Where do you even start with BMW’s all-time-favourite 3 Series?
Bring up BMW and it’s the first vehicle you think about. Talk about sports sedans and the conversation is more likely than not to include it. Discuss the most balanced and rewarding cars to own, and there it is again. The 3 Series is a benchmark for intelligent automotive design, and the standard against which all other cars in its class (and others) are compared.
With this in mind, it’s an understatement to say that the 3 Series is an important vehicle for BMW. As the German automaker’s highest-volume seller and the face of the brand, the 3 Series carries a huge weight on its shoulders. Redesigns come with great expectations, and everyone knows it — from designers and BMW executives to loyal owners and bitter rivals.
As a result, it should come as no surprise that the new, sixth-generation 3 Series is better than its predecessor in almost every imaginable way. The 2012 model is an ideal representation of the modern BMW, significantly enhancing design and technology without compromising the spirit that has made the 3 Series such a success over the years.
Long-time fans will, of course, notice the introduction of a turbocharged 2.0L inline-four as the base engine, and some may wonder about this choice. Worry not, as this is an exceptional and fuel-efficient powerplant that is well-suited to the 3 Series. And if you absolutely must have a V6, then that’s still an option, of course.
The greater concern may be BMW’s decision to move from hydraulic to electric steering. The car handles as well as ever and new owners won’t have cause to complain, but drivers who trade in their current 3 Series cars may notice a bit less road feedback due to the new steering system. It’s not enough of a reason to avoid the 2012 model, as the vast improvements in other areas outweigh this minor setback. If anything, it’s a reminder that as fantastic as the 3 Series is, it’s not perfect.
With so much going for it, the 3 Series finds itself in a familiar spot at the head of the class. The bar has been officially raised in the highly competitive sports-sedan market, and it’ll be interesting to see how the competition responds.
The new inline-four is an excellent engine with great character and smooth power delivery, and the 3.0L inline-six remains one of the best engines in BMW’s arsenal. While the 320i sacrifices power for fuel efficiency, all three models are responsive and a joy to drive. Even if you notice the slightly more artificial feeling of the electric steering, you won’t be disappointed with the results. Thanks to the new steering and an excellent suspension, the 3 Series is confident and comfortable, with great control and nimble handling.
To save fuel, the 3 Series adopts the practice of shutting down the engine when the car is idling. However, the system is far too quick, engaging as soon as the car stops and becoming an annoyance at stop signs and in rush-hour traffic. You can turn it off, but have to do so every time you start the car.
Starting at $35,900, the 3-Series is available in 320i, 328i and 335i models, primarily reflecting the three different engine choices. The Sport, Luxury and Modern lines are only available with the 328i and 335i trims.
Standard equipment on the base 320i includes notable features such as ABS, traction control, automatic air conditioning, power-adjustable and heated front seats, Bluetooth, iDrive and front/side/side-curtain airbags.
Additional features, available as options or on higher trims, include a sunroof, lane-departure warning system, blind-spot detection, Park Distance Control, Park Assistant, heads-up display, rearview camera, harmon/kardon surround-sound system, sport seats, GPS navigation, heated steering wheel and Xenon headlamps.
Fuel efficiency for the 320i with a manual transmission is rated at 8.4L/100km in the city and 5.5L/100km on the highway.
Rakish and customizable exterior design; modernized cabin styling and features; fantastic performance.
Boring rear-end styling; slightly artificial steering; quick start/stop engine function; unnecessary BMW Apps functionality.
The bottom line
If you’ve always wanted a 3 Series, you’ll want this one even more.