2019 BMW 3 Series Carries on the Tradition, but Leaves a Manual Transmission in the Past

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
2019 bmw 3 series carries on the tradition but leaves a manual transmission in the

The car’s everything you’d expect a next-generation German sports sedan to be. Lighter, slipperier, more efficient, and slightly larger in footprint. Handling dynamics are reportedly improved — a requirement that, if missed, might necessitate the need for nationwide group therapy.

It still looks like a BMW 3 Series, too, as wary designers employed at German luxury marques aren’t known for their overt craziness, Chris Bangle notwithstanding. But tradition, while seemingly intact in this next-gen 3 Series, goes out the window the minute you search for transmission options.

Call it a case of the purist bubble obscuring real-world demand, but BMW’s decision to offer the 3 Series without a manual transmission option in the United States has enthusiasts up in arms. The brand clearly did so for a reason, though. Three-pedal availability has dwindled rapidly in the BMW stable as take rates plummet.

A BMW spokesman confirmed to Jalopnik that the absence of a stick in just-released media materials was because, “The manual is only available on smaller engine variants…that we do not get in the U.S.”

“We only have confirmation of the 330i, 330e and M340i models coming to the U.S.,” the spokesperson continued when pressed. “There are no current plans for lesser hp variants.”

What American buyers do receive, at least for now, is two engines — a turbocharged four-cylinder and inline-six — all mated to an eight-speed Sport Steptronic automatic with launch control. Offering either model wouldn’t have made either model faster, the BMW spokesman implied, as this tranny’s wider gear spread moves the vehicle quicker off the line. That doesn’t help the rare traditionalist buyer who just wants to row his or own gears, but what can you do? Your congressman doesn’t care.

For 2019, the 3 Series dons a new modular platform (in use by the 5 and 7 Series) that increases overall body stiffness by 25 percent, BMW claims. Body weight drops by up to 121 pounds, depending on model, while wheelbase and front and rear tracks increase by 1.6, 1.7, and 0.9 inches, respectively. Overall length grows 2.9 inches, width by 0.6 inches, and height by half an inch. Weight distribution is 50:50. Meanwhile the model’s coefficient of drag drops to 0.23 from the previous generation’s 0.26, aiding highway fuel economy. Front air curtains and a nearly sealed underbody help in this regard.

In the interest of a flatter ride and less upset, an new continuously variable damping system adds extra hydraulic cushioning at the front and compression limiting at the rear. Lift-related damping also appears on the M Sport suspension. This setup sees the vehicle sit 0.4 inches lower than its standard sibling, with firmer springs and thicker anti-roll bars aiding tossability. BMW claims a 20 percent increase in damping force during fast compression and rebound comes with the M Sport suspension. While either of these setups should satisfy most drivers, BMW offers Adaptive M, bringing electronically controlled dampers on board, as well as three drive modes.

Either of the latter two suspensions can be had with an M Sport rear differential. This differential, which snatches power away from the inside wheel in turns with greater finesse, should overcome the vehicle’s tendency to oversteer during rapid direction changes.

As we said before, power comes in two flavors. 330i and 330i xDrive models see a turbo 2.0-liter making 255 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque — an increase of 7 hp and 37 lb-ft over the engine’s predecessor. Aided by the weight loss and rejigged tranny, the 330i should complete a sprint to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds. In the M340i models, a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six generates 382 hp and 369 lb-ft. Zero to 60 should pass in 4.2 seconds, Bimmer claims, though that figure isn’t yet set in stone.

Aesthetically, you’ll be able to tell the 2019 3 Series from its predecessor by revamped headlights (an evolution of what came before) and a twin-kidney grille with a single chrome surround. Actually, it won’t always be chrome. Select M Sport as a trim line (the other options are the de-facto Sport and Luxury), and the grille goes gloss black, with lower front and rear fascias and side sills undergoing an aggressive styling treatment. The Luxury trim line adds an extra heaping of a certain shiny material no high-zoot sedan can do without.

Out back, L-shaped LED taillights add further inches to the car’s perceived width, and bumper and tailpipe treatments change depending on which trim line the buyer choses. Along the flanks, Bimmer added athleticism via an upward-sweeping lower character line that accentuates a slight rear fender bulge — something that’s far more noticeable when viewed from the rear. The previous-gen car’s strong upper character line is split in two in this model, with one arcing aft from the front fender to the beltline, and a new, slightly lower one tracing just above the rear wheel well.

