daring than those of the current 5- and 7-series, but based on what we see here, that may not be the case. Dimensions surely will change nominally, but the profile and window shapes—including the signature Hofmeister kink in the C-pillar—remain pretty much identical to the outgoing car’s. Changes we can see through the camo include chamfered kidney grilles nestled between larger headlamp assemblies, the innards of which will be defined not just by the lighting components themselves—which will be LEDs, as with the 2018 model—but by the bumper, a small chunk of which is allowed to rise up between the primary bulbs to create the signature quad-lamp look. Farther back, the body has been smoothened around the door handles, and the taillamps now have a three-dimensional treatment as seen on the new 2019 BMW X4.
The interior designers also appear to have taken a safe approach. While we’d have liked to see a big step forward stylistically—there may yet be one regarding color or materials—the favorable ergonomics and classy appearance of the current model as well as its newer brethren is no bad thing. One can expect that most, if not all, of BMW’s newfangled tech and comfort features offered on the 5 will make their way to the 3, such as gesture control, as well as evolved versions of tech and luxury features the 3-series already offers. In this prototype, we see that the iDrive knob is located beside a reshaped console-mounted electric shifter, and that the infotainment display, likely a touchscreen, now sits in a lower, more accessible location.
Platform: While the skin may look the similar, the bones will be new. The 3-series will ride on BMW’s CLAR (Cluster Architecture) platform, which promises to shave as much as 150 pounds from curb weights and bring a lower center of gravity, both of which could help the 3 restore some of its sporting luster. We just hope that even basic versions of the new 3 hew closer to the latest M5 in that regard rather than the somewhat soft 5-series on which the model is based.
Powertrain: The new 3 is expected to offer a number of turbocharged inline engines globally, including a three-cylinder. The United States market is likely to stick with a 2.0-liter four in the 330i and a 3.0-liter six producing up to 400 horsepower in the M340i. The six-speed manual and ZF eight-speed automatic likely will carry over, too. A 330e plug-in hybrid will appear later, as will an eventual M3 hot rod.
Competition:Alfa Romeo Giulia, Audi A4, Cadillac ATS, Infiniti Q50, Lexus IS, Mercedes-Benz C-class.
Expected Arrival and Price: We expect the new 3-series to arrive in the middle of this year as a 2019 model, with pricing close to the current generation. That means the new sedan will start in the mid-$30,000 range and rise from there.