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Experiencing the face-lifted BMW 3-Series in Germany

Despite some questionable tech updates, it still is a great sports sedan

What better place to experience the de facto sports sedan than in its home market of Munich? PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

In the luxury sports sedan segment, the BMW 3-Series is arguably the sportiest offering in the group, even in its base 318i form. The G20 is regarded to be one of the better-looking Bimmers in the automaker’s lineup, and its recent Life Cycle Impulse (or midlife refresh) is more of a much-needed technological update for the vehicle.

This is why BMW Philippines flew us out to Munich to sample the latest 3-Series in its home market during its international media launch, just so we could experience it just as the brand intended.

No more Luxury line. The 3-Series is going all sport. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

You may know about the changes made to the car in our past articles, but we were told that the focal points for this update revolve around a sportier exterior, refined interior, and a digital experience.

After this short briefing, we were presented with a sight that would make any man giddy like a kid: a whole garage full of 3-Series vehicles lined up on each side of the BMW Group PKV facility in Garching. I felt goosebumps as the lights turned on.

We're not fans of monotone colors, but Frozen Pure Gray II takes the cake. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

Naturally, our eyes were drawn to the row of M340i sedans finished in Frozen Pure Gray II.

Changes include the new inverted L-shaped DRLs for the LED headlights; a revamped yet reasonably sized double-bar kidney grille (the M340i comes with a honeycomb grille); and a redesigned front and rear bumper. All the cars seen here come with the M Sport Aerodynamic Package, which adds more aggressive bumper garnishing and small M badges all over.

My admiration was broken by a symphony of startups around me as if each car was urging its drivers to get going. As the gates opened, it hit me: I was about to drive on the autobahn.

BMW's legendary B58 sits under the hood of the M340i. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

My brain started to chug as I recalled the countless hours of YouTube-binging on how to properly drive there. Before I knew it, it was my turn to merge onto the famous highway.

Five cars zoomed past me as I looked in my driver-side mirror. I was told to punch it to get to safe merging speeds. As I did, the M340i’s 3.0-liter B58 roared to life, pushing me (and my experienced passenger) back into our seats, all without any nuance of wheelspin or instability.

This may not have been the fastest car I have ever driven, but 374hp and 500Nm were enough to rocket me to speeds of around 220km/h on the unrestricted parts of the autobahn.

Despite the dizzying speeds for a first-timer, the vehicle felt extremely calm and planted, and the intoxicating straight-six noises from the M exhaust drowned out the wind noise.

Blasting down the autobahn or throwing it around corners, you are guaranteed to have lots of fun. PHOTOS FROM BMW

Once we got off the highway network, I was able to experience the 3er’s famed driving dynamics on Germany’s excellent country roads.

The steering was tight and precise, instantly pointing the nose where I wanted it to go. I wish it could have more steering feel, but that is probably a downside of it having electric power steering. Despite having the xDrive all-wheel-drive system, it’s rear-biased—meaning it drives more like a rear-wheel-drive car, allowing for the best of both worlds when it comes to driving fun and traction.

I’m far from the best driver, but the combination of good roads, great conditions, and this vehicle made me feel like I was back home, playing Gran Turismo with my racing wheel.

It may be a high-performance sports sedan, but it's still practical. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

I was having so much fun in the countryside until I started sneezing. And so did my passenger. It was pollen season, and I had to find a way to turn recirculation on.

Unfortunately for me, this was my first encounter with the BMW Curved Display, so I was not that familiar with the interface. So much for the walk-around.

As part of the brand’s efforts to digitalize the cabin, most of the dashboard has been redesigned around these two screens—a 12.3-inch digital driver’s display and a 14.9-inch infotainment screen.

Other than that, most of the cabin is the same as the pre-facelift model. A generous amount of space for the first two passengers, decent space for two at the back with a massive transmission tunnel in the middle, and 480L of cargo capacity in the sedaneasily swallowing the luggage without having to fold the rear seats down.

Operating System 8 was not designed to be used with the iDrive controller. PHOTOS FROM BMW

While the new displays are great for viewing your maps on Apple CarPlay and making the cabin look more modern, the physical climate controls are gone, having been buried behind a menu. A huge step back in terms of user-friendliness.

Despite the iDrive controller being retained, the new Operating System 8 is more akin to a smartphone OS interface, making the rotary controller inconvenient to use. It’s easier to operate the interface via touch, or via the BMW Intelligent Voice Assistant that allows you to control most functions by saying “Hey, BMW,” followed by a desired command.

In practice, it works well, with simple sentences like “I’m cold” being instantly recognized. Unfortunately, it gets confused by Asian accents, so you’ll have to force your best English if you plan to use it a lot.

Frustrating, yes, but at least the car is such a blast to drive, making me forgive all niggles I had with the user interface. I was begging the folks to let me get behind the wheel of the M340i once more as we reached the BMW Regensburg plant.

Regardless of variant, the 3-Series continues to deliver as a driver-first car. PHOTO FROM BMW

The changes (which you may love or hate) made to the LCI G20 3-Series are much-needed to keep the vehicle fresh against the competition, especially in this increasingly digital-focused age.

But despite all of this, the vehicle truly remains what it is at its core: a fun-to-drive, sports sedan for the discerning driver, just polished and refined for the modern era. And with BMW’s Neue Klasse platform and electrification coming to the rest of its lineup, this may be the last time a 3-Series will feel like this.

Sam Surla

Sam is the youngest member of our editorial team. And he is our managing editor (believe it or not). He specializes in photography and videography, but he also happens to like writing about cars a lot.