It’s not worth going into all the interior improvements, except to say you’ll be given more choice in materials, and middle rear-seat passenger won’t fidget as much. Rear legroom grows four-tenths of an inch. Oh, and there’s a bare minimum of 10 speakers, with 16-speaker Harman Kardon surround audi as an option.

Centered in the dash is an 8.8-inch touchscreen, with a 5.7-inch digital instrument display staring you in the face. However, if glitzy screens make you instinctively reach for your wallet, there’s a digital cockpit on offer. In this guise, a 12.3-inch screen serves as your instrument cluster, while a 10.25-inch touchscreen running the iDrive 7.0 operating system handles infotainment and navigation duties.

Accessing certain functions and settings while keeping your hands on the wheel can be as easy as barking instructions at the car. BMW’s Intelligent Personal Assistant, which debuts on this vehicle, is just like it sounds, responding to “Hey, BMW!” Your digital helper learns as it goes, and improves itself via OTA updates sent from the automaker.

Exhausted yet? You’ll have time to recover. The 2019 3 Series doesn’t arrive at dealers until March 2019. Pricing starts at $40,250 (plus $995 destination) for a base 330i, with xDrive all-wheel drive adding an extra two grand. M340i models appear next spring, with pricing announced closer to the release date. There’ll also be a new plug-in hybrid version, plus the necessary M3, but Bimmer isn’t giving out all info in one fell swoop.

[Images: BMW Group]

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  • Hummer Hummer on Oct 03, 2018

    It's a good looking car, but it cements in my mind - my decision to buy my Tremec manual SS sedan, it's the BMW of yore... just a lot cheaper to run.

  • Focal Focal on Oct 29, 2018

    All automatics feel the same to me and losing the three pedals makes me look elsewhere. All brands are in play and i've driven BMW for so many years now. I have a F30 RWD 328i 6MT. Rare in Canada and I'll drive it a lot longer now. The Genesis G70 looks amazing inside and still has the stick. Good choice, but I'd also be happier with a Golf 4motion wagon than an auto BMW. If I'm going auto, I'll go all the way to electric. I'm so happy that I broke the bank and picked up a GT4 3 years ago. That's a life time car to own.

  • MaintenanceCosts We hear endlessly from the usual suspects about the scenarios where EVs don't work as well as gas cars. We never hear the opposite side of the coin. From an EV owner (since 2019) who has a second EV reserved, here are a few points the "I road trip 1000 miles every day" crowd won't tell you about:[list][*]When you have a convenient charging situation, EV fueling is more convenient than a gas car. There is no stopping at gas stations and you start every day with a full tank.[/*][*]Where there are no-idling rules (school pickup/dropoff, lines for ferries or services, city loading, whatever else) you can keep warm or cool to your heart's content in your EV.[/*][*]In the cold, EVs will give you heat from the second you turn them on.[/*][*]EVs don't care one bit if you use them for tons of very short trips. Their mechanicals don't need to boil off condensation. (Just tonight, I used my EV to drive six blocks, because it was 31 degrees and raining, and walking would have been unpleasant.)[/*][*]EVs don't stink and don't make you breathe carcinogens on cold start.[/*][*]EV maintenance is much less frequent and much cheaper, eliminating almost all items having to do with engine, transmission, or brakes in a gas car. In most EVs the maintenance schedule consists of battery coolant changes and tire maintenance.[/*][*]You can accelerate fast in EVs without noisily attracting the attention of the cops and every passerby on the street.[/*][/list]
  • MaintenanceCosts Still can't get a RAV4 Prime for love or money. Availability of normal hybrid RAV4s and Highlanders is only slightly better. At least around here I think Toyota could sell twice the number of vehicles that they are actually bringing in at the moment.
  • Tree Trunk Been in the market for a new Highlander Hybrid, it is sold out with order time of 6 months plus. Probably would have bit the bullet if it was not for the dealers the refuse to take an order but instead want to sell from allotment whether it fits or not and at thousands over MRSP.
  • AKHusky The expense argument is nonsense. My mach e was $42k after tax credit. Basically the same as similarly equipped edge. And it completely ignores that the best selling vehicles are Rams, F150s, and Silverados, all more expensive that a bolt, MAch e or ID4. As an owner, I'd say they are still in second car territory for most places in the country.
  • Johnster I live in a red state and I see quite a few EVs being purchased by conservative, upper-class Republicans (many of them Trump-supporters). I suspect that it is a way for them to flaunt their wealth and that, over time, the preference for EVs will trickle down to less well-off Republicans.