The 3 Series sedan is all-new for 2012, but the other body styles carry over unchanged. Regardless, this BMW stalwart remains a well-rounded and highly desirable entry-level luxury car.
The 2012 BMW 3 Series sedan has been fully redesigned. Highlights include updated styling, additional interior room and new engine and transmission options that bring about better fuel economy and power. The 2012 3 Series coupe, convertible and wagon models are unchanged and still belong to the previous generation.
Don't mess with a good thing. You can imagine these words hanging above the engineers and designers who created the redesigned 2012 BMW 3 Series. It wouldn't be far-fetched to call the 3 Series a legend, as it has collected countless accolades, a devoted customer base and excellent sales during its five previous generations. It has consistently been the benchmark for which all others in its price segment are judged. In other words, it's a big deal when a new 3 Series is introduced.
For this year, BMW is introducing the new sedan only. The coupe, convertible and wagon (all of which we still highly recommend) are unchanged other than gaining some extra standard equipment. As for the sedan, its evolutionary look draws liberally from the 5 Series, but the 3's new nose is a break from tradition, with headlight clusters that meet widened kidney grilles. The interior gets a far more visually interesting design than the rather plain one it replaces. The addition of three optional "equipment lines" -- Luxury, Sport and Modern -- bring with them different color schemes and trim materials that add to the 3's customization potential.
The new 3 Series sedan is larger than the outgoing car but actually weighs less, thanks, in part, to increased use of aluminum in the revised suspension. The steering is now electrically driven; this helps to increase fuel efficiency, though it's lost a bit of that trademark BMW steering feel in the process. Like all recently introduced BMW models, the 3 Series gets Driving Dynamics Control, which allows the driver to select among four modes that alter throttle response, steering effort and shift patterns of the automatic transmission.
Under the hood, the base model 328i sedan loses its naturally aspirated inline-6 in favor of a turbocharged four-cylinder that produces more power and torque and also achieves truly incredible fuel economy. BMW purists may cringe at the words "four-cylinder," but it's quicker than the old car and vastly more efficient to boot. Those purists will at least be happy to hear that the 335i's turbocharged inline-6 carries on. A new, optional eight-speed automatic transmission and a fuel-saving auto stop/start system round out the powertrain changes.
Every 2012 BMW 3 Series comes standard with antilock brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. The sedan gets front knee airbags. The convertible lacks the side curtains, but the regular front side airbags extend up to head level and there are also pop-up rollover hoops. The stability control system integrates several features designed to improve braking performance, such as periodically wiping the brake rotors dry when the windshield wipers are in use and automatically snugging the pads to the rotors when the driver abruptly lifts off the throttle. BMW Assist emergency communications is optional.
In Edmunds brake testing, a 328i with 18-inch summer tires came to a stop from 60 mph in 115 feet, an average distance for this type of car with summer tires.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 3 Series sedan the highest possible rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset, side and roof strength tests. The convertible received a "Good" in its frontal-offset crash test and the second-lowest "Marginal" score in the side-impact test.