A less-than-stellar Total Car Score for the 2012 BMW 3 Series reflects some unexpectedly low ratings from several review sites. These contradict the car's status as a desirable icon in the entry luxury segment.
BMW has wisely kept the main ingredients intact for the new car: great power and sharp handling, plus a healthy dose of practicality and cachet. In a break from the previous norm, the engine bay now offers a turbocharged four-cylinder unit (the 328i) instead of a standard six-cylinder, although there's still the option of a traditional straight-six (the 335i). The 3 Series remains rear-wheel drive in standard form, but all-wheel drive is available.
A newly designed body for the sedan brings about increased interior space, while new technology allows more fuel efficiency. An optional eight-speed automatic transmission joins a start/stop function and electric power steering assistance. Enthusiasts should not worry over the 3 Series losing its edge. BMW has kept the core 3 Series mojo intact.
The 3 Series does suffer from a snug cabin and limited interior storage space in the models based on the older platform (coupe, convertible and wagon). Even so, the 3 Series should be a popular choice for shoppers seeking an entry luxury car.
For 2012, the BMW 3 Series sedan is the first variant of the new platform to go on sale. The other 3 Series body styles remain on the older platform and carry into this year unchanged. Expect them to be redesigned next year.
The 2012 BMW 3 Series is available as a sedan, coupe, convertible and wagon. BMW offers each body style as a base 328i. Everything except the wagon can also be ordered as the higher 335i model. A 335is coupe and convertible are also offered. The high-performance M3 is covered separately.
The 328i sedan features a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine to deploy 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. For the 328i coupe, convertible and wagon, there’s a 3.0-liter inline-6 (normally aspirated) rated at 230 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque.
Opting for the BMW 335i gets you a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 that produces 300 hp and 300 lb-ft. The 335is has an upgraded version of this engine that makes 320 hp and 332 lb-ft (370 lb-ft during temporary overboost).
For the 3 Series, rear-wheel drive and a six-speed manual transmission are standard. All-wheel drive and an automatic transmission (eight-speed unit for the sedan, six speeds for everything else) are available. The 335is is unique in offering a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual.
On the new sedan, there's a standard trim level, but that's just the starting point for one of four packages: Sport, Luxury, Modern or M Sport. Sport features black and red accents. Luxury goes for a chromed grille, special 18-inch wheels and high-gloss wood trim. Satin-finished aluminum distinguishes the Modern trim, from the grille to various cabin trim pieces. There's no boost in power for the M Sport pack, but some cosmetic elements from BMW's performance-focused M division join sports seats to provide a more athletic aura.
Among the many equipment options are parking assistance, head-up display, blind spot detection, lane departure warning, collision warning, a rear-view camera, Bluetooth and automated trunk operation (wave a foot beneath the center of the rear bumper and the trunk lid will pop open).
The 3 Series coupe, convertible and wagon carry over from last year. That means standard features like premium vinyl upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control and a power driver seat. The convertible has a power retractable hard top. Major options include larger wheels, keyless ignition, a premium audio system and a navigation system.
The EPA rates the 2012 328i sedan at 23 mpg city, 34 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined with the six-speed manual transmission. The 328i with eight-speed automatic gets 24/36/28. The economy of the 328i and 335i (coupe, convertible, wagon) depends on configuration but expect an average around 18 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined. The 335is earns 17/24/19 mpg with the dual-clutch transmission.
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