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First Look: Redesigned 2012 BMW 3-Series

Maker claims new model larger yet lighter, more fuel-efficient.

by on Oct.14, 2011

The 2012 BMW 3-Series is both larger and lighter.

BMW has pulled the covers off its next-generation 3-Series line-up, revealing a new compact line-up that it says is bigger – yet lighter and more fuel-efficient.

The new model features a revised front end that is more in line with its larger lines, including the BMW 5- and 7-Series models.

While final fuel economy numbers haven’t been released, the Bavarian maker anticipates they will be notably better than with comparable models in the outgoing 3-Series line-up – even though the 2012 versions should also deliver better performance.

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The 2012 3-Series body grows about 3.7 inches in length, with the wheelbase stretched just under 2 inches.  The front track is 1.5 inches wider, the rear 1.85 inches.  BMW claims that will be particularly obvious to rear-seat passengers, though the trunk is also more capacious.  The average model will be about 88 pounds lighter than the old 2011 3-Series versions.

The 328i gets a new 4-cylinder engine while the 2012 BMW 335i stays with the current inline-six.

The new models, collectively the best-seller in the BMW portfolio, feature a more wedge-shaped silhouette, with a more athletic face clearly influenced by the latest 5-Series.  Perhaps the most distinctive feature is the widened yet more squat and forward leaning reinterpretation of the classic BMW kidney grilles.  The more clearly defined headlight surrounds now link to the grille and are accented by eyebrow-like LED lamps.  Two large air intakes replace the older model’s single intake.

The next-generation 328i, for example, will launch from 0 to 60 in just 5.7 seconds, with its top speed electronically limited at 130 mph.  That’s despite migrating from the old car’s 3.0-liter inline-six to a new 2.0-liter inline-four that makes 240 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque.

The 2012 BMW 335i will maintain its current single-turbo 3.0-liter inline-six.  But for the new generation that engine is paired with a variety of new fuel-saving technologies, including a new 8-speed automatic, (with an optional 6-speed manual also available), as well as Auto Start-Stop and Brake Energy Regeneration.

The longer body and wheelbase means significantly more interior space for the 2012 3-Series remake.

An M-Series version will follow though details weren’t released during today’s news conference in Germany.  But an M Sport Package, with some key components of a full-blown M3, will be available from launch.  That will get a buyer such niceties as the M Sport suspension and M shifter.

Also on the schedule: a gas-electric version to be dubbed the BMW ActiveHybrid 3.  Due to market late in the 2012 model-year, it will be a full hybrid system – meaning the ability to drive short distances solely in electric mode.  When both gas and electric drive systems kick in together the hybrid will be able to pump out a combined 335 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque.

As is typical with BMW, the new 3-Series shares in a variety of technologies that have migrated down from some of the marque’s higher-end products, including Heads-Up Display and Blind Spot Detection, as well as Lane Departure Warning and Collision Avoidance.

Rear-drive versions will reach U.S. showrooms by spring, the all-wheel-drive xDrive models will follow by summer.

BMW isn’t saying how much the new 2012 3-Series models will go for, but they currently start at around $35,000.

The 3-Series is the best-selling model in the expanding BMW line-up, generating 60,000 sales in the U.S. alone through the end of September.  By comparison, the second most-popular model in the compact luxury segment, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, has generated 39,000 sales.  Mercedes will update the C-Class for 2012, as well.

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