What A Drive

When Men, Mountain And The “M” Meet

Sheer driving pleasure meets sheer driving power as we commandeer the new seventh-generation BMW 3 series across state borders on our road trip to the Great Alpine Road.

When Men, Mountain And The “M” Meet

It’s not every day you find yourself in Albury, New South Wales — unless you’re taking a road trip from Sydney to Melbourne or vice versa, in which case this regional Australian city is often a requisite stopover. And that’s sort of what we’re doing. We’ve flown an hour and a half from Sydney to land in Albury, the launch pad for our road trip in the latest seventh-generation BMW 3 series.

Said to be named after an English village, Albury sits north of the Murray River, Australia’s longest river that demarcates the border between New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria.

The city, with an urban population of just over 50,000, offers a thriving arts scene that centres around the Murray Art Museum Albury (MAMA), which underwent a A$10million (S$9.3 million) redevelopment several years ago. Lucky for us, MAMA receives few visitors on non-event days, which means museum staff and volunteers can afford to be extra friendly and chatty. It is small-town charm at its finest.

A smattering of trendy lifestyle establishments has sprung up in Albury of late, including Mr Benedict and the slightly more luxe The River Deck Cafe, nestled on the banks of the mighty Murray. The latter, a popular destination for busy brunches, languid lunches and fancy fine-dining affairs like weddings and the beautiful banquet-style spread created for our BMW Asia Pacific group, looks out onto a charming tapestry of Red Gum, Dutch Elm and London Plane trees in the picturesque Noreuil Park.

It is quickly apparent that Albury is a gorgeous gateway to high country and wine country, offering a magnificent nature reel for our road trip. Mother Nature has blessed the land with an undulating terrain as diverse as Australia’s cultural inhabitants, ranging from snow-capped mountains and high river valleys to pasture lands that stretch across the horizon.

The stage is set as we make our way in a 330i Luxury Line variant through the great expanse en route to the foothills of the Great Dividing Range, Australia’s largest mountain range running along the east coast and the world’s third-longest land-based mountain range.

The rolling landscape provided excellent ground for us to put the refreshed BMW 3 series through its paces.

The popular premium sedan (with over 15 million units sold worldwide) performs beautifully, with its 330i petrol variant now powered by a 2-litre, four-cylinder engine delivering 258hp of power between 5,000 and 6,500rpm. Peak torque, meanwhile, comes in at 400Nm from 1,550 to 4,400rpm. This presents a gain of 6hp in output and extra 50Nm of torque over its predecessor; the result of focused optimisation of the BMW TwinPower Turbo system.

The redefined ride also sits lower, weighs less and now features a 50:50 weight distribution, while new “lift-related dampers” in the standard-fitted suspension and M Sport suspension make their brand debut in our spiffy ride. This helps balance sportiness with comfort, allowing the vehicle to absorb bumps better and remain remarkably steady during dynamic cornering for a more controlled ride.

A touch longer, taller and wider than its predecessor, the new 3 series looks especially ravishing against the rural landscape.

Inside the spacious cabin, passengers can look forward to extended shoulder and elbow room in the front seats, as well as additional legroom, while the glass roof (optional) proffers an added sense of spaciousness. Ambient lighting fills the cabin with atmospherically rich illumination while the Harman Kardon premium sound system (standard on the M Sport) takes aural pleasure to another level.

Expect the latest BMW technologies, as the all-new 3 series is equipped with the BMW Operating System 7.0 plus a comprehensive suite of safety and comfort assistance systems.

Making its debut in the history of the 3 Series is BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant, activated by the voice prompt “Hey BMW”. The system, reminiscent of Apple’s Siri, responds to natural voice commands and is particularly useful during everyday driving to help the driver with numerous tasks, like on-board entertainment. You can even configure a name for your assistant.

There’s also a new-generation BMW Head-Up Display, with a larger projection surface, new graphics and additional display content, to complement the standard BMW Live Cockpit Professional comprising a fully-digital 12.3-inch instrument display and a Navigation System Professional with a 10.25-inch control display.

Also new: BMW Digital Key, which uses Near Field Communication (NFC) technology to enable the new 3 Series to be locked and unlocked from a smartphone (Android 8.0 and above). Just hold your phone up to the door handle to open the car. Once inside, you can start the engine as soon as the phone is placed in the wireless charging or smartphone tray. For nonAndroid users, just use the BMW Key Card.

It is uncertain at which point we crossed the state border from NSW to Victoria, so thoroughly immersed were we in the sheer driving pleasure of commandeering this overhauled machine.

Four hours flew by as we covered over 300km of ground to arrive at Feathertop Winery on Great Alpine Road, an award-winning winery in Alpine Valleys.

Overlooking the alpine peaks of Mount Buffalo and surrounded by native forests and rolling hills, a little bonus presented itself: the opportunity to steer an M Sport variant along the Great Alpine Road, the mountain equivalent to Victoria’s world-famous Great Ocean Road.

Sheer driving pleasure met sheer driving power as this baby propelled up to 100km/h in just 5.8 seconds on the remote stretch without compromising traction and stability, top speed of 250km/h notwithstanding.

What a ride!

This story first appeared in the March 2020 issue of A Magazine.

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