First Drive: 2012 BMW 3 Series reviews luxury cars bmw first drives
2012 BMW 3 Series. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Paul Williams

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2012 BMW 3 Series

Barcelona, Spain – It’s that time again: an all-new BMW 3 Series. Of all the cars in BMW’s line-up, a new 3 Series is one you absolutely don’t want to get wrong, as this is the company’s best-selling car worldwide, representing nearly one-third of BMW’s manufacturing output.

Although the 1 Series is now the “entry” level BMW, it has been the 3 Series that since 1975 has affirmed one’s arrival into the brand. The 3 Series, in its various forms, remains one of the most aspirational of sports sedans.

BMW Design Manager David Carp would have been given a rather challenging brief — likely the same brief as his predecessors — and he said as much at the 3 Series launch in Barcelona: modernize it, improve it, don’t change it too much, don’t screw it up.

First Drive: 2012 BMW 3 Series reviews luxury cars bmw first drives
2012 BMW 3 Series. Click image to enlarge

To my eye, the new model develops some design elements from the previous generation and moves on from others. That car (the fifth generation; 2006-2011) seemed less Germanic, more Asian in some of its features, especially at the rear. With the latest generation, the 3 Series acquires a more obvious wedge shape front-to-rear, with sharp character lines running the length of the body to emphasize that profile. At the front, the lenses of the familiar double headlights stretch inwards, now connecting with the traditional kidney-shaped grille, giving the car more attitude. At the rear, the lights return to the L-shape from two generations ago — albeit slimmer — one of the most definitive and successful looks for the 3 Series.

For 2012, the 3 Series grows in size. Not too much, mind you, but enough that at first glance on the road you might fleetingly mistake it for a 5 Series. A full 93 millimetres is added to its length, and 37 mm and 47 mm are added to the front and rear track, respectively. The wheelbase is up by 50 mm, giving occupants a little extra room in the 3 Series cabin. Overall weight is down by 40 kilograms (equipment equalized).

First Drive: 2012 BMW 3 Series reviews luxury cars bmw first drives
2012 BMW 3 Series. Click image to enlarge

So it looks (and is) wider and longer, and revives the more linear, horizontal expression of the 3 Series form. The character lines suggest motion while visually lengthening the body; the aggressive shape of the front and rear lights make the car look angry, or at least impatient, whether approaching or departing. It looks ready to get going; to do its job.

The interior has also been fully redesigned, maintaining certain features (the smallish but precise analog gauges) but adding a sleek touchpad style display and an optional head-up display. The dashboard design, door panels and centre console are also new, with the centre console now acquiring two drink holders in front of the shifter.

Initially there will be a choice of two engines available at the vehicle’s launch in February, 2012. The 335i receives the 3.0-litre “twin-scroll” turbocharged, direct-injected engine from the outgoing model, although it has been refined to increase fuel efficiency while maintaining its output of 300 hp and 300 lb.-ft. torque. Acceleration from 0-100 km/h is achieved in an estimated 5.5 seconds (5.4 seconds, 0-60 mph stated) in the 2012 BMW 335i, and fuel consumption is a combined 7.9 L/100 km manual, 7.2 L/100 km automatic on the European cycle.

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