The All New 2012 BMW 3 Series
When BMW typically designs a new 3 series it is with one goal in mind- to raise the competitive bar higher. The all new F30 3 series follows the lead of 12.5 million 3 series models produced before it in offering a sporty car in a sedan package. Unlike it ‘s predecessors it is suffering somewhat from an identity crisis.
The three series buyer has shown they cover the full spectrum from automotive enthusiast to shopaholics that don ‘t even know what a dipstick is to let alone how to use one. BMW took the consumer ‘s wants and needs into consideration while developing this car- as such, it is three cars in one.
BMW engineers and designers have created three worlds within one product by offering aesthetic packages to fit the tastes of most; Luxury, Modern and Sport (thankfully in the US the fender mounted badges will cease to exist- otherwise there might have been some buyers believing they have a 7 Series competitor because their car has a “Luxury ” badge). They also developed a magic rocker switch on the center console to adjust the demeanor of the car to match that of whomever takes the wheel. This will without a doubt increase the appeal of the car to even more buyers. Two people in the same household with differing car preferences can even be in love with the same car- no more complaints of the sport suspension being too harsh for delicate behinds.
Launching a new model is a big deal to any manufacturer, but this launch in particular is the make it or break it type.The 3 Series alone accounts for over 32% of BMW ‘s total sales globally; with the US still remaining the largest market. There is no way a manufacturer can afford to create a bad product with so much at stake, but they can as the new Honda Civic proves- it is already being rushed to redesign.Thankfully for us and BMW, the new 3er picks up where the previous E90 left off and raises that competitive bar significantly.
Over the course of a few days we tested the all new 328i on highways and byways outside Barcelona, Spain as well as on the famed F1 Circuit de Catalunya.
Under normal circumstances a car increasing in size is a bad thing (see the F10 5 Series) but this time it is an improvement. How? Simply put, the limited increases in size were in the right spots for driving and creating a mere .26 coefficient of drag. The longer wheel base and wider track provide more stability, decreasing body roll while smoothing out the tarmac. Interior space for rear passengers is now acceptable for long distances. The other caveat to size is normally weight; however this go around the engineers shaved off weight thanks to the use of advanced high strength steels and increased amounts of aluminum. No weight penalty to go along with the additional footprint is pure magic.
Gone are naturally aspirated inline six cylinders, replaced by a new turbo four (N20) and the venerable inline six turbo (N55). Some may be shedding tears reading that but we can honestly say the naturally aspirated motor in the 328i will not be missed. Why? The vast majority of consumers won ‘t even realize that the new car lost two cylinders because the turbo four packs more torque, more horsepower and better fuel economy in a lighter package. Harmonics and vibration are kept in check thanks to two balance shafts and advances in friction prevention. It is fun to drive and gets the car moving quite well. All wins in our book.
Everything isn ‘t rosy though, there are a few drawbacks. The main complaints will be the exhaust sound and lack of turbine like smoothness to redline. With the N20 the power and revving is on par with the best sixes until about 500 RPMS right before redline. There is a cliff (as is the norm with most turbos) and power plummets. We found some limited turbo lag when intentionally trying to get it to lag a bit. It doesn ‘t impact the overall drivability of the car in the slightest or degrade from the character of the engine as you really need to work at getting it to show its ugly head.
BMW claims output of 240 hp with 260 ft-lbs of torque at 1250 rpms but rumors circulating the event have a major US publication getting 230+ hp at the wheels indicating BMW continues to underrate their engines. Speaking of numbers, the usually conservative BMW 0-60 times are 5.7 (manual) and 5.9 (auto). The manual is able to get to 60 in second gear while the auto shifts to third costing it the win, in every other scenario the 8 speed is quicker.
An interesting fact we picked up from Dr. Christoph Luttermann, head of drivetrain development, is that all uses of the ZF 8HP at BMW are geared identically in the transmission and the changes are made in the rear end depending on the model. This keeps cost down while also making the transmission more reliable. As always the ZF 8HP 8 speed automatic (Now a FREE Option) leaves us scratching our heads in utter awe as it acts more like a dual clutch than a slush box. With the auto we wouldn ‘t be surprised to see this drivetrain out duel the 335d as the greatest 3 Series fuel miser of all time.
