Nip/tuck time for 3-Series

I had a wonderfully eccentric aunt who lived on a small-holding when I was a child. The reasons I remember her is because she didn’t like children and she had a pet tortoise of which she was strangely protective.

He (I can’t remember his name) was about 80cm long and 60cm wide and, given that I was six years old at the time, he was, in my eyes, a giant tortoise.

Whenever I would sit on the stoep watching him, my distrusting aunt would find an excuse to get away from my parents to check on me through the kitchen windows to ensure I wasn’t torturing her pet. But I hardly ever got close to him. In my little brain I had imagined that his leathery skin and bullet-proof-like shell meant he was a distant relative of dinosaurs and, if he wanted to, he could probably attack and kill me. So I kept my distance, but always thought he was a cool creature, if only because my aunt loved him so.

I haven’t seen many tortoises since then and when car launches take place in and around Oudtshoorn I feel cheated because there are probably more tortoise signs than there are tortoises.

I would see a tortoise sign and instinctively slow down in the hope of finding a tortoise creeping across the road, but in the past three years of driving through Oudtshoorn at least five times a year, I have not seen one.

That was until two weeks ago.

A motoring journalist colleague and I were making our way through Oudtshoorn during the BMW 3-Series LCI (life cycle injection) launch when we came across the tortoise sign, which we ignored.

We were driving the updated 335i which has 225kW of power and 400Nm of torque. We weren’t exactly driving at legal speeds when we whizzed around a corner to find a little tortoise hot-footing it across the tarmac. He was about halfway into our lane when my co-driver swerved into the oncoming lane to avoid hitting him and then quickly switched back into the left lane.

Despite the fact that it was a corner and we were going fast, the 335i’s tyres didn’t even squeal. Thankfully the journalists driving behind us were also paying attention and they all swerved to avoid the tortoise.

Avoiding the tortoise so easily and not ending up in the dirt illustrated how perfectly balanced the 335i is. It is not just a powerful car with an impressive 0 to 100kph sprint time (5,6s), it is also a finely tuned instrument that is able to pull off its job as a sports car with consummate ease. It all happened in a few seconds — the way my co-driver flicked the steering wheel to the right and then to the left. But those few seconds spoke volumes about the weighting of the car. The deftness with which it all happened reinforced my initial impression of the 335i as one of the best sports sedans around.

The 3-Series LCI is effectively a nip/tuck with one new engine for the 330diesel, enhanced aerodynamics, a new rear bumper, new light clusters, new alloy wheel options, updated upholstery, a new iDrive configuration and new colour options.

I was disappointed that there was no extra attention paid to enhancing the bottom-of-the-range models since they are undoubtedly the top-sellers and should benefit more from an attempt to inject a little newness into an existing model range.

However, that said the new diesel engine does add 7% more power while reducing fuel consumption by 6%. While those figures are not earth-shattering, they are nonetheless impressive.

The most noticeable change for me is the new rear light cluster, which somehow makes the tail end look more elegant than its predecessor. But other than that the design changes are so minimal they’re barely noticeable.

The new models range in price from R286 500 for the 320i Start to R477 000 for the top-end 335i.

All in all the updated range reinforces the 3-Series as a more than credible contender in this segment of small executive sedans. I can’t say unequivocally that it is the benchmark because the new Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class have models, especially at the bottom of the range, which I would choose over some of the entry-level 3-Series models. However, at the top of the range, disregarding the C63, RS4 and M3, the 335i is practically peerless.

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