Three of the best: BMW

Mark Gallivan recommends the best three BMW cars on the market in Ireland today. 

It’s easy to get lost or carried away when peering into BMW’s range of cars. Like Mercedes and Audi, BMW has plugged every possible niche imaginable.

To pick the best we need to discount the X series crossover SUVs, large SUVs and ultra-luxury SUVs. (Speed read: X1-vastly improved, X5-largely excellent, X3-BMW’s best all-round SUV and the monstrous X7-a 7 Series on stilts).

Being realistic, we should also omit anything with an M prefix. Most of them are spectacular to drive, performance biased cars. But remain expressions of inherent compromises like high prices and unyielding suspensions.

What you’re left with is the mainstream stuff. The affordable, the intriguing and the exactly-how-much-did-you say luxury saloons and GT cars. Deep in the BMW range are three cars that recapture the Ultimate Driving Machine that BMW promoted in the glory years. Ones that forge a trail in their segment through a range of different abilities, and are certainly good enough to be considered in three of the best category.

2019 BMW 3 Series from €43,280

Quickly now, which are the top five best new cars launched into Ireland so far in 2019? Already a shortlist is forming by members of the motoring press in the Irish Car of The Year Awards 2020.

In amongst them has to be the 2019 BMW 3 Series G20 series. It perfectly straddles a symmetric line between practicality, safety, performance and importantly for a 3 Series, exceptional driving dynamics. The new 3 Series is now the best D-Segment car you can buy. Full stop.

I tested the 330i with 258hp that sears from 0-100km/h in 5.2 seconds. Larger than the previous generation, BMW claims the car is 25% stiffer overall. With the stretched wheelbase of 2,851mm, rear seat passengers enjoy improved legroom, eliminating the slightly cramped feel of the last gen car. The 330i gets a turbocharged four-cylinder 2.0-litre petrol engine with 258 bhp and the M Sport Plus Package with adaptive sports suspension. Riding on 19” alloy wheels, the suspension tuning feels more like a car set up for the irritating clichéd Nurburgring. Even in the softest suspension setting it’s still uncompromisingly firm.

If you can live with the quasi-track focused ride the rewards are there in spades. As a non-M badged car the 330i with M Sport Plus delivers tingling excitement with dynamite steering that’s wonderfully satisfying. The fact that this is an electric steering set-up shows how much proper development BMW put into the 3 Series this time around. Needing just 2.3 turns lock to lock it comes close to matching the sublime Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio for driving feel. Where the BMW surpassed the Giulia is how it limits the hyper sensitivity that the Italian displays.

There are no surprises with the gearbox. It’s a typical BMW strength. For 2019, BMW shorted the first two gearing ratios and the possibility of slurred gearchanges from the torque. Every gear change is immediate with none of the hesitation found in the Mercedes C-Class. It’s just a pity the exhaust note isn’t more vocal. A wish note to BMW – please fix this in the mid-gen refresh. This seems odd then that BMW goes to the trouble of piping the enhanced exhaust sounds through the sound system. The interior refresh is welcome bar the inverted positioning within the new digital dials. Still, the new 3 Series is a magic car to drive. It never puts a foot wrong and easily a Three of The Best inductee.

You’ll like: One of the very best new cars of 2019. Engines, steering and poise – all worthy of five stars.

You’ll grumble: Suspension firm even in softest setting. Exterior looks uncannily Japanese. Digital instruments.

2019 BMW i3S from €45,760

Could the BMW i3 be the quiet one? It’s a genuine trailblazer and when the i3 was launched in 2013 the upright proportions and weirdness shocked BMW devotees. Like midnight dictums from the White House, the normalising of the aghast is now a familiar part of the BMW i Series design lexicon. It’s a very clever car.

BMW i3s, Portugal, Lissabon

Basing the car on BMW’s Drive Module, the suspension and battery are located and placed under the Life Module – a carbon reinforced plastic shell that helps keep the i3’s weight down to a 1,365kg. Prices in i3 world begin at €45,760 with 170PS and €49,060 for the i3S with 184P.

