2012 BMW 3 Series | first drive
Did you know that one-third of BMW sales are directly related to the BMW 3 Series and that 12.5 million units have been sold since it’s launch in 1975? Well, that was the question I was asking myself as I sat in the briefing room at the Dubai Autodrome, listening to the official presentation whilst pin legged models got ready to take the covers off the all-new 3 Series. This is the 6th generation and is possibly one of the most awaited cars of 2012.
In pictures the this car appears overly aggressive, but in the flesh it seemed clean cut, executive and purposeful. It is arguably the best looking car in the entry-level executive segment, trumping the likes of the very conservatively designed Mercedes-Benz C 350 Sedan and the simplistic Audi A4. Some prominent design features that remain are the kidney grille but the sheet metal that wraps the whole car is all new and sleek enough to boast a of drag coefficient of mere 0.26. The bonnet has an extra pair of creases and a total of four to accentuate BMW’s current design theme. The headlamps have a more three-dimensional effect the rear gets the LED light bars like that on the flagship models. Three variants of this new car will be available; the sportline, modern line and luxury line. Besides some chrome detailing and different alloys, the cars are pretty much the same. They mentioned that the M sports suspension and will be available as an option in the months to come. BMW has also managed to free up extra space for rear passengers.
Boot space has increased to 480-litre and in typical European style the rear seat are split in a 40:20:40 configuration for added versatility. Assuming there will be more engine options, the cars on display at the launch were the 328i and the 335i. The 328i, which in BMW naming tradition indicates a 3.0-litre inline 6-cylinder engine under the hood actually has a 2-litre 4-cylinder motor producing 245bhp and 350Nm of peak torque. It clocks the 0 to 100km/h dash in a claimed 5.9 seconds.
The other was the 335i. A favourite amongst the motor awards jury the world over. It has the turbo-charged 3.0-litre V6 engine; a perennial winner at the ‘International Engine of the Year’ award. This turbo charged engine churns out a very healthy 306 horses and American muscle car like 400Nm of gut-wrenching torque. It is claimed to get to a 100km/h in 5.5 seconds from a standstill, which is impressive for a family sedan.
Both the engines force fed by a twin-scroll turbocharger and all models get the 8-speed automatic transmission. (Its obvious that BMW don’t want to lose to arch rivals Mercedes-Benz even if its about the number of cogs in the gearbox). BMW boffins have managed to shave off 45 kilograms over all and 22 kilograms come off the engine alone. A testament of the utilisation of aluminium bits and high strength steel. The weight distribution is now an even-steven 50:50. Several new features have been added such as high beam assist (we will elaborate more in our road tests) and precrash safety systems. All models come with electronic rear differential as standard.
Six journalists were allotted to one group with each of us in one car. Luckily, I got hold of a 335i and I relished the experience. The throttle response is bloody good. Impressive amount of torque is present at all engine speeds and to even mention the term turbo lag is blasphemy. This is closest you can get to naturally aspirated feel from a turbocharged engine.
We also conducted emergency lane changing manoeuvres where the car appeared quite flickable. It lacks a bit of confidence the tyre squealed a bit. With a solid intention of avoiding all contact with the Armco and the tirewall, I managed to reach a top speed of 180km/h when the organisers gave us the go.Switching to the 328i, I immediately realised that this is no track car. The 2-litre makes commendable power for the road but for the track it felt slightly asthmatic compared to what I drove before it. High speed braking in both cars was marred by stability issues and the car was swerving all over, possibly because the tyres had not been run-in and by rule of thumb you need almost 300km to 500km on the tyres to get optimal performance. Both cars displayed typical rear-wheel drive attributes in relation to steering and throttle input. It was almost they were gyrating off their centre of gravity. That sort of behaviour is good for the competent driver. We then did three rounds of the track following a pace car of course, so we had to keep our behaviour at bay, none the less it was a great opportunity to exploit a few of the Beemers capabilities.
The new BMW 3 Series will stick to its image as the popular choice for anyone looking to buy a compact executive saloon. We are looking forward to full-fledged test drive to see if the all-new 3 Series fits the bill.