It’s not very often that a smaller vehicle is a company’s flagship, but we don’t care what BMW might tell you about the 7-Series, the 3-Series is the automaker’s top dog. Its styling has always worked and never been vulgar like some other models in the BMW lineup and it’s won more awards from the automotive press than the Los Angeles Lakers.
Believe it or not, the 3-Series has been around since 1975, but it really came into its own in 1992, when it won the first of 19 straight Car and Driver 10 Best awards. In 2006, it won the World Car of the Year and also the What Car? Car of the Year. Under the hood, the 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline-six won the International Engine of the Year Awards for 2007.
To keep up with this impressive tradition, the sixth generation 3-Series unveiled at BMW’s plant in Munich has been built as a revolution and not as an evolution. The new model sets new benchmarks in terms of sporting prowess, elegance, and comfort, and has grown significantly in size compared to its predecessor: wide track - front + 37 mm; rear + 47 mm; length + 93 mm and wheelbase + 50 mm. And most importantly, next to the usual models, the new 3-Series will also be offered as a hybrid as of 2012.
UPDATE 10/17/2011: BMW has unveiled an online configurator for the new generation 3-Series. It will give you the possibility to play a bit with the exterior colors available and the wheels options, but you can also notice the differences between the three grades offered, plus the M-Sport Package. Enjoy!
UPDATE 02/03/12: BMW has just unveiled six very cool commercials for the new generation 3-Series. One of them - "The Big Grab" - will be shown during the Super Bowl. Enjoy!
UPDATE 07/06/12: BMW USA has unveiled a pretty cool configurator for the new 3-Series sedan that will give you the chance to learn about all the options BMW is offering for all the models in the line-up, including the M Sport package.
Hit the jump to read more on the BMW 3-Series.
Compared to its predecessor, the new 3-Series has grown in all dimensions, but still retains a perfect balance of sportiness and elegance. People will immediately recognize the new 3-Series thanks to its sweeping bonnet, short front overhang, long wheelbase, and set-back greenhouse typical of BMW.
However, according to BMW, the new 3-Series will be sportier than ever. For that, it has received a wide, squat interpretation of the upright, slightly forward-slanting BMW kidney grille and LED accent lights positioned like eyebrows above the striking twin headlights. The two larger intakes will replace the central air intake of its predecessor, while extra small vertical intakes positioned on the far left and right of the main ducts will help create the "Air Curtain."
On the side, BMW has opted for powerfully taut surfaces with sweeping lines for a more dynamic stance. Alongside the C-Pillar runs a fine contour line from the roof into the boot lid, giving the roof an even lower appearance from the side.
Finally, the rear gets news rear lights in customary BMW L-shaped design positioned at the outer edges of the back end and, of course, the two lines below the rear spoiler and above the bumper, which frame the rear stylistically.
The exterior is not the only aspect that has grown in dimensions: the interior also offers more space, a wide variety of storage compartments, and even greater practicality. The cockpit has been specially designed to offer the driver easy access to the important controls. The fuel gauge, speedometer, rev counter, and oil temperature gauge come with a black panel display, while the standard-fitted iDrive monitor with high-resolution display recalls the latest flatscreen televisions normally found in living rooms rather than cars.
Thanks to the extra exterior dimensions, the interior offers 15 millimeters of additional knee room and 8 millimeters of extra headroom. Next to this, BMW is also offering plenty of drinks holders and storage compartments.
Customers will have to choose between three trim levels: Sport Line, Luxury Line, and Modern Line, each offered with distinctive standard features. For example, the Sport Line will offer contrasting black and red accents on the interior: red trim rings, red scales in the circular dials, red stitching on the sports steering wheel, and a base trim strip in high-gloss black with coral red accent strips.
The Luxury Line will mostly focus on increasing the luxury level for the driver. It will add a high-gloss chrome trim strip running horizontally above the air scoop, chrome elements on the interior, high-gloss wood strips, and a choice of two upholstery materials.
The Modern Line will be offered with satinated aluminum for a more contemporary look.
Also, starting in late 2012, BMW will be offer an M Sport package with plenty of features to make the 3-Series stand out. It will add 18-inch light-alloy wheels in a hallmark M design, an M Sport suspension, and BMW Individual High-gloss Shadowline trim for the exterior. The interior will get sports seats boasting distinctive cloth/Alcantara upholstery, trim elements with blue accent strips, an M Shortshifter, M door sill finishers, an M driver’s footrest, and the new M leather steering wheel.
