BMW is doubling down on its long-wheelbase sedan strategy in India, and it’s not surprising to see why. We are a largely chauffeur-driven lot after all, more so at the luxury end of the market. The evidence is all there; the recently launched new-gen 7 Series now only comes in a single, extended wheelbase, while the 5 Series and 6 Series GT will both be replaced by a long-wheelbase 5 Series next year. Credit must go to Mercedes for first bringing this idea to lower the luxury ladder with the ultra-popular E-Class LWB, but it was BMW who then struck gold by taking it to a lower still with 2021’s 3 Series Gran Limousine.
And you know it has been a massive hit, because two years on, it’s time for the 3 Gran Limo to get a facelift, and BMW, it would seem, has quietly killed off the short-wheelbase 3 Series, which you can now only buy in hot, six-cylinder M340i guise. So, for all intents and purposes, if you want a 3 Series, the Gran Limousine is it. Was this the right decision, and does the facelift bring enough updates to make the Gran Limo more desirable?
BMW 3 Series Gran Limousine: Exterior Design
The pre-facelift look of this G20 3 Series felt like a momentary departure from the then-established design language of the 5, 6, and 7 Series, with its single-L shaped tail-lamps and notched headlamps – presumably a call back to the beloved E46 3 Series. It looked like it might have been the start of a new direction for BMW, but it was soon superseded by the even-more-radical cues of the X7, iX, and, more recently, the new 7 Series.
This facelift does a good job of aligning itself with the new design, but also maintains a welcome amount of restraint. For instance, the kidney grille has been given a mild redesign, but it hasn’t mushroomed into the buck-toothed excess you’ll find on the front of a 4 Series. The headlamps haven’t gone down the ‘split’ route like the X7 and 7 Series either, but they have ditched the signature notch at their base in favor of a new inverted C-shape LED Daytime Running Lamp, much like those in the new BMW X1, while at the rear, you’ll notice darker glass surrounds for the tail-lamp lenses.
Also worth noting is, at the launch at least, both engines – 330Li petrol and 320Ld diesel – will only come in the more aggressive-looking M Sport trim. While the sporty front bumper, five-spoke 18-inch wheels, and dramatic faux diffuser at the rear would have worked well on the standard-wheelbase car, they are a bit at odds with the stretched Gran Limousine. A more stately Luxury Line trim would have suited this car better, and perhaps it will come at a later stage.
A quick word on the boot, which at 480 liters, seems large enough on paper. However, because of the bulky tray built to house the spare tire (international models don’t get a spare), the usable space you’re left with is quite shallow, and squeezing in two large suitcases will be a tight fit.
BMW 3 Series Gran Limousine: Interior and Features
We often found the interior of the pre-facelift 3 Series to be neat and functional, but uninteresting, and in some places, not particularly luxurious. That’s something they’ve remedied to a great deal with this new version, which has inherited the massive curved screen from the iX and i4. The panel is split into a 12.3-inch driver’s display and an infotainment touchscreen that’s now a huge 14.9 inches. This giant, the upright curved panel doesn’t even impede your view as much as you’d think, as the dash has been carved down to accommodate it. The effect it has is remarkable, with colorful, crisp graphics and a size, scale, and unconventional TV-like layout that adds a serious wow factor to the cabin.
The latest BMW OS 8 software is superbly functional too, with easy-to-read graphics, neatly arranged and customizable widgets for various functions and neatly presented data. Touch sensitivity is incredibly high too, meaning you won’t find yourself prodding at it several times while driving. There’s even cool stuff like a fully animated 3D model of the car, in the correct color, whose lights, indicators, doors, and even spinning wheels correspond to what you do in real-time – while also giving you trip data.
It’s so good that for the first time in a modern BMW, I found myself using the touchscreen and not the i-Drive click-wheel controller, which has been removed altogether in some new BMWs but thankfully still features in the 3 Series. What isn’t around anymore is a gear lever, which has been reduced to a tiny toggle switch, much like in the Porsche 911.
Apart from reducing visual clutter slightly, this doesn’t seem to serve any functional purpose, instead, feels like a piece of driver involvement has been taken away; you can no longer tap up and down to shift gears manually, for instance. They’ve also removed most buttons from the redesigned center console, shifting functions like air conditioning to the touchscreen instead, which is an annoyance while driving, no matter how responsive they’ve made it.
