2012 BMW 3-Series

MONTEREY, Calif. — Arguably the benchmark by which all sport sedans are measured, BMW has introduced the sixth generation of its iconic 3-Series sport sedan. If BMW had it right the first time, which seems to be the general consensus, then imagine what the 2012 version — five generations removed from the original — must be like.

The first indication the company felt they had it right was the program they set for testing by journalists. It wasn’t just a straight, here-to-there interstate; Bavarians don’t play that game. Rather, half the day was spent running the vehicles on the legendary Laguna Seca Raceway here in Monterey, California. The course is about 2.5 miles of challenging bends and twists. The last-half of the day was spent driving the curvy mountain roads of Big Sur, one of the most awesome drives in the hemisphere. The 3-Series was equally at home traversing both.

For 2012, the BMW 3-Series comes in two sedan models: the 328i and the 335i, and in four trim levels; Sport Line, Luxury Line, Modern Line and M Sport package.

The 2012 is initially offered with two high-torque, refined and fuel-efficient engines, both featuring the latest BMS TwinPower Turbo technology. The 328i is powered by a new 2.0-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine, delivering 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. It’s the first 4-cylinder since 1999. The 335i is powered by an inline 3.0-liter 6-cylinder that pumps out 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. Both are mated to either a six-speed manual transmission or an eight-speed automatic. As good as the automatic transmission is there’s still no beating the feel of a smooth manual gear box.

Zero-60 mph times for the 328i with equipped with the manual is 5.7 seconds; 5.9 seconds with automatic. The 335i 0-60 is 5.4 seconds with either transmission.

Precision chassis engineering provides handling agility and increased comfort. The fact the 3 Series is rear-wheel-drive means all the power on acceleration is transferred to the rear for better grip and balance. High-strength structure and lightweight design, teamed with a high-efficient restraint system, provides maximum occupant protection. A host of standard and available safety features make the 2012 version the safest 3- Series model ever.

The new BMW face features elongated headlights reaching out to the BMW signature kidney grille gives it a sense of width and strengthens its overall athletic profile. LED accent lights are positioned like eyebrows above the twin headlights with corona rings. The contoured rear view of the new 3-Series sports twin, chrome exhaust extensions and shouts out that this isn’t a mass-produced “people’s car.” The 328i sits on 17” wheels; the 335i has 18s.

Fuel-saving features are abundant including Auto Start-Stop function, Brake Energy Regeneration and need-based operation of ancillary components, like an on-demand air-conditioning compressor. Add all that to a the new Driving Dynamics Control Switch that allows the driver to choose between Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and ECO PRO mode and it enhances mileage even further. (Later in the model year BMW will unveil an Active Hybrid 3.)

Behind the wheel and it’s obvious the 3-Series is a driver’s car. The cockpit wraps around the driver and puts all the important controls within easy reach. The cockpit itself is angled towards the driver by seven degrees. Four circular dials (fuel gauge, speedometer, tachometer, and oil temperature) come with a black panel display.

The freestanding iDrive monitor with a slim, trans-reflective high-resolution display resembles the latest flat-screen televisions. While the system has fewer critics we did encounter physical interference with the controller caused by inadvertent bumping from both the driver’s and passenger’s position. While it’s not the end of the world it still can be an annoyance.

There are a plethora of technologies available including a new generation head-up display; an active blind spot detection system; Parking Assist and Lane Departure Warning Systems; and a Collision Warning system. A large selection of options and packages are available for the new 3-Series

Considering its legendary status and reputation, the 2012 3-Series is in a sense surprising affordable. Including destination and handling of $895 the base price of a 328i Sedan is $35,795 and $43,295 for the 335i.

BMW’s tag line is “the ultimate driving machine,” as such the venerable 3-Series has proven through its past five generations its owners aren’t just buying a car; rather, they’re making an investment in a lifestyle.

— Al Vinikour