The 2012 BMW 3-Series is unmistakeable as a BMW, yet it makes some visual departures from the outgoing E90 version. Most notably, its (and roofline) look—and are—longer, without being impractically low and swoopy. The 3-Series also gets a more dynamic, upwardly rising beltline that runs through the sheetmetal of its flanks—which roughly pairs with the character line that helps visually lower the hoodline. But at the same time, the actual doorlines (and windows) are quite level, with more of a greenhouse than you might expect in such a design. It's a refreshing departure from the increasingly claustrophobic, high-beltline designs that have dominated sport-sedan design for many years now.
We think the new 3-Series wears the current BMW-family front end better than any of the other models in the lineup; the familiar kidney grille is spread wide here, as are the nicely detailed headlamps that stretch around the corners, altogether giving it a wide, aggressive look from the front. At the rear, the new design of the 3-Series is at its most traditional and conservative, but there's nothing bad about it.
On the inside, there's really nothing retro or nostalgic about it; the new 3er is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor in terms of visual appeal. The slim, tablet-like optional widescreen display on the dash stands alone but fits right in. The understated but high-tech-looking appliques on the face of the dashboard, done in brushed aluminum or wood, are likewise noticeable but right at home. The new interior provides a coherence and forward-looking aesthetic missing from the last model. There are also a wide range of new options, including a tan dashboard, that weren't available on the previous model.
Three different trim lines—Luxury, Modern, and Sport—each include a distinctive look and feel. For instance, Sport cars have blacked-out detailing and red accents; Luxury-line cars come with chromed grille slats and more chrome on the outside, and glossy wood trim on the inside; Modern-line cars include satin-aluminum for the grille and brightwork, with dark oyster or black leather inside, combined with pearl trim and wood inlays.
With all the clever cut lines and transitioning surfaces inside, there's a lot of visual excitement, and that's mostly a good thing. But compared to the previous E90 version of the 3-Series, we couldn't help but think the instrument panel and door trim felt a little busy in some of its variations—especially some of the Modern and Luxury combos.