The 5th generation that this new 3 Series replaces was a fine car in every respect. It drove well, proved reliable, and wasn’t too thirsty at the pumps. In fact – even several years after its initial launch, the “E90″ 3 series (internal code name) was still winning comparison tests with the best the competition had to offer. So what could BMW have possibly improved upon to render the all-new 3 Series a better car?
5-WAY DRIVE MODE SELECTOR
Many things, apparently, as we learned from the 3 Series’ global launch in Barcelona, Spain. To start off, BMW has implemented a new vehicle behavior switch that allows the driver to chose between five unique drive modes. The ‘game changer’ among these modes is called “Eco Pro” mode, and it introduces a slew of features that result in better economy. To start off, the gas pedal becomes stiffer and harder to press – which ultimately results in you pressing it less. A new gauge on the instrument display shows a blue bar that grows longer as you depress the gas pedal. The challenge is to keep the blue bar as short as possible – and if do you so, the car rewards you with ‘bonus’ miles you’ve gained from the current tank of gas, shown in blue under the efficiency bar. This may seem rudimentary, but it works – in fact BMW claims up to a 20% improvement in efficiency based on the system’s ability to improve driver habits.
|1. 328i models trade a straight-six for a turbocharged 4-cylinder with 240-hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, an increase of 10 hp and 60 lb-ft.
2. The 335i model retains its turbocharged straight-six with 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque, enabling a 0-60 time of 5.4 seconds.
3. Pricing for the all-new model starts at $ 35,795 for the 328i and $ 43,295 for the 335i including a $ 895 destination fee.
Eco Pro mode also introduces mechanical changes to the car when selected. The smooth and fast-shifting 8-speed automatic (optional, a 6-speed manual comes standard) is programmed to shift early and move onto the next gear as soon as possible. The transmission logic is hesitant to downshift and generally keeps the engine below 2000 rpm, thus saving fuel. The engine management is also altered for efficiency. For example, the turbo’s waste gate is less likely to dump boost pressure, thus conserving as much energy from the turbo as possible.
BMW’s Eco Pro mode represents a great execution of a fuel saving technology. We were surprised how drivable the car remained even in this fuel sipping mode; it never feels weak or feeble from behind the wheel, but constantly reminds you of its intelligent approach to fuel conservation. As a daily driver, we would leave the car in Eco Pro mode for the vast majority of our driving, and celebrate our fuel savings at the end of each trip.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is “Sport +” mode. Sport Plus wakes up the 3 Series dynamically, and earns the car its birthright in the lineup. With sharpened throttle response, tighter suspension settings, heavier weighted and more communicative steering, as well as more aggressive transmission shift logic, the 3 Series transforms itself into a proper sports sedan. The transformation is black and white; from behind the wheel it feels like you’re driving two separate cars. BMW has long been advocating their “two cars in one” design approach – at least on their performance based M branded cars. It seems that this philosophy has now made its way into their regular lineup.
In between Eco Pro mode and Sport Plus mode are Comfort, Normal and Sport modes. These three modes slice up the difference from each end of the spectrum and can be used to fine-tune the car to the road you’re on or the mood you’re in.
NEW DRIVER-FOCUSED INTERIOR
Regardless of the drive mode you’re in, BMW’s new 3 Series carries you along in a comfortable and stylish new interior – although one that’s certainly no revolution from the current lineup. A throw back to earlier BMW design, the 3 Series now features a “driver focused” interior, with the dash turned in towards the driver and all controls within easy reach. That’s not to say that the passenger will feel left out, as the interior is inclusionary of both front seats.
Fit and finish is excellent and the materials exude quality. A personal favorite is the new textured wood trim available as an option. Stained in a variety of colors, this new Poplar wood trim feels great to touch and looks sharp contrasting with nearby leathers, metals and plastics. The seats are exceedingly comfortable even after hours in the saddle, and the side bolsters hold you firmly in place during more enthusiastic driving.
Generationally the 3 Series has always grown incrementally and this sixth iteration of the is no exception to the rule. Now 3.7″ (93 mm) longer and 0.3″ (8 mm) higher, the 3 Series offers 0.6″ (15 mm) more rear legroom and treats all occupants to a more spacious cabin. The wheelbase has also been stretched, offering a more pacific ride. All aboard will have more room for luggage as the trunk space has grown by 0.7 cubic feet, now totaling 17 cubic feet in capacity. Thanks to careful use of high-strength steel, aluminum and composites, the 3 Series is now over 80 lbs lighter than its predecessor – despite the gain in size.
A top-notch audio system is supplied by Harman-Kardon and with a bit of tuning in the iDrive audio settings, this sound system can replicate any genre of music beautifully.
Speaking of the iDrive system, BMW’s proprietary infotainment system is better than ever, with direct buttons bringing you to the desired interface, and endless options available if you choose to dig deeper into the system. After only a few short minutes behind the wheel, we had our iPhone connected by Bluetooth and all settings to our taste.
ADDED TECH FEATURES FOR IMPROVED SAFETY
BMW now offers several key technologies in the 3 Series that were previously reserved for flagship models such as the 6 and 7 Series cars. A lane departure warning system vibrates the steering wheel should the car sense that you are drifting out of your lane. A blind spot monitoring system keeps an eye on your blind spot during lane changes and alerts you to a potential car in your path with a flashing orange triangle mounted on the inner aspect of the side-view mirrors and more vibration of the steering wheel. A distance warning system now alerts you if you are approaching much slower traffic and heavy braking is required. And finally, a brilliant backup camera keeps an eye on things as you reverse the car.
TURBO 4-CYLINDER REPLACES STRAIGHT-SIX
The model BMW gave us for testing purposes was the 328i sedan. The 328i is motivated by an all-new 240 hp dual-scroll single turbo 4-cylinder engine. The engine measures 2.0 liters in capacity but despite its modest displacement, this new 4 cylinder dishes out impressive power and performance. With 260 lb-ft of torque on hand from only 1250 rpm, the 328i can sprint to 62 mph (100 km/h) in an impressive 5.9 seconds with the 6-speed stick shift or 6.1 with the 8-speed auto. Fuel economy has been improved says BMW, though official numbers have yet to be released.
Some may lament the move away from traditional 6-cylinder engines in BMW’s 328i model (the 335i will continue to offer an inline-6), but thanks to two balancing shafts and clever engineering solutions, BMW’s new 4 cylinder both feels and performs as if it had two more pistons pumping. In comparison to the naturally aspirated inline-6 this engine replaces, the new 4-cylinder manages a 15% improvement in range, and pumps out 9% more torque from lower in the rev range.
When it arrives on our shores, BMW’s 2012 3 Series will offer 3 model lines: a “Modern Line” packed with tech features and techy-style, a “Luxury Line” that relaxes with its organic colors and interior appointments, and a “Sport Line” that excites with aggressive styling and fresh, young interior flare. Between the three there is sure to be a model that suits your tastes.
Offering sporty performance, impressive efficiency and low emissions, with the new 3 Series, BMW has once again improved upon the world’s leading sports sedan.
Article and photos initially published on AutoGuide by our road test editor Shawn Molnar.