The idea of a powerful sports sedan and fuel efficiency would seem to be in direct opposition.
But BMW, the top purveyor of the sports sedan – and most would say, the originator of the concept – is taking on the challenge head on.
BMW rolled out a more efficient new 3-series, it’s most important model, at the Detroit Auto Show on Monday. The sixth-generation model reintroduces a four cylinder engine to the U.S. market, but the automaker also showed the first hybrid version of its most important model.
The 2012 model is expected to go on sale next month. Replacing the outgoing model’s standard 3.0-liter straight six, the new four-cylinder is a turbocharged 2.0 liter producing 240 horsepower powering the base 328i. The 300-horsepower, single-turbo 3.0-liter carries over in the 335i.
There will also be a hybrid version, which will combine a 335-horsepower gasoline engine with an electric motor to provide about 37 miles per gallon highway. Called ActiveHybrid 3, it is expected to go on sale in the fall.
The four-door sedan comes first, but eventually, there will be coupe, convertible and high-performance M3 versions.
The new 3 will have a ton of new features. Park assist will help with parallel parking. The Eco Pro driving mode – in addition to comfort and sport modes – coaches drivers to achieve better fuel mileage and shows them how many extra miles they’ve achieved. Standard start/stop and a new eight-speed automatic transmission – a traditional torque converter design – will further increase fuel mileage. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, but while it is expected to provide better performance, fuel mileage won’t be as good as the automatic.
The 3 will be available in three basic lines, with several options to customize each:
- Sport builds on the car’s already sporty nature
- Luxury adds refinement
- Modern uses more natural materials in the interior
“These elements are the spirit of the Ultimate Driving Machine and they are in every one of our vehicles,” BMW Board Member Ian Robertson said.
The new car rides on a 1.9-inches-longer wheelbase and overall length is up 3.7 inches. BMW also claims a 30-percent increase in torsional rigidity. Despite growth in size and stiffness, the new car is expected to hold the line on weight.
BMW claims the new four cylinder is nearly as fast from a standing start to 60 mph as the outgoing base six cylinder model with an estimated time well under 6 seconds. Like the outgoing model, the turbo engine should provide 0-60 runs closer to 5 seconds.
The automaker has kept the same suspension setup – with struts up front and multi-link setup in back – but the suspension tuners took advantage of the increased rigidity and softened the suspension to improve the ride.
Two steering systems will be offered: BMW’s usual speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion system will be standard but an optional Variable Sports Steering system provides a slower 14.5:1 ratio on-center for straight-line stability and a quicker 11.1:1 ratio closer to steering lock for easier parking maneuvers.