Quality has been given a bump up, especially around the cockpit area, with better-looking and feeling plastics all around. They’ve also made subtle design changes like softening the edges of the AC vents and the trim around them, so things don’t look quite as industrial as they did in the previous car. Apart from the aforementioned screen, this is still a well-equipped car, with the likes of a Harman Kardon audio system, panoramic sunroof, and three-zone climate control; perhaps adding a 360-degree camera would have rounded things off nicely.
The real selling point remains the back seat, which has remained largely unchanged. Thanks to the 110mm longer wheelbase, now at 2,961mm, space are vastly more than you’ll find in any rival car. The seatback is a bit upright for what is being touted as a limousine, but it isn’t much of a bother once you’re in place and on the move; plus, there are soft headrest cushions to bury your head into. A big miss here was adding rear window sun shades, which would have really helped keep heat out with the larger windows.
BMW 3 Series Gran Limousine: Engine, Gearbox, and Performance
With no change to the powertrains on offer, nor to the chassis, the driving experience is pretty much the same as before. The 330Li uses a 258hp, 400Nm, 2.0-liter turbo-petrol engine, while the 320Ld that we’re driving today uses a 190hp, 400Nm, 2.0-liter turbo-diesel. In case you’re wondering, the BMW 3 Series Gran Limousine fuel efficiency on the ARAI cycle is 15.39kpl for petrol and 19.61kpl for diesel.
With more brands abandoning diesel every year, it’s now refreshing to see a new car being launched with a diesel engine at all. The B47 2.0-litre diesel engine is one of the punchiest around and suits BMW’s sporty driving ethos perfectly. In Sport mode, and with the brilliant ZF 8-speed automatic gearbox at its most ferocious, it’s actually a lot of fun, revving surprisingly freely with a wide spread of power. It’s even great at loping gently down the highway in high gear. It’s perhaps not the quietest engine, but very little of that is felt inside the car thanks to great insulation.
A huge improvement worth mentioning is the digital driver’s display, which now has much bigger and better graphics. The three highly stylized digital instrument cluster designs are far more colorful and animated, making the speedometer and tachometer easier to read out of the corner of your eye, unlike the heavily criticized previous version, which required you to shift your focus to them while driving.
Dynamically, no, it’s not quite as sharp as the standard-wheelbase 3 Series. It feels a bit softer sprung all around, and there is some hint of that added length when going around corners. That said, you could still call it a driver’s car, with dynamics far tidier than most other rivals. The steering is of particular note, with incredible weight and response in Sport mode, yet convenient lightness in Comfort, and though there is a bit of body roll, there’s also a tautness and balance to the chassis that makes it inherently enjoyable.
Ride comfort is very good, walking a neat line between softness and body control, but the 18-inch wheels do give a slight lumpiness over rough patches. And don’t worry about scraping the belly on big speed breakers; there’s enough ground clearance for that to not be an issue.
Also, Read – Lexus RX Review 2023: First Drive Review
BMW 3 Series Gran Limousine: Price and Verdict
While the driver-centric sports sedan is something that holds a special place in the hearts of enthusiasts, when it comes to those who actually own luxury sedans in India, it’s clear a longer wheelbase is the way to go. So much so that BMW, whose very brand ethos is steeped in driving pleasure and dynamics, has basically turned its quintessential sports sedan into a stretched limo for the chauffeur-driven.
The good news is they’ve still managed to retain some of that magic from behind the wheel, in case you’re so inclined, and with the updated interior and infotainment system, it feels a whole lot more special. There are surprisingly few updates to the all-important rear seat, but then, not much needed changing, did it? And on the outside, the design changes have been comparatively subtle. Thankfully.
At Rs 57.90 lakh-59.50 lakh (ex-showroom), yes, this costs a considerable amount more than the petrol-only Audi A4 (Rs 43.12 lakh-50.99 lakh), but then you are paying for the stretched wheelbase. What’s interesting is that it’s on par with the Mercedes-Benz C-Class (Rs 57.20 lakh-Rs 63 lacks), which is a standard-wheelbase car. We expect the updated BMW 3 Series Gran Limousine will be a huge success because, even at this price, it’s a formula that simply works here in India. With most making the switch to SUVs these days, it’s nice to see that sedan traditionalists are still being well-catered to.