These days, what does a sedan have to do to compete with SUVs & crossovers? Well, it’s simple really, grow longer…
Long wheelbase sedans from the German luxury triumvirate of Audi, BMW and Mercedes have been all the rage in China for some time now. But it was Mercedes-Benz that first took the plunge in India. A few years ago, they took it upon themselves to invest in the tooling to develop a right-hand-drive version of the long-wheelbase E-Class – and that move was an absolute masterstroke.
In one fell swoop, the LWB E-Class decimated the challenge posed by the Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series in India. After all, it offered S-Class rivalling space and comfort for a lot less money. It was a no brainer really!
Now, BMW has taken the same logic and applied it to the 3 Series segment – hoping to get a similar jump on the Audi A4 and Mercedes Benz C-Class. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that the 3 and 5 Series were the mainstay on the sales charts of the Bavarian automaker. These sedans, which prioritised driving dynamics above all else, were their bread and butter. But a lot has changed in the past decade, or so. Big boots and bigger grilles are the flavour of the season, and a ‘command driving position’ trumps low slung intimacy every day of the week.
So, BMW had to think fast before the 3 Series got relegated even further to the fringes thanks to its ‘X’ range of SUVs. But while the E-Class had only comfort to think about, the 3 Series has built its reputation on its ability to carve corners – so, can BMW balance this newfound space and comfort while staying true to their ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ heritage?
I’ve owned various generations of the 3 Series, so I take this question very seriously indeed. What I can tell you is this – modern chassis technology has led to huge advances in torsional rigidity and stiffness, which is something that not only aids handling of course but comfort as well. As a result, today’s sedans are able to hit that sweet spot between ride and handling that was so elusive previously. Having said that, BMW has very deliberately made the suspension set up of the 3 Series Gran Limousine softer to better suit its more comfort-oriented target audience. That apart, it still remains the best handling sedan in its segment – well, besides the regular 3 Series that is.
Personally, I would opt for the LWB 3, but put on a set of aftermarket Bilstein B6 mono-tube shocks to get the best of both worlds – ultimate handling and comfort. But, more importantly, I would revel in the intimacy and dynamics that no SUV or crossover can match.
So, can a long-wheelbase 3 Series really put the entry-level luxury sedan segment back into the consideration set of buyers who would otherwise have written off sedans? Well, only time will tell, but I certainly hope so…