E21. E30. E36. E46. E90. F30. To the most people, it’s nothing but alphanumeric gibberish. Read them off to my mother and she would probably stand up and yell, “Bingo!” But car guys, real car guys, know these numbers well –- the six generations of the legendary BMW 3 Series. And the seventh, chassis code G20, is about to hit.
I haven’t actually seen the new G20. The 330i prototype that I’m driving is completely camouflaged from bumper to bumper to keep competitors guessing and spy photographers frustrated, although there’s probably a twin-kidney grille and a Hofmeister kink under there somewhere. Thick cloth covers the majority of the interior controls with cutouts for the gauges, shifter and other essentials. The fit and finish are better than many other mules I’ve driven. Even the black electrical tape wrapped around the air conditioning vents is artistically applied.
To achieve that balance, the engine is still set as far back in the chassis as possible. “Any further back and we would have to move the driver’s seat,” says engineer Robert Rothmiller. They have also changed the front subframe from steel to aluminum and they’ve widened it, along with the A-arms. Both the front and rear tracks are now 1.2 inches wider, which matches the track width of the current 4 Series Gran Coupe, but there are no carryover parts from that model. The chassis is stiffer, too, with the strength of the front strut mounts increasing an incredible 50 percent.
But the team still has work to do. Members are still making changes to the electric steering system and fine-tuning the suspensions bushings and other components. Tweaking the steering can be done on the fly. With engineer Mischa Bachmann riding shotgun with his laptop, I push the car through the German countryside, navigating the hilly, twisty and narrow two-lanes. Turn in is sharper than it is in the F30, and the sedan is soaking up mid-corner bumps brilliantly. I can tell in just a few miles that this is an easy car to drive quickly.
I’ve been driving like an enthusiast, hustling the car, both hands on the wheel, my thumbs on its leather-wrapped spokes. Bachman says something like, “You’re driving too much like an expert. Put one hand at the top of the wheel and tell me if it feels different.” I’m surprised by the request, but comply, slowing to a mellow pace, my left hand at 12 o’clock and my right elbow resting on the console. He strokes a few keys. “Now what do you think?” he asks.
I can tell he added damping and returned the effort to the original level. And it does feel better than before. “Ha,” I say. “I guess this is the way most Americans drive. I just didn’t realize you tuned for it.” He smiles.