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BMW 3-Series, from $65,330

BMW 3-Series, from $65,330

Very few cars make it to 40 and, while its impending anniversary may still be three years away, the BMW 3-Series looks set to surpass the milestone while remaining the car of choice for young execs and small families.

Six generations on, the BMW 3-Series remains the marque’s biggest draw. Originally launched in 1975, the 3-Series is now assembled in thirteen countries and accounts for 30 percent of BMW’s total global car sales. Despite being at the end of its lifecycle, more than 380,000 3-Series models were sold in 2011 alone. The new 3-Series, codenamed the F30, builds on that success. The new front grille design, new swage lines that run the length of the body and the wider chassis give the 3-Series a more menacing appeal, and it’s only when you look at the spec sheets that you realise it’s longer and taller than the previous model. It’s also bristling with the latest gadgets and electronic mastery that make it not only more economical and more powerful, but lighter, faster and stronger than before.

An extra 93mm total vehicle length and 8mm headroom may not sound much, but engineers slotted 50mm of that between the front and rear axles, handing rear seat passengers 15mm more legroom in the process. It’s a noticeable difference that makes the back seats a little more comfortable.

The extra length has also enabled engineers to force wheels further into each of the car’s four corners, which has kept the car’s front and rear overhangs as short as possible. The result is not only a car that feels more balanced — with a claimed 50:50 weight balance front to rear — but one that also feels planted on the road.

The 306bhp 335 Sport comes fitted with a twin-scroll turbocharged 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder engine which really makes you seriously doubt whether it’s worth waiting and plumping for the M3. Based on the E90’s N54 engine, the new N55 is BMW’s first single-turbo petrol engine that combines BMW’s Valvetronic, double VANOS (double variable camshaft control), Cylinder-bank Comprehensive Manifold (CCM) and direct injection systems in one remarkable unit. Mated to an eight-speed semi-automatic sequential gearbox and driving the rear wheels only, the engine’s power delivery is immense. Peak torque of 400Nm is available from 1,200rpm, and remains constant until 5,000rpm, making it 0.3 seconds faster to 100km/h than its predecessor.

BMW has a knack of making very ordinary looking cars behave exceptionally well. It’s a subtle machine that lacks the external pomp and pizzazz of the marque’s heavy hitters,  but is capable of punching above its weight when provoked.

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