The 2012 BMW 3-Series is still very much a compact sedan—and a sport sedan at that, which means that interior space could potentially take second stage to hitting the perfect proportions and weight distribution for performance.
Luckily, BMW has hit those targets while also making the new 3-Series just a little bit roomier inside. At about 183 inches long—a few inches longer than the previous version—the 3-Series is still very much compact by U.S. standards. About two inches of that new length goes to wheelbase, and that translates almost directly to extra legroom in back.
The extra inch or so the new 3-Series earns in back, combined with better seat contouring, now means that it's possible to fit adults in back, though longer-legged types will still likely be splaying their knees to the side (and ducking heads on entry/exit). If you plan to travel vast distances with a passenger more in the back seat, you could do much better. That said, it'll fit the kids and even some smaller adults just fine, and, after all, it's a 3-Series, not an executive limo.
In front, there's enough space for those of nearly any size or body type to get comfortable, thanks to a very wide range of adjustability, whether you get the base seats or the Sport model's upgraded seats with extending thigh bolsters plus stronger side bolstering.
While the decklid itself is rather small—as it the opening, for large items—trunk space is impressive. And just as with several other new-car models, you can make a short movement with your foot under the rear bumper to unlock (and open, with spring force) the trunk.
Ergonomically, the 3-Series feels well designed, and the latest version of iDrive—which requires you to use a multi-way controller down on the center console to navigate menus for non-essential functions—is much easier to intuit. And at this time when everyone is adding more buttons to the steering wheel, the design in the 2012 BMW 3-Series is refreshingly simple. Although the design speaks “luxury” more than “sport sedan,” we like the thick rim and smaller-diameter feel.
Ride quality is superb in the 3-Series models; while the base 328i setup is definitely the most isolated, thanks mainly to its slightly higher-profile tires, you don't sacrifice all that much in going with one of the sportier tire and wheel combinations.
You'll find a bit of road noise in the 3-Series on some of the coarser surfaces, but it's nothing compared to some other models in this class like the Infiniti G37 or Lexus IS 350. There's no engine noise at cruising speeds with either of the 3-Series models; they're geared about the same, which brings the four-cylinder into a very low rpm range for highway cruising—and assures an excellent EPA highway rating of 34 or 36 mpg.
The engine sound from the 328i is a bit unfortunate, though. In lower-rpm puttering around town, we noticed a distinct direct-injection clatter. Six-cylinder models have a little more song in their breathing—and a more pleasant tone in general—to help cancel out those mechanical noises.