The BMW 3-Series saloon represents one in five of all BMWs sold worldwide, with the UK being the fourth largest market. So the launch of the sixth generation 3 is a very big deal for the Munich-based manufacturer.
With turbocharged diesel and petrol engines, a more spacious interior and the focus on BMW's Efficient Dynamics technology, can it live up to the reputation of its illustrious predecessors and build on them? I headed to Spain to find out.
On the outside, the new 3-Series has been criticised for not being particularly distinctive and from some angles, especially the rear, it looks every bit the scaled-down 5-Series.
The most interesting part of the design has to be the swooping profile and elongated bonnet. Plus, in homage to 3-Series models from the past, the headlights and the kidney grille are one continuous unit.
Move to the side and there is a unique double shoulder line and bolder contours in the metalwork to give more definition and larger windows.
At the back, there are flared wheel arches to emphasise the wider track and the 5-Series-like, LED-lit rear lights are pushed right to the sides of the rear styling.
BMW claim to have increased the quality and ambience of the interior of the new 3-Series. The result is an attractive, driver-focused space. Similar in design to the one fitted in the 6-Series, I really liked the sweeping dash section that runs along the centre console.
All models get a free standing, high-resolution display which dominates the centre console and an iDrive controller. Enhanced optional equipment includes a Head-up display and Park Assist, which are firsts for this sector of the market.
The new 3-Series also sees BMW offer much more chance to personalise their cars with the introduction of Sport, Luxury, Modern and latterly M Sport trims. I had the chance to experience the Sport and Luxury trims on the launch and was surprised how much impact the different choices of textures and colours could make on this modern interior.
Of the two trims, it is the Sport that I preferred, but I'm not 100% convinced about the red detailing which looks a bit cheap. Still, this is nothing compared to the weird textured wood in the Luxury trim. I think it looks horrid and wonder how it will wear with everyday use.
The driving position is excellent and the seats really comfortable. Also, because there's a significant growth in length to 4624mm (a 93mm increase), there is much more rear legroom (up by 15mm) and because of the taller windows, 8mm more rear head room. Bootspace is now 480 litres, an increase of 20 litres.
So, what is the new 3-Series like to drive then? Well, I had the chance to try the 184bhp 320d and the 245bhp 328i.
The 2.0-litre diesel engine is expected to be the top seller. This is because of the low 120g/km CO2 emissions and average fuel economy figures of 61.4mpg. Good thing it was the best of two 3-Series versions I drove, with plenty of torque, decent refinement and was well matched to a snappy six-speed manual gearbox.
The 245bhp 2.0-litre petrol with BMW TwinPower Turbo technology replaces the previous 3.0-litre six-cylinder. With C02 emissions of just 149g/km and Combined fuel consumption figures of 44.1mpg, there's no doubt this is an impressive engine considering its size. However, it lacks the charisma and silky note of the old engine.
I tried the 328i with the new eight-speed automatic gearbox, which is also available as an option on all 3-Series models. It certainly seemed well-matched to this engine, although the paddle changes I felt could have been smoother.
On top of this, all 3-Series models are fitted with Drive Performance Control as standard. Basically, it is a button that allows the driver to choose between up to four driving modes varying from sporty to extremely economical. The four modes are ECO PRO, Comfort, Sport, and Sport + (Sport + is included only on Sport models or with selected optional equipment).
After playing around with various settings on both cars on the mountainous route, I thought that both the 320d and 328i were best in Sport mode.
Comfort is probably the least dynamic setting, as the ride becomes wallowy and the body felt like it was doing separate things to the chassis. ECO PRO on the other hand retards the throttle, meaning you need to give the accelerator a firmer push to get the power you need.
For me, the most impressive stand out feature of the new 3-Series has to be the ride. Even on optional 18-inch alloy wheels with the sport mode selected, I was impressed with the refinement and composure of both cars.
I also appreciated the light, responsive and well-weighted steering, which along with the lack of body roll and high levels of grip meant that the new 3 is a keen drive.
So to sum up, the new 3-Series surely has to hold on to its crown of being the driver's car of this class. It is such a complete package, that it has to be the best compact executive on sale.