The i3S that I tested felt light to drive with excellent rigidity especially for a car with no b-pillar. Look at the photo – the doors open theatrically in opposing directions providing good access for rear passengers. My favourite part of the i3’s image is the premium character of the car. True, the Kia e-Niro and Hyundai Kona Electric are less expensive than the i3 but they cannot hope to catch the BMW’s astounding construction. It stands head and shoulders above the cars from the East.

Inside the lack of any transmission tunnel offers an almost flat floor with a generous amount of legroom. It’s even possible to walk right through the i3 from one side to the other with all the doors open. The cabin may feel dated but only a Tesla Model 3 betters it for an intelligent layout. It’s also immense fun to drive. Like all EVs you are treated to instant acceleration from stationary as if you’re strapped to some giant elastic band.

BMW now offers the i3 with an optional Range Extender – a 9-litre petrol tank that gives added assurance of getting home if you run out of battery charge. The i3 is designed as a city car and the 9.4-meter turning circle is easy to manoeuvre, aided well by the high seating and visibility. Charging the i3 is child’s play and it hardly registered in my notes during the week I tested it. A testament really, to how well the i3S fitted into my life. But why does the i3 get a Three of The Best vote? If you’re going electric or petrol-electric, the i3 feels far more premium than rivals. Quirky and different the i3 is one of BMW’s very best kept secrets.

You’ll like: 260km range with petrol-electric Range Extender. Clever design with excellent seating position. Stunning quality and possibly BMW’s best car.

You’ll grumble: Restricted to just four seats. Individual design. Skinny tires find their limit under hard driving.

2019 BMW 8 Series from €104,060 (pictured in main image) 

The Mercedes S500 Coupe. As stunning luxury GTs go, it’s a snip at €170,590. Up to now it was the ultimate choice for him or her that made it to the very top. An ultra-luxury treat with no peer. So what have BMW done? Well, they’ve only just gone and ruined it for the lot of us by confusing things.

To be fair, the additional €66,530 Mercedes is asking for remains a whole shed more money than BMW 8 Series. It gives the better looking Bavarian a strong price advantage. For me, the new BMW 840d is most desirable car I’ve driven so far in 2019. I almost cried when I handed it back.

There are four variants of the BMW 8 Series Coupe. A diesel 840D xDrive and a petrol 850i xDrive both in coupe or cabriolet form. The 840d is an oddity as there is no other luxury GT diesel in this price bracket. You may rail against buying a diesel engine but the 8 Series 3.0-litre unit is as smooth as melted butter. Press the Sport button in the adaptive driving modes and a fake V8 grumble fills the cabin. It’s willfully silly but good fun you’re still managing a claimed 38.6mpg. I did even better with 41mpg. That’s staggering for a car in this class and weighing 1,905kg.

The xDrive 4WD system works seamlessly incorporating integrated steering that lightens the steering in tight corners. The 8 Series looks fantastical in Barcelona blue metallic, a swanky creation with long overhangs at the front and rear giving an air of confident decadence yet with a sporting edge that the more demure S500 Coupe bypasses.

Gloriously for such a big car, BMW gets things absolutely spot-on by fitting utterly useless rear seats with non-existent legroom. That’s what the X5 is for, right? Step inside the 8 Series and you sit low in the seats surrounded by sumptuous – albeit a familiar BMW cabin design – that feels thoroughly well assembled without emitting not so much as a creak or shimmy when I drove it. The 840d feels quite straightforward to drive as well and is easy to navigate through city streets. This is the most engaging GT car I’ve driven this side of an Aston Martin DB11. Praise comes no higher. The final decision is not whether you should consider the 8 Series against its rivals. You absolutely should. It’s whether you opt for diesel or V8 petrol power. Either way, the 8 Series is a gorgeous GT – a genuine Three of The Best.

You’ll like: The new definitive affordable luxury GT. Swanky looks. 840d’s 6.1-litre/38.6 mpg. Gorgeous interior and a bargain next to Merc’s S500 Coupe. Rear-wheel steering agility. Skullduggery makes 840d sound like a V8.

You’ll grumble: Don’t be silly.

Written by Mark Gallivan

Published on 6 August, 2019