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

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

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]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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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.

  • 3-On-The-Tree I don’t think Toyotas going down.
  • ToolGuy Random thoughts (bulleted list because it should work on this page):• Carlos Tavares is a very smart individual.• I get the sense that the western hemisphere portion of Stellantis was even more messed up than he originally believed (I have no data), which is why the plan (old plan, original plan) has taken longer than expected (longer than I expected).• All the OEMs who have taken a serious look at what is happening with EVs in China have had to take a step back and reassess (oversimplification: they were thinking mostly business-as-usual with some tweaks here and there, and now realize they have bigger issues, much bigger, really big).• You (dear TTAC reader) aren't ready to hear this yet, but the EV thing is a tsunami (the thing has already done the thing, just hasn't reached you yet). I hesitate to even tell you, but it is the truth.
  • ToolGuy ¶ I have kicked around doing an engine rebuild at some point (I never have on an automobile); right now my interest level in that is pretty low, say 2/5.¶ It could be interesting to do an engine swap at some point (also haven't done that), call that 2/5 as well.¶ Building a kit car would be interesting but a big commitment, let's say 1/5 realistically.¶ Frame-up restoration, very little interest, 1/5.¶ I have repainted a vehicle (down to bare metal) and that was interesting/engaging (didn't have the right facilities, but made it work, sort of lol).¶ Taking a vehicle which I like where the ICE has given out and converting it to EV sounds engaging and appealing. Would not do it anytime soon, maybe 3 to 5 years out. Current interest level 4/5.¶ Building my own car (from scratch) would have some significant hurdles. Unless I started my own car company, which might involve other hurdles. 😉
  • Rover Sig "Value" is what people perceive as its worth. What is the worth or value of an EV somebody creates out of a used car? People value different things, but for a vehicle, people generally ascribe worth in terms of reliability, maintainability, safety, appearance and style, utility (payload, range, etc.), convenience, operating cost, projected life, support network, etc. "Value for money" means how much worth would people think it had compared to competing vehicles on the market, in other words, would it be a good deal to buy one, compared to other vehicles one could get? Consider what price you would have to ask for it, including the parts and labor you put into it, because that would affect the “for the money” part of the “value for money” calculation. An indicator of whether people think an EV-built-in-a-used-car would provide "value for money" is the current level of demand for used cars turned into EVs. Are there a lot of people looking for these on the market? Or would building one just be a hobby? Repairing an existing EV, bringing it back into spec, might create better value for the money. Although demand for EVs is reportedly down recently.
  • ToolGuy Those of you who aren't listening to the TTAC Podcast, you really don't know what you are missing.
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