Strengths and weaknesses:
- lots of torque
- fuel economy
- slick 6-speed stick
- that gorgeous red paint is $800 extra
Best BMW 3 improves threefold on driving fun
"More economical operation was the main aim of the engineers in Munich when they redesigned the 3 Series sedans for 2012."
The new 2012 BMW 3 Series sedans arrived in showrooms in February 2012, and it’s not a stretch to say they’re the best yet. I know, I know - you could say that every time the German automaker comes out with a new generation of its top-selling vehicle and each time it would be true.
It’s also saying a lot because the previous generation was named World Car of the Year when it made its debut in 2006.
Since first gaining the attention of enthusiast drivers in 1975, the 3 Series has continued to grow and evolve and is now in its sixth generation.
Our test car is the mid-range 328i sedan - a step up from the base 320i, and a little short of the performance offered by the 335i. But that doesn’t mean the 328i isn’t a comfortable and capable sports sedan. With a base price of $43,600 ($50,650 as tested), it’s a lot of car for the money and as much car as most drivers need in the land of 100 km/h speed limits.
The 328i is powered by a new aluminum 2.0-litre turbocharged “four” that offers better performance than the old model’s inline-six - 0-100 km/h in 6.1 seconds - plus reasonable fuel economy - 7.4 L/100km in real world driving.
That sounds like win-win to me.
Peak torque of 258 lb.-ft. arrives early - at 1,250 rpm - and the curve doesn’t start to flatten out until almost 5,000 rpm. Our test car’s excellent six-speed stick is smooth and strong in all gears. You could drive at 100+ km/h in third or cruise quietly all day in fourth at speeds guaranteed to attract unwanted attention from the authorities. An eight-speed automatic is a no cost option and although it makes the 328i marginally slower (0-100 in 6.3 seconds) it is much easier on gas, both in town and on the highway.
And more economical operation was the main aim of the engineers in Munich when they redesigned the 3 Series sedans for 2012.
For instance, if you select the ECO PRO mode, everything from shifting gears to operation of the automatic climate control system becomes geared to improving fuel consumption. The onboard computer will warn you when uneconomical speeds are reached and display how much farther your driving range will be if you follow instructions.
For 2012 the 328i has shed 75 kg, which not only aids fuel economy but makes the sedan feel lighter and more nimble than its predecessor. The electric power steering is also lighter than hydraulic systems and has great feel.
Our 328i has a console-mounted switch with settings for Comfort, Sport and Sport+ - which activates dynamic traction control. You really can feel the difference in throttle response when switching from Comfort (the default setting) to Sport.
The interior sports black leather seats with brushed aluminum and diamond Black accents and feels bright and spacious thanks to the standard sliding glass sunroof.
The latest version of BMW’s iDrive interface for the audio and communication systems is standard and after many complaints, and much tweaking by BMW engineers, has been made much easier to use.
Our tester has optional BMW navigation with a screen that looks like it should pop up out of the dash, but really is fixed in place above the central air vents. It can display numerous functions including the owner’s manual and the view from the optional rear camera.
Finding the perfect driving position is easy with the 8-way power seat; however, the steering column’s tilt/telescopic functions are manually operated.
Interestingly, only the 2012 3 Series sedans are true sixth generation models. The coupe, convertible and wagon won’t catch up until next year.