BMW responds to the Jaguar XE’s challenge with a revised 3 Series. It’s subtle, but only because it was already superb…

BMW 3 Series LCI 2015How do you enhance a car that, until recently, was the clear class-leader? If you’re BMW, you don’t mess with a winning formula, but simply tweak and hone the bits that weren’t quite so perfect with the aim of reclaiming your class leadership crown. So, watch out Jaguar XE: the 2015 BMW 3 Series facelift is here.

You’re hardly going to notice at first, until we start to see lots more of them on the road. Only then will the crisp new headlights, more sculptural front bumper and high-tech LED rear lights become clear (and start to make the old car look surprisingly dated). Initially, the most standout part will be some of the new colours.

BMW hasn’t cut corners though. For one, it’s installed an all-new engine range, that now opens with a British-built 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol that’s also seen in the MINI Cooper (and, for added kudos, the BMW i8). Now all-turbo, the engine range is packed out with new modular EfficientDynamics motors, that share a 500cc cylinder capacity and are crowned by the 326hp 340i BMW laid on for the launch event.

It’s sweated the suspension tune, lowered RWD saloons by 10mm for a sportier centre of gravity, honed both six-speed manual and eight-speed automatic gearboxes (the former now self-blips on downshifts) and carried out umpteen other tiny tweaks that an engineer told me will never make the headline briefing sheet but combine to make the revised 3 microscopically bit-by-bit better than ever.

On sale now with prices starting from £24,975, deliveries of the facelifted 3 Series range start in September, giving the Jaguar XE just enough time to assert its position as leader of the compact executive sector before BMW renews its challenge. Is the 2015 3 Series up to the job, though?

On the road: 2015 BMW 3 Series facelift

BMW 3 Series LCI 2015

 

BMW only had the top-spec 340i for us to drive on the launch event. Producing 326hp, its 3.0-litre straight-six turbo certainly doesn’t want for power, particularly when combined with the optional eight-speed automatic transmission (at 5.1 seconds to 62mph, it’s faster from a standstill than the six-speed manual). This all-new engine has a bounty of pulling power that’s ever-ready to start surging and, at higher revs, it sounds nicely classical.

It also has real immediacy. Turbo delay has been near-minimised and both the linearity and control with which you can deliver the drive is very impressive. It means you can ‘drive it on the throttle’, precisely trimming lines through corners with your right foot, something not really possible with the softer response of older turbo cars.

Here’s where you can start to have fun with the rear-drive 340i. Sat forward in the car, sensing the perfect weight distribution, the car feels very confident and incisive, giving you the confidence to press on and exploit it. You might even turn the traction control off; ace predictability won’t bite you if you do. It’s too comfortable to be an M car but it’s not far off in terms of driver satisfaction.

This is something you have to dig into, though. It’s not immediately apparent how engaging the 3 Series is. In top-spec guise, with the brilliant (optional) Adaptive Dynamics suspension dampers working so well, some of the surface-level charisma you get in a Jaguar XE is missing. The ride is excellent and it’s extremely stable and comfortable at speed, but you do worry BMW’s gone a bit Mercedes Benz-like.

Maybe regular cars will wear their hearts on their sleeves more. It’s certainly worth being patient with the 340i though, because the ability and rewards it has during full-attack driving are worth it.

Oh, and you’ll note we’ve not talked about the steering. That’s because test cars were fitted with BMW’s £290 Variable Steering, which changes the ratio to match your speed so you don’t have to shuffle the wheel, and does all sorts of other tricks. A £290 bargain? Not a bit of it. The artificial, inconsistent feel, darty initial response and feeling of it magnetically stiffening in corners would have us with our heads in our hands if we didn’t know how decent the standard system is. Avoid.

On the inside: 2015 BMW 3 Series facelift

BMW 3 Series LCI 2015

The interior looks no different to the old car, so will be very familiar to many. Even the excellent iDrive system will be taken for granted: the surprise will be finding it’s now standard, rather than optional – unless, that is, you’ve driven a rival car and been surprised at how insuperior their systems are.

You still sit forward and, on the electric chairs of the 340i, too high. Two rear adults still just have enough space in the rear, but best not try to get three in there. You’ll still get even slim, tall Coke bottles stuck in the door pockets, but BMW’s chuffed with the sliding cubby it’s integrated into the centre console; good for throwing the keyless-go keyfob into, with smartphones having their own slot on top.

But while it’s all familiar, it is also more appealing than before, because BMW has poured over the details and given it a lift in perceived quality. The dash is less plasticky and spongy-look than before, the plastics less low-rent and shiny. There’s more piano black and chrome detailing. There’s enough options flexibility to trim a good proportion of the 25,000 a year BMW sells here in a bespoke fashion.

Mercedes aces it for design impact still, and we’re sure the new Audi A4 will lead the way for quality and sophistication. BMW’s still level pegging with the similarly driver-focused Jaguar XE though, and has addressed grumbles quality wasn’t what it was with this F30 model ably.

Running costs: 2015 BMW 3 Series facelift

BMW 3 Series LCI 2015

The new engines are all so efficient, BMW’s given them all EfficientDynamics branding. The greenest, now sub-100g/km CO2 (like the Jaguar XE), is called EfficientDynamics Plus. Its 2.0-litre diesel engine can average an impressive 74.3mpg.

This 340i, with 326hp, isn’t quite as green, but it can still return 41.5mpg if you’re sensible and pay extra for the automatic transmission. Leave it as a manual and you’ll get just 36.7mpg. Counterintuitive, we know: CO2 confirms this with 159g/km for the auto, a hefty 179g/km for the manual.

The subtle refresh should keep a check on residuals and BMW’s standardisation of sat nav means no headaches when choosing one as a company car. Just be aware that retained values can soften as a car ages, and when the new Audi A4 arrives later this year, the BMW will be the oldest car in its sector.

It’s unlikely to make too much of a difference to this well-liked, in-demand premium car, though. It will still surprise you in how well running costs stack up alongside mainstream cars such as the Ford Mondeo…

Verdict: 2015 BMW 3 Series facelift

BMW 3 Series LCI 2015

BMW hasn’t revolutionised the 3 Series because it didn’t need to. Until the Jaguar XE came along, it led the class. The surprise battle of the British Jag thus led BMW to hone and perfect the 3 Series, rather than reinvent it.

It’s an approach that’s worked. We can’t say whether the 3 Series is the firm class-leader again – we’ll have to wait to drive UK-relevant models later in the year for that (which is why we’re hedging our bets with a four-star score) – but we can say it’s an already excellent car that’s been yet further improved.

The new battle with the Jaguar XE continues…

Specification: 2015 BMW 340i

Engine: 3.0-litre straight-six turbo petrol

Prices from: £38,125 (auto: £39,505)

Power: 326hp

Torque: 332lb ft

0-62mph: 5.1 – 5.2 seconds

Top speed: 155mph

Fuel economy: 36.7 – 41.5mpg

CO2 emissions: 159 – 179g/kmg/km