BMW’s franchise model, its 3-Series sport sedan, has been slipping in sales and reputation. It’s been hammered lately by the Alfa Romeo Giulia, among other sporty chariots. But an all-new 3-Series has armored itself for the battle with loads of new tech. First things first: The new 3-Series is fun to drive, in the way BMW fans demand. I learn this firsthand in Portugal while romping an M340i on the devilish Portimao circuit.
The car’s 285 kilowatts (382 horsepower) are a nearly 20 percent jump from last year, even though the car has a similar 3.0-liter in-line 6 at its core. The upgrades focus on the turbocharger: Fuel-injection pressure is nearly doubled, and the twin-scroll unit is lighter and more efficient, inhaling exhaust gas at a toasty 1,000 °C.
When drivers aren’t pushing the BMW’s limits, they can relax and enjoy the tech treats. Semiautonomous functions, including hands-off driving on highways, are managed through radar and three bundled cameras from MobilEye, an Israel-based Intel subsidiary that produces imagers and software for driver-assistance systems. Another feature, called Narrow Passage Support, keeps the BMW centered in white-knuckle maneuvers, such as driving between giant trucks. The built-in Intelligent Personal Assistant follows orders like an onboard Siri. Blue-laser-powered high beams can illuminate the road ahead for a remarkable 600 meters. And a plug-in hybrid version, designated 330e, heads to showrooms in 2020.
Now, let’s back up and talk about Reversing Assistant: At speeds below 35 kilometers per hour (22 miles per hour), the BMW records the car’s path in continuous 50-meter increments. Go ahead, drive along that dead-end forest path, a steep uphill driveway, the trickiest courtyard or parking garage. You can even park the BMW and get a good night’s sleep. When you return, the BMW will automatically steer itself to mirror the inbound path at up to 5.5 km/h, with the driver touching only the brake and throttle. The system worked like a charm, precisely reversing and scanning for pedestrians, cars, or obstacles, while I monitored its progress on a display screen; all without me having to crane my neck and worry about crunching into something. If every car had the BMW’s system, insurance claims due to reverse maneuvers gone wrong would drop faster than a shorn-off side mirror.