For one and all
"The latest 3 Series is good. It has to be, as it's the bar by which all others are measured. Problem: The latest F30 may be far too good."
In most cases, cars are identified as being part of a brand. Others define the brands but fewer still, transcend brands all together. The Corvette is one such car that rises above its Chevrolet roots, yet it does not stand as the brand's image.
Allow me to give a different perspective. Take the subject of this review, the BMW 3 Series. This car needs no introduction, no make association; in fact, it defines its manufacturer. This fact is even more surprising given that, up until a few years ago in North America, it was the entry-level car. Such stand-out cars have rarely been basic cars; in fact, I can think only of the Fiat 500 and Volkswagen Beetle as having similar stature.
The latest 3 Series therefore has another huge pair of shoes to fill, as has always been the case since the earliest E21 3 Series from the mid-1970s. Every subsequent generation brought something more to the table and the F30 is no different except that it's completely different.
BMW steel and leather
The most recent cars to leave the Munich-based company are on the absolute cuff of automotive design, constantly leaving most other makes scrambling back to their drawing boards. There must be something in the water in that area of Germany, as the same comments apply to Audi.
As I was saying, the new BMW 3 Series is stunning, monstrously sexy and determined to win over hearts and maintain its statute of a highly-desirable car. It does. The longer and wider car looks longer and wider which is partially tragic, as this is the first time the 3 Series has substantially grown within the segment in which it competes and operates.
The immediate benefit to the occupants is the increase in total volume that especially affects the rear-seat area. The trunk also grows and all of this combines to make the new 3 Series hospitable, comfortable, cozy and agreeable. These adjectives were once reserved for Lexus...
BMW has a iPhone connectivity system it calls ConnectedDrive which generated mixed comments. My colleague Olivier wrote a review on the system.
The seats are still top-notch, incredibly supportive and just as capable holding humans in place on a track or on a country drive. The dashboard has joined the current world of BMW with two horizontal pods of controls nestled in a far busier and angled jumble of plastics and leathers. The look, particularly the tested Sport model with its three-tone aluminum/red/black inserts, is attractive despite sacrificing ergonomics for design.
As with the previous E90 3 Series, the 2012 BMW 335i sports a turbocharged 3.0L inline six-cylinder engine. This silky smooth and brilliant motor still produces an even 300 hp and equal torque but is now far more fuel efficient.
Of note, a new 320i is now the base car and features a turbocharged 2.0L inline-four. It is rated at 181 hp and the 328i, which carries the same 1,997cc engine, delivers 241 hp. All trims can be delivered with a snickity 6-speed manual or an 8-speed automatic transmission.
The combination of the two sixes, cylinders and gears, make for a quick Bavarian rocket, capable of launching the 1,620-kg (3,571-lb) RWD sedan to 100 km/h in 5.7 seconds. Quick on paper and very much so on the road, the BMW 335i has all the attributes of a hugely competent ground-covering machine.
In any circumstance, the new F30 is supremely at ease and this savoir-faire permeates up to the driver, making him or her believe that the faultless carving of corners, lane changes, bursts of speed and perfect braking are the doing of the driver. This is only partially the case.
Driving Experience Control
Among the range of drive modes available using the console-mounted rocker switch, the EcoPro mode makes you feel good about doing more to save fuel; however nice, this is not in character with what this car is about. Cycling through to Sport steadily enhances and sharpens the BMW 335i's reflexes.
The car suddenly develops all 300 hp, the suspension tightens up like a bodybuilder in the middle of 1,000 reps, steering becomes scalpel-like, and you immediately you find yourself knocking back gears and lanes as though injected with adrenaline. The car more than delivers, making you feel like Sebastien Loeb in the middle of the Dakar Rally.
The Bimmer's near-perfect 49/51 weight distribution shines as the driver is boss. Unfortunately, the driver has done nothing to deserve this sentiment. This is fantastic for average drivers and tragic for those that have always bought BMWs, because the car's abilities allowed real driving enthusiasts to fully express themselves.
The new 2012 BMW 3 Series Sedan is, as always, a phenomenal car. In a time where today's youth isn't as excited at the thought of driving as, say, I was 20 years ago, such a generally perfect car that is poster-worthy and has a starting price of $35,900 is ingenious.
This price includes auto start/stop, which is another brilliant move. Although mildly annoying at first, you will smirk when stuck in traffic while the BMW is "off" and most other cars are needlessly running. It all works as I averaged an impressively low 9.5L/100 km.
My tested 335i Sport topped out at a rapid-blink-inducing $62,100. In fact, the only option it did not have was the autobox.
It's tough to bitch about this car because it is so proficient, so flawless. This is, in the end, its greatest fault, but what do I know?
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Editor's Review Highlights
2012 BMW 3 Series Sedan Specifications
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