An aggressive focus on adding fuel-economy is a notable highlight of the all-new BMW 3 series, which will showcase efficiency enhancers like an eight-speed automatic transmission, turbocharged I4 engine, lowered curb weight, an ECO PRO driving mode, an automatic stop/start system and even a new ActiveHybrid 3 model when the lineup goes on sale in February of 2012. And by doing so without sacrificing its performance credentials in the least, the completely redesigned 3 Series will certainly be putting a modern-day spin on its ability to provide an ultimate driving experience.
With that in mind, here are the top five ways the 2012 BMW 3 Series is raising the fuel-efficiency stakes in one of the most demanding segments in the industry.
Introducing the ActiveHybrid 3
BMW has staked out a relatively strong position as a hybrid automaker in the premium segments, thanks to the ActiveHybrid powertrain system available for drivers of the BMW X6, BMW 5 Series and BMW 7 Series. The ActiveHybrid 3 will leverage this same technology—but recalibrated specifically for use in the 3 Series—to deliver a similar mix of BMW performance and improved fuel economy. The hybrid version of the automaker’s best seller will feature BMW’s proven twin-turbo I6, tuned to deliver 300 hp and 300 lb.-ft. of torque, as well as an integrated electric motor that can tack on an extra 55 horses and 35 lb.-ft. of torque in short bursts. Yet at the same time, the car is capable of 36.7 mpg in European testing and is expect to raise U.S. fuel-economy ratings by more than 12.5 percent—which would mean an EPA highway mark that’s comfortably over 30 mpg.
A Segment-first Eight-speed Automatic
Eight-speed automatic transmissions are starting to proliferate throughout the industry, but the unit available in the 2012 3 Series will be the first in the premium compact sedan segment. The optional transmission—a six-speed DIY gearbox is standard—will be offered on both I4- and I6-powered models. And this includes 3 Series entries kitted out with BMW’s hi-po Sport Line and M Sport packages; however, the transmission has been enhanced for superior performance in the latter two 3 Series configurations, offering quicker shift times, steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters and BMW’s console-mounted Quickshift gear-selector lever. BMW engineers also put the eight-speed transmission on a strict diet, with the result being that the new unit is similar in size and weight to previous six-speed automatics even though it offers drivers two more gear ratios. What’s more, the eight-speed transmission is so efficient that 2012 3 Series models equipped with the advanced cog-swapper are expected to deliver higher fuel-efficiency ratings than those with the standard six-speed manual.
BMW’s Next-Gen Twin-turbo I4 Engine
The 2012 BMW 328i also marks the return of four-cylinder power to the 3 Series lineup, in the form of the cutting-edge 2.0-liter twin-turbo engine introduced in the BMW Z4 sDrive28i. Kitted out with a wide range of the latest BMW TwinPower Turbo technologies, including twin-scroll turbocharging, advanced valvetrain features and high-precision direct injection, the powerplant was designed in accordance with BMW’s EfficientDynamics strategies to deliver six-cylinder power—and refinement—while returning four-cylinder fuel-economy ratings. And while the four-cylinder 3 Series is still awaiting its final EPA ratings, BMW hasn’t delayed in announcing that the lightweight engine can transform 240 hp and 260 lb.-ft. of torque into 0-60 times 5.7 seconds and an electronically governed top speed of 130 mph (155 mph in Sport Line models).
Driving Dynamics Control with ECO PRO
Athletic reflexes, nimble handling and a precision-tuned suspension are all, of course, de rigueur in the BMW 3 Series, but the 2012 lineup allows drivers to further fine-tune the car’s responses with the automaker’s Driving Dynamics Control system—now featuring an ECO PRO mode developed for efficiency-oriented drivers and driving scenarios. ECO PRO offers a two-pronged approach to helping boost fuel economy, adjusting key vehicle systems while empowering drivers to make their own adjustments in driving styles. As regards the former, ECO PRO changes accelerator and shift mapping to regulate power delivery, and also enables “intelligent” management of the electrical load put on the car by its climate systems and other electrical systems. For the latter, drivers are provided with an enhanced range of displays in the 3 Series’ instrument cluster, providing real-time feedback that helps “coach” more efficient driving skills. The bottom line: BMW claims a reduction of up to 20 percent in the car’s thirst for fuel. (And to be clear, Driving Dynamics Control offers enhancements for owners looking for more performance and/or coddling, too, with SPORT, SPORT+ and COMFORT driving modes.)
Running through all these advances and more—in fact, extending through every facet of the 3 Series’ new lineup—is a comprehensive approach to vehicle design that BMW calls “EfficientDynamics.” It’s a strategy that aims at building on the automaker’s storied performance credentials but in a way that goes hand-in-hand with today’s need for increased fuel economy and decreased emissions. In practical terms, this means going beyond wholesale changes like offering hybrid and four-cylinder models to also deploying more incremental mileage-makers like Auto Stop/Start and Brake Energy Regeneration. The former turns off the car’s engine when the vehicle is stationary, such as when it’s stopped at a traffic light, then seamlessly restarts the powerplant as soon as the driver’s foot releases the brake. The latter allows the 3 Series, as well as other BMW vehicles, to create power for their electrical systems solely through regenerative braking and coasting—instead of putting an additional, fuel-eating load on the engine.