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2012 BMW 3 Series (First Look)
The most important model in the Bimmer lineup adapts to keep up with the times

Trust BMW to find a way to deal with restrictions while still providing a better car. But can the 3 Series please everyone?

By Malcolm Gunn

2012 BMW 3 Series: Extra distance between the front and rear wheels means more cabin room, which is welcome because the 3 Series is not a very big car.Arriving in early 2012, the car that's literally the 'franchise' for BMW seems headed in an entirely new direction. If nothing else, the 3 Series has kept up with the times, which call for significant improvements in fuel economy as well as a tread-lightly footprint that reaffirms and enhances an auto manufacturer's environmental awareness.

At the same time, BMW has had to maintain the passion and performance that has helped its star performer maintain its top-rung status.

The 2012 3 Series walks the walk in fine style. The sleeker-looking sedan is nearly 9 cm longer and about 5 cm wider overall. Additionally, the distance between the front and rear wheels has increased by about 5 cm, which is good news for second-row passengers who benefit from improved shoulder, leg and hip room.

The changes to the car's basic shape mean a low-slung appearance, especially the front end that's more aerodynamic than the 2011 version. But important for those who appreciate unrestricted views of the passing scenery, the 3 Series maintains its sensible low-waist, tall-window design along with thin roof and door pillars.

Despite its larger dimensions, the base 328i sedan is about 40 kg lighter than the outgoing model, although this slimming down relates to the loss of two of the engine's cylinders. The previous 230-hp inline six-cylinder has been replaced by a 240-hp 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder. The powerplant, which is also showing up in other BMW products, including the larger 5 Series and Z4 roadster, makes 260 lb-ft of torque and can propel the 3 Series sedan to 100 km/h in about six seconds, which is just a touch longer than the 335i's time. That model retains its 300-hp six-cylinder turbocharged engine, but both powerplants now benefit from a new eight-speed automatic transmission. The manually inclined, however, can stick with the six-speed gearbox.

2102 BMW 3 Series: Covered in plastic and tubing, what you can't see is the fact the new base engine has just four cylinders. It's turbocharged, which means there's more power on hand when needed than what the previous base six-cylinder provided. Sitting in front is the intercooler, which reduces the temperature of the intake charge for more consistent performance.Final numbers aren't known as yet, but BMW expects the turbo-four to handily beat the previous 11.3 l/100 km city and 7.0 highway fuel-economy ratings. The new 3 Series also focuses on fuel efficiency in other ways. An electric air conditioning compressor functions on a demand-only basis and a new feature shuts off the engine when you're stopped at intersections, red lights and other gridlock-related pauses, then instantly fires it up again when it's time to roll.

To offset the added power needs, the 3 Series features Brake Energy Regeneration. This system converts the kinetic energy produced when coasting or braking into electrical energy that is then fed to the battery.

Also standard on all models is a Driving Dynamics Control with four different settings, according to how vigorously you wish to pilot your Bimmer. The most fuel-efficient setting is the ECO PRO mode that, when activated, cuts the horsepower to save fuel (as much as 20%, according to BMW). In ECO PRO, a special instrument-panel display indicates how far the 3's range has been extended.

Other cool technology options include steering that varies its ratios based on driver inputs. For example, it can adjust steering-wheel rotations by up to 25% (handy when pulling a U-turn).  

That's just a taste of the techno-wizardry afoot in the new Bimmer, content that is likely to spread across the rest of the 3 Series line. And with three new option groupings -- Sport Line, Luxury Line and Modern Line -- there will likely be an equipment level to fit most budgets in this class.
All-wheel-drive versions of the sedan will arrive shortly after the official launch, followed by a new M3 performance model plus a gasoline-electric ActiveHybrid. And, of course, a revised coupe, convertible and possibly a new wagon will eventually be released.
In an ever-changing environment -- business and otherwise -- the BMW 3 Series has adapted while still giving drivers precisely what they expect: a car that keeps up with times and continues as a technology, performance and fashion leader.  

What you should know: 2012 BMW 3 Series sedan

2012 BMW 3 Series is roomier and gets better fuel economy than the 2011 model. It comes to showrooms in early 2012.Type: Four-door, rear-wheel-drive entry-luxury sedan

Engines (hp): 2.0-litre DOHC I4, turbocharged (240); 3.0-litre DOHC I6, turbocharged (300)

Transmissions: Six-speed manual; eight-speed automatic (opt.)

Market position: BMW's range of 3 Series offerings are considered among the best entry-luxury sedans on the market and are frequently used by competing automakers as benchmarks for similarly targeted automobiles.

Key points:
- Popular Bimmer blends power with lower fuel consumption;
- Turbo four-cylinder's stout low-speed thrust should help attract performance-minded buyers
- Small-sized base engine not likely to reduce base price
- Who would have thought taming BMW's power with an 'Eco' switch would ever be offered
- Continued strong 3 Series demand is expected. Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.

L/100 km (city/hwy): 11.0/6.5 (2.0, AT, est.)

Base price (incl. destination): $40,000 (est.)  

By comparison

Mercedes-Benz C-class
Base price: $38,000
Classy sedan offers something for everyone in content and performance.  

Audi A4
Base price: $39,300
Competent sedan with a neatly styled interior. Base turbo I4 runs strong.  

Cadillac CTS
Base price: $38,500
Sharp looks and comfy cabin keep buyers happy. CTS-V a very quick ride.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!

Posted Dec. 6, 2011. © TM


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