The next-generation edition of the best-selling BMW 3 Series has been unveiled, giving the world an in-depth look at the sedan that will go on sale in the first quarter of next year as a 2012 model. The 2012 BMW 3 Series sedan, which will eventually be followed by coupe and convertible body styles, represents an evolutionary improvement over the current edition of the entry-level luxury car and one which highlights technology and fuel efficiency.
Appearance-wise, the new 2012 BMW 3 Series offers a bolder take on the sedan's recent sheet metal trappings, with a more prominent "nose" jutting out the brand's trademark kidney grille farther than ever before. The vehicle's lower fascia is also more complicated, and a pronounced arch in the hood rises up from the top of the grille to meet the windshield. A prominent crease runs along the side of the 3 Series sedan just underneath the its door handles while the automobile's rear end comes across as somewhat stubbier than what was found on last year's model. Taillight and headlight treatments do not stray too far from the established 3 Series design language, nor does the roofline differ dramatically from the BMW sedan playbook.
The 2012 sedan is a bigger vehicle than the 2011 BMW 3 Series, and it comes across that way in person thanks in part to details incorporated from the brand's larger 5 Series and 7 Series automobiles. Wider and longer than the model it replaces, the 2012 BMW 3 Series manages to tip the scales nearly 90 lbs lighter. Inside, passenger accommodations have improved to the tune of nearly a full inch of additional rear leg room, and a larger trunk has also been provided. BMW will be dividing production of the 3 Series sedan along three distinct "lines" or trim levels, known as the Sport, Luxury and Modern lines. This strategy, which echoes the approach taken by Mercedes-Benz with the C-Class, organizes the interior and exterior appearance of the sedan according to specific aesthetics. BMW will also be offering an M Sport package with the 2012 3 Series sedan.
Under the hood, the big news for the 2012 BMW 3 Series is that it will offer a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder as its entry-level power plant. The 3 Series has not offered a four-cylinder motor in North America since 1998, and the new unit provides a substantial 240 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, with the latter coming on at a very low 1,250 rpm. Dubbed the BMW 328i, performance for the most affordable version of the 2012 3 Series sedan remains impressive, with the German brand claiming a 0-60-mph time of 5.7 seconds. Of course, the primary reason BMW went with fewer cylinders in the new 328i was to improve fuel economy, and although EPA ratings have yet to be announced, highway figures above 30-mpg are expected. The turbocharged four-cylinder can be matched with either a six-speed manual transmission or an eight-speed automatic.
Those seeking a power boost over the base model BMW 3 Series can opt for the turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine found under the hood of the BMW 335i. Horsepower (300) and torque (300 lb-ft) remains steady, matching 2011's output, and while the vehicle is quicker than the previous generation 335i it doesn't offer a huge leg-up over the new four-cylinder model. Transmission choices remain the same for the more powerful sedan and fuel mileage is projected to improve over last year's 28-mpg highway rating. Both the four and six-cylinder versions of the 3 Series will also offer a Driving Dynamics Control feature, which can configure the vehicle's drivetrain for Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and ECO PRO operating modes, with the latter designed to squeeze every last mile out a single tank of gas.
The most frugal version of the upcoming BMW 3 Series will be the 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 3, a hybrid edition of the sedan that will debut roughly eight months after the gasoline-only models. The ActiveHybrid 3 pairs an electric motor with the same turbocharged six-cylinder engine found in the 335i, adding 35 extra horsepower and another 30 lb-ft of twist. Fuel mileage is also improved by roughly 12 percent over the standard 335i, giving the ActiveHybrid 3 not just more grunt but also a less powerful thirst at the fuel pump. The BMW 3 Series hybrid will offer an all-electric mode at low speeds (with a battery range of up to 2.5 miles) and a standard eight-speed automatic transmission.
The 2012 BMW 3 Series sedan manages to make dramatic improvements to the vehicle's power and fuel economy without rocking the boat in terms of style or comfort. Although some might point to the homogenization of BMW's lineup, the 3 Series has been given enough personality that it seems likely to continue in its role as the most popular of the entry-level Teutonic luxury car pack.