Keeping the family values intact
MONTEREY, California — The 3 Series is BMW’s most important model. Not just because it’s their bestselling line by a considerable margin, but because it’s the car that best represents the brand throughout its existence.
The sedan version of the 2012 BMW 3 Series is the first to cross over from the fifth generation to the sixth; it will be followed by the coupe, the cabriolet and the wagon next year, and rumours are spreading that a five-door hatchback variant will also be added to the family.
After driving the new 3 Series sedan down the Pacific Coast Highway, as well as exploring its limits (and mine) on the famed Laguna Seca racetrack, it has proved worthy of carrying on the family heritage. The car has evolved marvellously, with more powerful yet more efficient powertrains, more room for rear-seat occupants and more equipment.
Improved performance, less fuel
The biggest news for the sixth-generation 3 concerns the return of a 4-cylinder engine in the model lineup. BMW hasn’t innovated here, as the Audi A4’s been available with a 4-piston mill for years, while the refreshed 2012 Mercedes-Benz C-Class is now sporting one, too.
The base 320i, a model the US market won’t get, is equipped with a turbocharged 2.0L inline-4 that develops a modest 181 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque; it’s tuned for fuel economy, as BMW expects the combined consumption will stand at 5.9L/100km when coupled to the manual transmission.
The turbo-4 hits its stride in the 328i, however, punching out 241 hp as well as 258 lb-ft of torque that peaks from 1,250 to 4,800 rpm. It will replace the 230-hp, 3.0L inline-6 of the previous generation. Yes, the sweet-sounding, naturally aspirated six is a goner and this decision might not please everyone, but the turbo-4 feels much more muscular while providing a 22% improvement in fuel economy.
The 335i is back with the same single-turbo 3.0L unit, code-named N55. As in the previous-gen car, it develops 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque, but fuel economy has been improved by 12%.
All three trims can be equipped with 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic transmissions; the latter includes paddle shifters in the 335i. And with either gearbox, all engines benefit from a stop-start system that shuts down the engine when stopped; with the 4-cylinder, however, there is a certain amount of harshness during startup.
You also get what BMW calls the ECO PRO mode: at the touch of a button, throttle response and transmission management is modified, while a thriftier use of the climate control system as well as heated seats and mirrors help save fuel even more.
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