BMW’s latest G20 3-Series iteration has already caused no end of offense, but it appears the affront goes beyond the visual.
“The BMW 3 Series Sedan represents the heartbeat of the BMW brand and the epitome of sporty driving pleasure in the premium midsize segment. Exuding dynamic design, agile handling, exceptional efficiency and innovative equipment features, it takes the signature characteristics of a BMW and turns the volume up several notches.
Precisely drawn lines and strikingly contoured surfaces mark out the exterior, which showcases the brand’s new design language. The interior also has a clear, modern and sophisticated design. The new-edition 3 Series sees BMW building above all on the sporting tradition of the best-selling car.” (BMW Press).
You would expect BMW’s PR representatives to say that, albeit, as press releases go, I’ve ploughed through worse. Two phrases do rather jump out however, both of which go to the essence of nu-Dreier‘s sharp new look. The first speaks about how the ‘3’ is pumping the volume up. How far do BMW’s amplifiers go, one is induced to ponder? On this matter, the press release remains coy.
The second reference is to the Three’s ‘precisely drawn lines’. I did have to check that I wasn’t hallucinating but indeed yes, they have stated this quite unashamedly. Because to these eyes, the ‘strikingly contoured surfaces’ of the 3-er are characterised by lines, yes, but ones that appear to have been applied wholly at random by someone with no visual or aesthetic sensibilities whatsoever.
But tempting as it might appear, I have not brought you here to hurl vegetable matter at Adrian van Hoydoonk, because if it’s a definitive visual dissertation of the BMW you seek, there’s only one place to click. After all the buck probably didn’t stop with him. No, if we wish to fling over-ripe foodstuffs, we really ought to take aim at Harald Kruger, BMW’s CEO and his horribly misguided board, who signed-off on this.
But there is more to the new 3-Series than how it looks, especially given that over its forty-odd year career, it has never exactly been a stylistic pathfinder – (albeit some were better looking than others). Having said that, and entirely for the purposes of clarification, the new G20 iteration unquestionably embodies a new low.
But the 3-er lives or dies on its perceived dynamic capabilities, given its position as the sine qua non of compact sport saloons – an accolade which has largely been built upon a number of lower-volume performance models and of course, BMW’s sheer consistency of mission. However, of late, there have been ‘pretenders’ – notably Alfa Romeo, who it could be said to have had a prior claim, and Jaguar, who hasn’t.
Either way, both Giulia and XE have benefited from a quantum of positive column inches regarding the sharpness of their dynamic envelopes and the Bavarians are not happy about it. In fact they’re mad as hell, and not going to take it any more.
Speaking to Australian website, Motoring, BMW’s development chief, Klaus Fröhlich it seems, lashed out at the press, lamenting, “It has to beat everybody in the segment in driving dynamics because all the Australian, UK and American journalists say ‘ooh the E46 CSL was the last real 3 Series’. I do not want to hear that shit anymore.”
It’s rather telling, to say nothing of unseemly, that a senior BMW engineer sees fit to issue forth in such terms and by association, bash, not simply a previous-generation product, but his former colleagues who worked upon what is widely regarded to this day as the pick of the 3-Series generations. E46, in just about any form, remains perhaps the template for what the model line ought to aspire to in form and execution, so to publicly dismiss it, really does speak volumes.
But having set the record straight, Mr. engineer Frohlich elaborates as to why the new Dreier is superior, not only to its forebear, but to its putative rivals, telling Motoring, “First thing and this is for me the most important thing; you can drive fast and completely relaxed. You don’t feel how fast you are.” Now this statement bothers me. After all, haven’t we had enough of cars that require licence shredding speeds to enjoy?
Fröhlich continues. “From the comfort it is more like a 5-Series, because this cluster architecture is so, so stiff; for example 50 per cent stiffness increase between front axle and bulkhead, 30 per cent overall stiffness. You do not only feel it in driving, you feel it in ride comfort.” Or to put it another way perhaps, it takes the signature stiffness characteristics of a BMW and turns the volume up several notches. Just how stiff does a bodyshell need to be, anyway?
Spooling through the Motoring article, I also note that BMW are allegedly introducing a new damping system, which will be standard fitment across the 3-Series range. Which may perhaps have more to do with the Three’s improved ride comfort over its predecessor than its ultra-stiff bodyshell.
“But from the heart of the brand [the 3 Series] is still the most important car”, Fröhlich concludes, and in this he is probably correct. It is. Which underlines why it matters that it’s such a visual crime scene. Why it matters that its performance envelope sounds like it can only be accessed at the upper end of the performance spectrum. That it has departed so far from its core mission as to be virtually unrecognisable. Put bluntly, I have come to expect a degree of ‘pseud’s corner’ toss from design spokespeople, but I somewhat naively expected more sense from engineers.
Dr. Wolfgang Reitzle was in charge of research and development when the E46 3-Series was developed. You wouldn’t have found him spouting nonsense like this. Nor, for that matter, would you have caught BMW coming out with product like this, were he still in place. The state of affairs at Munich’s Forschungs und Innovationszentrum is worse than we could have feared.