BMW doesn't throw the word "reinvention" around lightly. For decades, the 3 Series sedan had the formula right. It served as the absolute benchmark for every other automaker to chase on every magazine cover. Had Lexus/Cadillac/Audi/Acura/Mercedes/Etc. FINALLY made a "3-Series killer"? The answer was almost always, "nice try, but not quite". That's because the 3 Series got the recipe exactly right; it offered stately good looks, exquisite luxury, a "forged from a single piece of steel" feeling and a truly sporting drive. It's the last part that elevated BMW above its rivals for so long, a car that had excellent handling dynamics and steering feel - the stuff that automotive tastemakers love. The result was a car that was every bit at home at the valet stand as it was in the race paddock. Visit any law firm car park, and you'll find plenty of 3 Series holding court. Likewise, roll up to the Nurburgring on any given Sunday and you'll see so many hot-rodded 3 Series you'll think they're given out at German driving exams. And so "reinvention" has never really been necessary at BMW. Evolution has kept them firmly ahead of the pack.
Until the pack changed. You see, buyers began favoring SUVs, and EVs are becoming ever-more popular especially on the 3 Series' home continent. Both of those vehicle classes are heavier, and with extra weight comes more assist and a bit of an erosion of those beloved BMW driving characteristics. BMW began releasing a flurry of SUVs in every size and flavor, and helped pioneer "SUV coupes" in an attempt to infuse bigger, heavier vehicles with a bit of that sporting magic. Alas, there's only so much physics can do. Then came Tesla with a bit of rockstar energy playing a different tune, and while the 3 series remained the more luxurious of the two, suddenly its stateliness had started to feel stale.
The last time "reinvention" was on the table at BMW, they gave us the controversial i3 and its wild-child big brother the hybrid i8. These cars were a bold new direction, not only featuring groundbreaking hybridized drivetrains but also using cutting-edge material science and manufacturing techniques. We could wax poetic about how fascinating these cars were as an engineering exercise, but we'll skip to the gist: these cars were so ahead of their time that even a decade later, there still hasn't been another car on the road quite like them. While the styling was deemed extremely polarizing back in 2013, the i3 and i8 have aged exceptionally well and still look fresh in traffic today. The only problem was, BMW never really followed through with that promise of reinvention. By offering a compact city car and a sleek roadster, BMW had avoided reinventing their icon. The electric 3 Series was rumored for years, and years continued to tick by. The i3 and i8 aged, and new rivals emerged in the space that surpassed their capability. When the "electric 3 series" finally did arrive, called the i4, it was far from funky - it looked more like a conservative copy of their traditional 3 Series. That's clearly a winning formula, but not a revolution.
So now BMW has shown us a new car with the word "reinvention", and to our eye it looks a lot like the general shape of a 3 Series. It also looks very BMW, in ways that a BMW hasn't looked in years. To our eye, we see subtle references to the BMW 2002, a precursor to the 3-series, and an icon in its own right. This Neue Klasse concept shares a similarly upright greenhouse, svelte and understated lines, a classic Hofmeister kink, short overhangs, and a horizontally-integrated "kidney" grille signature that's a very different take than the toothy grins of the past few years.
BMW says this car is pared down to the essentials, and features an increased use of secondary raw materials, and resource-efficient production. There is a focus on recyclability, and dismantling the cars at the end of their useful lives. They say that, "these cars are so progressive that they appear to have skipped a model generation" and they offer "30 percent more range, 30 percent faster charging, 25 percent more efficiency". Frankly these are all things we feel like we've heard before - with the release of the i3 and i8 - and we're delighted to see the practices and principles of those cars continue here. We can't wait to see if this clean sheet draws us in.
One area that's sure to remain controversial is the choice to reduce the use of analog controls (insert your cliche BMW not-coming-with-a-blinker joke here). BMW is running in a digital direction, embracing interaction through the "Panoramic Vision" display, a projection of information into the driver's field of view and expanding across the full width of the windscreen, with controls happening in several ways; trough the steering wheel buttons, central touchscreen, and um... hand-gestures from the driver or passenger. Yeah we heard that joke too.
We eagerly await more details about this Neue Klasse, and all of the vehicles that this new design language will transform in the coming years. We do wonder how this reimagined BMW sedan fares against its ancestors. So many sport sedans had tried and failed to surpass the excellent driving experience of the 3 Series over entire generations. Will this new class set a new standard of its own? No pressure, BMW, but we'll get the magazine covers ready.