2012 BMW 3 Series Road Test Review
An all-new 2012 BMW 3 Series offers a new take on the iconic sports sedan.
Scores High: An impressive balance of luxury and sport in a well-executed package — BMW has built another segment benchmark.
Scores Low: Cost of entry is high, especially when compared to its competitors, and adding a list of must-have options will only drive the price skyward. Cabin is unexpectedly noisy and rear-seat room is still snug for adults.
Total Car Score Analysis
The 2012 BMW 3 Series earns a high Total Car Score, indicating this all-new sixth-generation sedan is a strong successor to its award-winning predecessor.
Aside from the new fuel-efficient turbocharged four-cylinder engine and smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission, the new 3 Series is nearly unchanged under the skin — this means driving dynamics and traditional BMW handling qualities remain intact. However, one look inside the cabin confirms the 3 Series has not only become slightly larger and more accommodating, but it has also moved significantly upscale.
In addition, a long list of standard equipment and new innovative technology promises to keep BMW's most popular model an ongoing thorn in the side of the competition. Keep in mind that the sedan variant is the first of the new models to go on sale. Wagon, coupe and convertible variants are still based on the previous-generation model, but their successors will be phased in over the next couple of years.
The BMW 3 Series has long been a segment benchmark for its excellent driving dynamics and strong powerplants — and the all-new "F30" platform does not waver from this recipe. The redesigned sedan arrives with a choice of engines. Under the steel hood of the 328i is a new turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four rated at 240 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque (purists many complain, as it replaces last year's buttery-smooth 3.0-liter inline-six; but it is lighter and develops more power while delivering better fuel economy than its predecessor). The 335i arrives with last year's turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six rated at 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. Enthusiasts will be pleased to find a six-speed manual transmission as standard equipment. However, that traditional gearbox is overshadowed by the optional, and excellent in all aspects, eight-speed automatic transmission. The automatic delivers quicker acceleration and better fuel economy. At its launch all 3 Series sedan models will be rear-wheel drive, but an all-wheel drive option arrives by the end of the year.
Acceleration is rapid, regardless of the model. The 335i will hit 60 mph in about five seconds with the 328i trailing by only half-a-second. The top speed of both 3 Series sedans is limited to 130 mph (standard trim) or 150 mph (sport trim), depending on equipment packages. New for 2012, BMW has made its Driving Dynamics Control (DDC) standard. The electronic system allows the driver to adjust steering weight and throttle response from the cockpit. On models with the optional Adaptive M Suspension, shock damping is also adjusted via DDC interface. Regardless of the setting, ride quality is properly modulated over even the harshest bumps and impacts. Braking is also a strong point. With enthusiasts in mind, BMW has upgraded the standard brakes on the 335i models with four-piston calipers and larger rotors (the 328i continues with single-piston calipers). These improved components make the 3 Series easy to modulate when pressing the “stop” pedal, with braking distances short and straight.
With a near 50/50 weight balance, the new 3 Series drives beautifully. The sedan handles corners effortlessly and is easy to control at the limit. While the exhaust note is pleasant in the six-cylinder 335i, the four-cylinder 328i sounds a bit rough at idle — yet both are quite smooth at highway speeds. Interstate travel is effortless, as the sedan feels solid and planted and the new electric steering (a first for the 3 Series) delivers confident feedback. Our only major complaint is with cabin noise — in an effort to keep weight down, BMW has eliminated some of the heavy sound insulation, letting some of its competitors have quieter cabins. Enthusiasts need not worry, as most will consider it a quality the automaker utilizes to make the driving experience more engaging.
Interior Design and Function
BMW cabins have always been designed around the driver, and the new 3 Series predictably follows the same theme. While the new interior is decidedly more upscale than its predecessor, with unique contrasting materials and trims, the small BMW remains a driver's car. All controls are easy to reach and intuitive, from the door-mounted window switchgear to the revised iDrive interface just forward of the center armrest. Of note: BMW has moved the cruise control from its position on a stalk (as was the case with every previous 3 Series) to the steering wheel.
New for 2012, and standard on all models, is a 6.5-inch full color display for the iDrive infotainment system. The multi-function screen is high-mounted in the center of the dashboard. Upgrade to the optional navigation system and the screen grows by a couple inches in diameter and its functionality is increased. Cabin lighting is upscale, with LED illumination offering a choice between bathing the cabin in a red or white glow.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive (8-way power front seats are standard). Our test car was a Sport Line model, meaning it was fitted with unique sport bucket seats offering more side bolstering, a sport steering wheel and aluminum trim. The rear seats have grown marginally, but large adults will still find them less-than-accommodating on long trips. The trunk is generously sized, with a large opening making loading and unloading easy. While it has taken the automaker decades, BMW has finally spring-loaded its trunk lid — it will swing open by itself when activated via the key fob or interior switch.
Primary Features and Options
The all-new 2012 3 Series sedan (335i and 328i) is sold in base configuration with high-grade vinyl upholstery, or in one of three different upgraded trim lines: Sport, Modern and Luxury. Sport models are equipped with a sport suspension, black exterior mirror caps and high-gloss black accents. Inside, they receive leather sport seats, s sport steering wheel and high-gloss black or aluminum trim. The Modern models arrive with matte chrome accents on the exterior. Inside, they are appointed with a light-colored leather steering wheel, oyster-colored instrumentation, and other light accents. All Luxury models feature bright chrome exterior accents. Inside the Luxury models consumers will find fine wood interior trims, leather upholstery with exclusive stitching and chrome trim.
Major stand-alone option packages on the 3 Series sedan include the Premium package ($3,600), Cold Weather package ($1,350), Driver Assistance package ($1,100), Parking package ($1,550), Premium Sound package ($950) and the Technology package ($2,550)
It’s Perfect For…
BMW's memorable tag line, brought back for 2012, is "The Ultimate Driving Machine." After driving the all-new 3 Series, and putting it through its paces, we can only agree.
This small BMW is the perfect companion for a driving enthusiast with the need for a sport sedan that is equally as capable on the highway or being tossed around the corners at an afternoon club driving school. But don't overlook its luxury side, as the 3 Series will delicately deliver its passengers to the gloved hands of the country club valet that same evening.
While other automakers futilely attempt to build a better sport sedan, all seem to pale in relation to the BMW 3 Series — the reigning Bavarian benchmark.
Vehicle Tested: 2012 BMW 3 Series 335i Sedan Sport Line
Base MSRP of Test Vehicle: $42,400
Options on Test Vehicle: Alpine White paint (included), Dakota Coral Red leather (included), Sport Line package ($1,700), Adaptive M Suspension ($900), Premium Package ($1,900), Split fold-down rear seats ($475), Heated front seats ($500), Satellite radio with w/1 year subscription ($350), BMW Assist w/enhanced Bluetooth and USB ($650), Destination ($895)
MSRP of Test Vehicle (including destination charge): $49,770
The manufacturer provided Total Car Score this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Photos Courtesy of the manufacturer.