M Sport Package
The BMW 3-Series M Sport package includes a new M Sport suspension that drops the ride height by 10mm/0.4 in., 18 or 19-inch M alloy wheels, special body parts, chrome tailpipes, and exclusive exterior paintwork.
For the interior, the M Sport package gets distinctive cloth/Alcantara sports seats, trim elements with blue accent strips, an M Shortshifter (in models with a manual gearbox), M door sill finishers, an M driver’s footrest, and the new M leather steering wheel. The M-Sport package will also allow the driver to use the Driving Experience Control switch to vary the basic suspension characteristics between more comfortable or sportier settings.
The new BMW 3-Series will be offered with a choice of four engines - two petrol and two diesel - all of which feature the latest BMW TwinPower Turbo technology.
The base model - 328i - is powered by a brand-new 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine with an impressive output of 245 HP at 5,000 rpm and a peak torque of 258 lbs-ft developed at just 1,250 rpm and remains constant up to 4,800 rpm. This output will sprint the new 328i from standstill to 60 mph in just 5.9 seconds, while top speed will be limited to 155 mph. All this and the 3-Series will still deliver an impressive 44.1 mpg.
The most powerful version is the 335i. It features an optimized 3.0 liter six-in-line unit that delivers a total of 306 hp at 5,800 rpm and 295 lbs-ft between 1,200 and 5,000 rpm. This impressive output will help the car sprint from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.5 seconds, while top speed is once again limited to 155 mph.
The base version in the diesel line-up is the 320d. It comes equipped with a four-cylinder engine that delivers a total of 184 HP at 4,000 rpm, and powerful torque of 280 lb-ft on stream between 1,750 and 2,750 rpm. This is enough to sprint the car from 0 to 60 mph in just 7.5 seconds and up to a top speed of 146 mph, while delivering an impressive fuel economy of 62.8 mpg.
For the second diesel offering, BMW has chosen a 320d EfficientDynamics Edition powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine delivering a total of 163 HP at 4,000 rpm and 280 lbs-ft between 1,750 and 2,750 rpm. This new version will sprint from 0 to 60 mph in just 8.0 seconds and hits a top speed of 143 mph.
In late 2012, BMW has promised to offer three new models: 320i, 318d, and 316d, as well as numerous other versions, including a six-cylinder diesel unit and numerous xDrive models.
As a standard feature, all models will be offered with a six-speed manual gearbox, but as a first in its class, the new 3-Series will also be offered with an innovative eight-speed automatic transmission. This new gearbox is comparable in size and weight with the old six-speed manual, but it adds a range of innovative technical features and exceptionally high internal efficiency.
Thanks to an optimized control technology, the eight-speed transmission boasts extremely fast shift and reaction times and direct downshift capability. The electronic transmission controller can also alter the shift characteristics as required, to cater either for a more sporty or for a more relaxed, fuel-saving driving style.
A sport version will allow the driver to switch between Normal and Sport modes - this will allow the sports automatic to deliver both dynamic driving enjoyment and top-level comfort.
When Will It Go On Sale
The new generation BMW 3-Series will go on sale in February 2012 with the 328i Sedan priced from $35,795 and the 335i Sedan priced from $43,295.
By 2012, Mercedes will likely have a reworked C-Class with the latest technologies. If a slightly new model isn’t out by then, Mercedes will be facing some hard times. Though that will only be for the sedan, as we expect a C-Class Coupe to be out by that year to rival the 3-Series Coupe.
Audi will offer up the A4, but it won’t get a complete refresh until sometime around 2015, so that’s a good two or three years for it to be outclassed by the BMW. We would expect a new upgrade over that time to keep it competitive, but nothing major.
Cadillac’s CTS is just entering its heyday so we don’t expect any serious upgrades for some time. It offers up brilliant looks and a pretty good driving experience, the likes of which we haven’t seen on Cadillac models before. Will it offer the same kind of technologies as the BMW? Probably not, but it will still compete vigorously with the German sedan.
Steve Sutcliffe from AutoCar reviews the 2012 BMW 328i
Impressive new look
New engines added
Great fuel economy