The saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. That’s correct, of course, except when the more things stay the same, the more they change. And both sayings could apply to the new 2012 BMW 3-Series sedan. The 2012 3-Series is almost all new, yet this sixth generation 3-Series is true to the first. On the other hand, while each generation of the 3-Series has been true to its predecessor, the change that made the 2012 BMW 328i has been total.
The 2012 BMW marks the first year of the sixth generation of the BMW 3-Series, and as such it’s almost completely new. While the in-line turbocharged six-cylinder of the 2012 BMW 335i is carryover—as much as that advanced engine could be considered such—the BMW TwinPower Turbo four-cylinder engine has been used only on the 2012 BMW Z4 sDrive28i sports car.
More about that engine anon, but the basis of the 2012 3-Series is an all-new chassis with extensive use of high and ultra-high tensile steels, a hot-stamped B-pillar, advanced plastics and state-of-the-art composites. BMW increased the use of aluminum in the suspension system, reducing overall vehicle weight and unsprung weight of the suspension itself.
The suspension has been refined, achieving what BMW calls “perfectly tailored axle kinematics.” In front that means a double-joint axle along with aluminum torque struts, wishbones and swivel bearings for reduced weight. In the rear, the five-link suspension is an evolution of preceding generation of BMW 3-Series, a design that not only maximizes trunk room but also yields the kind of handling expected from a BMW. BMW says, “Extra-wide mounts and supports on the wheel carriers for track and camber, extremely stiff control arms, the stiff axle subframe and thrust arms connecting the suspension and body provide an excellent basis for the agile and, at the same time, comfortable overall suspension qualities of the new BMW 3 Series Sedan.” Got that?
Two different braking systems are used for the BMW 3-Series front brakes, a floating caliper arrangement for the 328i and four-piston fixed calipers for the 335i. For both, the calipers are aluminum for light weight and heat management. Listing the features of the 3-Series braking systems looks like someone dropped a Scrabble game: Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) that includes Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Automatic Stability Control (ASC), Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), Dynamic Brake Control (DBC) and Cornering Brake Control (CBC), along with start-off assist, brake drying and an electronic limited slip function for the rear differential, which can be activated using the “DSC Off” button. New high word score for BMW.
The chassis leads to the body, naturally, and once again, BMW has massaged the 3-Series double-kidney face (there’s a combination of words seldom seen in close proximity, with the exception of Scrabble), with wider headlights extending inwards to the grille, which BMW says is “wide, squat [and] upright, slightly forward-slanting.” The quad headlights keep the corona rings (with Xenon) but the lights now have the obligatory LED accent lights set like eyebrows (Xenon-equipped cars only).
The hood is more highly contoured than before with a raised center section, and the sides of the car feature double creases at shoulder level, one from the headlights fading out as it goes back, the fading in and running back to the taillights. It looks better than it reads, really.
It’s not all appearances, however. The body contours, along with underbody shields to smooth flow under the car and add a diffuser effect to the rear to reduce drag. The BMW 3-Series also has the “air curtain” aerodynamic system that combines scoops at the outer edges of the front fascia that at high speed directs air around the front wheels, reducing drag in that area of the vehicle. The wheel-opening air curtain system was first used on the BMW 1-Series M.
It takes a BMW junky to see the styling difference without another 3-Series next to it, but once seen, the previous generation looks positively antiquated.
The interior will look familiar to BMW fans, with a lot of horizontal lines across the dash, with even the hood over the instrument panel horizontal. As with other recent BMWs, the screen for the nav and infotainment systems sits atop the dash, looking like it should retract but doesn’t. The center console has an unusual layout, especially for BMW. It’s asymmetric—not all that uncommon, but BMW sets the iDrive controller over beyond a diagonal line, almost compartmentalizing the driving stuff—i.e., the shifter—from everything else.