- Poise and handling
- Strong, economical engines
- Quick-shifting 8-speed automatic
- Electric power steering, done right
- Excellent brakes
- 328’s four-cylinder sounds
- BMW Apps is iPhone-only
- Some cabin-trim combos look busy
The 2012 BMW 3-Series delivers the class-leading sport-sedan performance and handling enthusiasts have come to expect, yet it makes substantial improvements in fuel-efficiency, active safety, and connectivity.
The BMW 3-Series has an unparalleled reputation as the dynamic benchmark among sport sedans. Yet with increasing pressure from the market not only to bring more connectivity, technology, and style into cabins, but also to increase gas mileage, is it possible to maintain the 3's poise while also meeting luxury-shopper expectations?
Surprisingly, yes. For 2012, the sixth-generation 3-Series arrives—in sedan form—and BMW has carefully found a line that should appease sport-sedan shoppers and longtime BMW fans alike. The automaker has made the 3-Series slightly larger and allowed a number of advanced-tech options to trickle down from the 5- and 7-Series models, while being careful not to obscure the responsive powertrains, phenomenal agility and dynamic balance, and the driver's seat thrills that have made the 3er such a longtime benchmark.
Coupes, convertibles, and the M3 all continue for 2012 under the current E90 versions, and they're unchanged (for the Coupes and Convertibles, please see our review here), but sedans are completely redesigned (and code-named F30 for enthusiasts)—and distinguished at first glance by their larger greenhouse, more actively sculpted flanks, and wider front-end look.
The new 2012 3-Series sedans are nearly four inches longer than the previous models, with two inches of extra wheelbase; about an inch of that goes to increased rear legroom, and that extra bit goes a long way. The 3-Series still isn't good for having adults ride in the back seat on long road trips, but most will now find it tight but tolerable back there. Front seats, whether the base perches or the more heavily bolstered ones that come with the Sport package, are supportive, comfortable, and adjustable for a wide range.
For several of its generations, the 3-Series has been powered only by in-line six-cylinder engines. But for 2012 the 3-Series gets an all-new turbocharged four-cylinder engine in 328i models. The new engine makes 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque—more than many V-6 engines—yet it hits EPA highway ratings of up to 36 mpg. That's made possible in part due to a new eight-speed automatic transmission (a six-speed manual is standard), along with a host of high-tech improvements, including Auto Start-Stop, which smartly stops the engine at stoplights to save fuel, restarting when you lift off the brake. 335i models get the latest version of BMW's turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine, making 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque.
No need to worry about losing two cylinders; any way you use it, the new four-cylinder 328i feels stronger than the six-cylinder model before it; 0-60 times clock at as little as 5.7 seconds (just 0.3 seconds faster than the 335i), and rolling into the throttle produces a strong wave of torque from just above idle (peak is reached at just 1,250 rpm) all the way up the rev range. The automatic is quick-shifting and in some models includes paddle-shifters, while the manual is enjoyable to drive with its clean, precise shift action. All the rest of what makes a good sport sedan is here; new electric power steering systems are nothing to be afraid of as they're precise and load nicely, while brakes are strong and fade-free, no matter which model.
Structurally, the 3-Series is made of more aluminum and high-strength steel than before; despite being larger and carrying more features, the new sedans weigh about 88 pounds less than their predecessors.
iDrive is now de rigueur on all 3-Series models, but it's the latest version with streamlined menus, and a new BMW Apps integration—enabling music streaming from Pandora and MOG—lets you use your smartphone's data stream. The down side is that requires a $250 smartphone holder, and it's only compatible with versions of the iPhone.
Many more of the high-tech features that BMW introduced in its 7-Series and 5-Series models a number of years ago has trickled down to the new version of the 3-Series as well—items like a head-up display (HUD), blind-spot detection, a collision-warning system, and a parking assistant are all now available. The navigation system now has real-time traffic information and excellent 3D topographical views.