We are pleased to report that today's 3 Series is plush in Comfort mode and not painful even in Sport or Sport+ modes.
Mark Hinchliffe road tests and reviews the 2012 BMW 3 Series at its Australian launch.
The new BMW 3 Series sets a high benchmark with a bigger body, more room, greater safety, higher technology, more dynamic performance and smaller, more powerful and "greener" engines.
The new model lines make price comparisons difficult, but there has been a slight increase in base models and substantial decreases in middle and flagship models. As all but the 335i have economy figures lower than 7L/100km, they save buyers the luxury car tax. There is also a substantial increase in creature features and hi-tech driver aids, so value has improved, forcing Mercedes-Benz to recently make some price adjustments to combat the coming model.
Initially we get the sedan variants in base and three trim "lines" (modern, sport and luxury), with two transmissions and three engines, two of which have different outputs. However, because of production schedules, the entry level 118d and 120i models will not arrive until the middle of the year.
BMW Group Australia product and market planning manager Toni Andreevski says the new model lines make customer buying decisions easier, but it still makes my brain hurt thinking about the choices. He admits that half of all buyers will simply choose a car off the dealer's showroom floor, anyway.
As usual, there is also a host of options such as adaptive M suspension (up to $2200 depending on model), sunroof (up to $2900), TV (up to $2250) and satnav (up to $2000).
Many will mourn the passing of a straight-six naturally aspirated engine in a 3 Series, but the new all-turbo line-up will write a new chapter in BMW history.
Top of the range is the three-litre twin-turbo six 335i, but the new hero car is expected to be the 328i with its high-spirited 180kW of power offset by low fuel consumption figures of 6.3 litres per 100km. The same two-litre petrol engine in the 320i has 40kW less power but is only 0.3L/100km lighter on fuel. At $9300 less, it is expected to be the big seller. The two-litre diesel engines also come in two output variants. The 320d has 135kW of power and 389Nm of torque compared with the 318i with 105kW/320Nm, but they have the same economy figures of a paltry 4.5L/100km.
All models come with stop-start, but even Mazda is about to introduce that technology across many in its range.
Another new feature is Driving Experience Control or driving modes where you can switch between an economy mode that is claimed to save up to 20 per cent on fuel, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ where even the traction control can be adjusted to suit. The 318d doesn't get the Sport+ mode. They come standard with an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifts (except 318d) or an optional six-speed manual.
You have to squint to notice the exterior difference, but the overall impression, thanks to sculpted flanks and slitty-eyed headlights, is that the car has gone on a diet. It's all smoke and mirrors, though. Or at least aerodynamic lines and a cinched-in waist. Thankfully, the rather austere interior has been fussed up a bit with multi layers of trim. Gone are the vast acres of oppressive rubberized plastics.
There are several trim styles to chose from, but worst-trim-ever award goes to the knotty "driftwood" in the Modern line with its rough texture. It is extreme kitsch and should be immediately omitted from the options. Drivers have been acknowledged with controls angled toward them and there are now even cup holders in the centre console and large map pockets.
Standard in all 3 Series is an Active Protection package that you can feel as soon as you hit 18km/h and the seatbelts tighten up. At 20km/h the doors lock and you know BMW is looking out for your safety. There are many other safety driver aids and secondary safety features, but one of the smartest is an automatic brake that engages if the vehicle is involved in a crash to prevent it rolling into the path of another vehicle for a secondary collision. It's smart thinking like this that has kept German car manufacturers at the forefront of automotive safety.
BMW fully expects to receive a five-star merit badge from the ANCAP safety assessors. But we are still concerned about the lack of a spare tyre and the fact that a rearview camera is not standard issue.
BMW has gone soft. Ever since the German manufacturer began using run-flat tyres in the 1 Series in 2004, it has been widely criticized for its harsh ride. Over the years, the suspension engineers have gradually come to grips with the restrictions of the hard tyre sidewalls while the tyre manufacturers have also evolved into their four generation of rubber and fund some subtlety.
We are pleased to report that today's 3 Series is plush in Comfort mode and not painful even in Sport or Sport+ modes. The national launch was held this week on lumpy Yarra Valley roads, a tough test for any vehicle. Here, the vehicle felt poised and planted. It almost floated in Comfort setting.
All engines are refined, smooth and quiet; even the diesel. Drivers will learn to love the Driving Experience Control button next to the transmission. Push that button forward from Eco Pro to Normal to Sport and then Sport+ and with each mode the steering tightens, the throttle sharpens, the transmission quickens and so does your pulse rate. It sends a tingle back through your fingers, toes and the seat of your trousers. You feel so much in control. This is simply the best electronic steering I have felt.
Although the dimensions are bigger, it is difficult to feel the extra space in the cabin. But the less chunky dashboard and lighter colours at least provide an airy feeling. In the back, the legroom, headroom and shoulder room provide ample comfort for two adults or three children, while access is easier with wider-opening doors. Out back there is also a 20-litre bigger boot that conveniently opens automatically if you wave your leg under the rear bumper, just so long as you have the keys in your pocket.
Australia's harsh sun plays havoc on the instruments with plenty of reflective glare, yet the new stand-up satnav is the best I have seen in direct sunlight. It is also better positioned so drivers don't have to look as far away from the road in front to view the map.
We mainly drove the new hero model 328i on the launch and found it has more than enough wick to light most drivers' fuses. It fairly sizzles at the top end, but it's the usable torque that comes on song from as low as 1000rpm that will put a smile on most drivers' faces. Only the true enthusiasts will want to spring the extra $25,000 for the 335i. As for the 320d, it feels the extra weight in the front and, although we are assured the suspension is the same as the petrol models, it feels a little soggier.
Our heart belongs to the 328i, but it might pay to wait around another six months for the 320i. That could be the performance/price sweetspot. Besides, orders already have a six-month waiting list.
BMW 3 SERIES
Pricing: 318d - $56,400, 320i - $57,600, 320d - $60,900, 328i - $66,900, 335i - $91,900
Trim options: 318d Modern Line ($3900), Sport/Luxury Line ($4900) 320i/d Modern Line ($3100), Sport/Luxury Line ($4100) 328i/335i Modern Line ($1000), Sport/Luxury Line ($2000)
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Resale: 65 per cent (est)
Service interval: 12 months/15,000km
Engines: 2L, 4-cyl turbo petrol, 180kW/350Nm (328i) and 135kW/270Nm (320i); 3L, 6-cyl turbo petrol 225kW/400Nm; 2L, 4-cyl turbo diesel, 135kW/380Nm (320d) and 105kW/320Nm (318d)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, auto stop-start, 6-speed manual option, rear-wheel drive
Thirst: 6.3L/100km (328i), 6 (320i); 7.2 (335i); 4.5 (320d/318d)
CO2 g/km: 147 (328i), 141 (320i); 169 (335i); 118 (320d/318d)
Safety: 5 star (expected)
Body: 4-door, 5-seat
Dimensions: 4624mm (L), 1811mm (W), 1429mm (H), 2810mm (WB)
Volvo S60 T5 - compare this car
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Engine:2-litre 4-cyl turbo-petrol, 177kW/320Nm
Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch auto
Body: 4-door sedan
Thirst: 8.6 l/100km; 204g/km CO2
Mercedes-Benz C250- compare this car
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cyl turbo, 150 kW/310 Nm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Body: 4-door sedan
Thirst: 7.2 L/100km, 167g/km C02
AUDI A4 2.0T-compare this car
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo petrol, 132kW/320Nm
Transmission: CVT, front-wheel drive
Body: 4-door sedan
Thirst: 7.1L/100km, 154g/km C02.