Our tester had the sports springs as part of the packaging as it was a “sport ” model (NOT to be confused with the OPTIONAL M Adaptive suspension). The standard driving dynamics control has settings ranging from “Eco Pro “, the default “comfort ” to “sport ” and “sport plus “. In the latter, throttle mapping is made more direct, steering (more on that later) is firmed along with the dampers, shift points on the auto allow higher revs and DTC is engaged allowing some wheel spin and increased yaw. Each mode is different and the differences are easily discerned.
Eco Pro adds fuel economy saving tricks to the comfort setting, basically doing the opposite of what sport does. The accelerator becomes less direct, shift points are decreased to lower RPMS and additionally ancillaries like heated seats, defrosters, blowers and other creature comfort devices are stepped back a bit to decrease energy use. This is not all that noticeable but the engineers tell us that is what happens (we ‘ll have to take their word for it.) When used, ECO Pro will reinforce your new found hyper miling skills by telling you how much your range has increased.
The chassis is more rigid, the suspension more compliant and there is less body roll. The car rotates well and is surprisingly neutral for a series car when the nannies are OFF. Read that last part again- the nannies introduce understeer rather than the chassis. That is a huge deal as any 135 driver would kill for that rather than having to put the wider tires up front after spending a grand on suspension parts to get the car to rotate. All good things and make the new 328 a blast to drive.
Damn, here come the storm clouds rolling in on a fantastic party. The electric power steering is a nightmare to enthusiasts. Typical buyers won ‘t even notice the lack of communication or the lack of a defined center while in the comfort setting because this electronic system is still better than those offered in competitors cars. We even had the optional sports rack in our tester which is better than the base unit (or is it?).
Road noise is never felt, which can be a good thing stateside as the roads tend to be in disrepair, but for one reason or another the steering communicates just enough to let you help yourself out of a jam. Just before the tires are to break free you get some feedback from the leather wrapped wheel. It is enough to do the job in the hands of a driver with some skill but it would be nice to have a bit more info sooner so you can make smaller adjustments. In other BMW products offering EPS the engineers dialed in a bit more “feel ” while still taking out the road noise- the Z4 35is comes to mind- we ‘d like more of that feel here (Please).
Brakes are the typical floating caliper BMW discs that do an admirable job with little fade under track use and mountain twists. When the MSport model hits the US next June, four piston fixed calipers will become available as an option- Are they needed? Not unless you plan on tracking regularly.
The interior by far is the best offered in a 3 Series model. The dash is driver oriented and ergonomically designed. The standard floating iDrive screen is at the right height and looks well integrated. The sport seats offer ample support thanks to adjustable side bolsters (manual thigh support included as well) and a deep lower cushions. Materials are of higher quality, soft touch,contrast stitching and the overall fit and finish are at 5 Series levels now. BMW has also added additional standard equipment with F30, Bluetooth/USB/Ipod, Keyless Go, Floor Mats (thanks Toyota), Auto Start/Stop and Brake Energy Regeneration and Driving Dynamics Control.
To go along with 5 Series build quality are options that were only offered on higher priced models- the list is long: Lane Change Warning, Full Color Head ‘s Up Display, Lane Departure Warning, Parking Assistant, Rear View Camera with Surround View, BMW Apps, Hands Free Trunk Opening (It works!), and as a first in the US the new 3 will be available with optional Speed Limit Info. Speed Limit Info utilizes a windshield mounted camera in addition to data in the navigation system to display the current speed limit in the Head ‘s up Display (In the EU it has been around for sometime and works very nicely).
Can one car be ideal for so many different types of drivers? With the new optional packaging “lines ” and ability to tailor the drive to personal preferences with Dynamic Driving Control it seems so. It may appear that the new 3er is confused as to whether it is a luxury boulevard cruiser or a sporty twisty taker but at the end of the day it is more capable and better suited to do whatever the driver desires thanks to increased technology. Steering aside, there is little if anything to fault the new 3er for. Coming in with more standard options, greater fuel economy, improved design and build characteristics this car sets a high mark for the competition. Outside of the most die hard enthusiast this car is ideal- it is a winner and BMW will sell them at record numbers.
We can ‘t help imagining what this means for the F80 M3. A proper hydraulic rack, a futuristic turbo six with more power in this chassis will be unbelievable and we are dreaming about it right now.