All of the sheetmetal is new on the 2012 BMW 3 Series sedans, none of it will fit on the outgoing model. Yet few people will have trouble identifying the new models as BMW 3 Series sedans, even if the blue and white badges and the kidney-shaped grille were covered up. The short front and rear overhangs, the roofline and other styling cues are dead giveaways, even though all have been changed for 2012. Still present is the BMW Hofmeister kink at the base of the C-pillar though it's been altered.
The most noticeable styling difference for the 2012 sedans is that the headlights and grille are connected. A wide, squat interpretation of the upright, slightly forward-slanting BMW kidney grille is used. LED accent lights positioned like eyebrows above the striking twin headlights with corona rings (if xenon headlights are specified) add intensity to the classic BMW focused look.
The 2012 BMW 3 Series replaces the central air intake of its predecessor with two larger intakes, which are positioned underneath the headlights to the outer edges of the front fascia and add depth to the sporty styling. On the far left and right of the main ducts are small vertical intakes which help create an air curtain for improved air flow around the front wheels, enhanced aerodynamic efficiency and reduced fuel consumption at higher speeds.
The new 3 Series sedan is slightly larger than the outgoing model. The 2012 BMW 3 Series is 3.7 inches longer than the outgoing version, measuring 182.5 inches in overall length. Its wheelbase has grown by 1.8 inches to 182.5 inches. Front and rear overhangs are about an inch longer, though the 3 Series still has short overhangs for the class. Overall width is about the same, measuring 71.3 inches wide, 0.2 inch narrower than before. Track (the distance between the left and right wheels) has grown to 60.3 inches front and 61.9 inches rear; a significant increase of 1.2 inches in front, 1.7 inches rear. Overall height of the 3 Series sedan is 56.3 inches, an increase of 0.4 inch. The engine is set back behind front axle to improve weight distribution and handling. The 3 Series sedans are aerodynamically slippery, with a 0.29 Cd for 328i, 0.30 for 335i. Wheels are an inch larger in diameter for each model than previously.
Sport, Luxury, Modern, and M Sport are each distinguished by their unique trim. We had an opportunity to see a range of colors and found the brown and blue beautiful. Red not so much.
The cabins in the new BMW 3 Series sedans are available in four distinct themes to address the needs and desires of different types of owners: standard, Modern, Luxury, Sport. A choice of leatherettes (vinyl) and leathers is available for the different trim levels. All the seats we tried, base, Sport, Luxury, Modern, were comfortable and held us in place. We hardly took note of them, a good sign. And getting in and out of these cars was easy.
The standard interior looks like traditional BMW with matt-satin silver-colored trim. The base seats are nice. The leatherette looks and feels like leather. It's functional but boring. If you're spending this much on a car you deserve to be rewarded with one of the upgrade interiors.
The Modern interior is distinctive with its textured trim, interesting and fresh. We checked out one in the oyster-colored leather and liked it. If you enjoy design you may love it. Being traditionalists, our instinct was to reject the Modern trim but we forced ourselves to keep an open mind and were able to convince ourselves to like it. We're not sure how it will wear in the long-term, though it may make for a collector car someday. The Luxury interior is traditional, attractive and, well, luxurious, our choice for commuting, business, vacationing. Warmest and prettiest is a Luxury with tan leather and burr walnut wood. The Sport line is all about the business of driving, featuring black seats with high bolsters and black and red interior trim, our choice for serious driving or a day at the circuit or just looking manly.
Regardless of trim, the new 3 Series cockpit is oriented around driving, the dash angled slightly toward the driver bringing all controls within easy reach. Four circular dials (fuel gauge, speedometer, tachometer and oil temperature gauge) come with a black panel display. Climate controls are traditional BMW, intuitive and easy to operate. Overall, the trim is nice. Soft-touch plastic inside the interior door handles feels upscale. One gripe was the plastic glovebox latch, which looked and felt cheap.
The iDrive monitor sticks up above the dash, reminding us of a flat-screen television that pops out of a piece of furniture when switched on. Except this little flat-screen is always there: It never retract into the dash, and it isn't beautiful to behold, though it is easy to see and it does work well. The high-resolution display is wide, allowing a view of more real estate and more roads to the sides, useful when navigating. Real-time traffic information is provided, handy in metro areas that support it. Shift into Reverse and the rearview camera automatically displays what's behind the car, valuable for helping the driver spot a low post or a small child. In addition, Surround View with Side View and Top View offer a bird's-eye perspective of the vehicle and the area around it, very helpful in tight confines. If that's not enough, Parking Assistant helps the driver parallel park by finding a space, turning the steering wheel, practically parking the car itself.
With new Bluetooth office functions from BMW ConnectedDrive, internet-based weather and news is available as well as calendar entries, text messages and e-mail. All of this can be viewed on the display, and the system will even read the messages via a Text to Speech function. Passengers can access their personal music library on their iPhone or iPod inside the car. Their playlists, stored song titles and relevant album cover artwork are then displayed on the on-board monitor. The BMW Connected app allows full in-car use of web radio and calendar functions in combination with the Apple iPhone. Pandora and MOG can be accessed safely and conveniently through the iDrive controller and screen. BMW has worked diligently with Silicone Valley companies in Northern California and has established itself is a leader in this technology.
Rear-seat roominess was increased for the 2012 BMW 3 Series sedan, and there is slightly more legroom, slightly more headroom in this latest version. A pair of us sat in the back seats and found them roomy with good headroom. We think the 3 Series sedan would be a fine choice for transporting four adults out to dinner. Getting in and out of the back seats is easy. When we swung our feet out, our toes didn't hit the B-pillar.
Getting into the trunk is easier. Kick your foot under the rear bumper and the system will sense your remote control and pop the trunk lid for you, handy when walking up to the car with two armloads of groceries. The trunk is 1 cubic foot larger for 2012, and it's now about average for the class at 13 cubic feet.