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2012 BMW 3-Series Review
2012 BMW 3-Series Review
2012 BMW 3-Series Review
by Jez Spinks

It was the original “Ultimate driving machine” but is the BMW 3-Series any longer the ultimate choice in the mid-size luxury car segment?

The BMW 3 Series is certainly no longer the dominant player in the category locally – not just in terms of sales but also all-round ability.

Mercedes-Benz’s C-Class is now a constant thorn in the side of the blue-and-white propeller badge’s signature model, closing the gap in terms of dynamics – the 3-Series’ USP – and, in recent years, extending a sales gap to its rival in the Australian market.

The new BMW 3-Series – the sixth generation in 37 years – is clearly Munich’s response.

Not only has value been sharpened for the new Three – the flagship 335i is now more than $16,000 cheaper, for example – but BMW also talks about the new 3-Series having a greater “breadth of ability”.

As we head out first in the new BMW 328i – an appropriate choice of variant given this four-cylinder turbo model replaces the 325i powered by the normally aspirated six-cylinder engine the brand was famous for – there’s an early sign of a tweak to the car’s character.

The ride is noticeably suppler than the previous model, with a more relaxed nature that makes cruising along country roads and freeways less tiring than the 3-Series of old.

2012 BMW 3-Series Review
2012 BMW 3-Series Review
2012 BMW 3-Series Review
2012 BMW 3-Series Review

There’s still a hint of stiffness from the new-generation run-flat tyres – which have harder sidewalls than the average tyre – but they don’t niggle over bumps as before.

At times the suspension borders on floatiness, a very un-BMW-like characteristic, but any fear that the 3-Series has lost any of its famed agility are quickly dispelled in the first set of corners. In fact it’s better.

There’s an element of lean to cornering but the new BMW 3-Series – codenamed F30 – is always perfectly poised, with an immediacy to turn-in, high grip levels (from the standard 18-inch rubber) and incredibly resistant to understeer.

That’s on the standard suspension, but buyers have the option – for the first time – of paying $1692 for electronically controlled dampers.

The steering precision and feel lost in the transition from the E46 to E90 generations has been mostly rescued, too, despite the new, F30 3-Series persevering with an electric set-up.

However, to best enjoy the 3-Series on winding roads, you’ll need to make sure the new standard Driver Experience Control is in the right setting.

Driver Experience Control allows the driver to change the characteristics of the engine mapping, steering assistance, gearshift timing, throttle response and stability control threshold.

Eco Pro mode is the fuel-saving mode – and includes tips via a digital display on how to drive more economically – but the lethargic throttle response means this is best left for cruise control moments on freeways. Steering response and gearchanges are also slower.

2012 BMW 3-Series Review
2012 BMW 3-Series Review
2012 BMW 3-Series Review
2012 BMW 3-Series Review

Comfort mode is agreeable but you can feel the 3-Series immediately change – not least by the rise in revs as the eight-speed automatic drops a cog – to a more enthusiastic mood as soon as you press the DEC switch to Sport.

The 328i’s four-cylinder turbo doesn’t sound as good as the old six-cylinder but it’s still sufficiently rorty and refined, and the engine, which develops its peak power of 180kW between 5000 and 6500rpm, absolutely revels in revs.

There’s minimal lag and it’s not shy on torque, either, with 350Nm delivered on a flat torque curve from not far off idle to 4800rpm.

Shifts from the new standard eight-speed auto are smooth and timely, though the paddleshift levers (inclusive on all 3-Series models except the base 318d) are equally seamless and highly effective when frequent gearchanges are required. (And you can even opt for a six-speed manual, even if doesn’t save you any money.)

The 328i – which starts at $66,900 – also improves fuel economy by 24 per cent over the 325i, to an official 6.3L/100km. We recorded an average of 11.0L/100km, but on a long day of driving with plenty of dynamic testing involved.

We also tested a 320d, which loses little of the 328i’s involvement but essentially swaps an engine that’s keen on power for one that prefers torque – and consequently delivers a more immediate response lower in the rev range.

2012 BMW 3-Series Review
2012 BMW 3-Series Review
2012 BMW 3-Series Review
2012 BMW 3-Series Review

The 135kW/380Nm four-cylinder turbo diesel (from $60,900) is a notable 1.5 seconds slower than the 328i in the 0-100km/h sprint (7.6 v 6.1sec) but offers better fuel economy, at 4.5L/100km.

Both engines introduce less noise into the cabin than tyre rumble and wind noise.

Click to read our separate story on the complete new BMW 3-Series range, including the 320i, 318d and flagship 335i.

A stop-start system (BMW’s realised at last that calling it “start-stop” doesn’t make sense!) contributes to efficiency on all models, though mostly in towns or cities obviously. The engine coughs back into life as soon as you lift your foot off the brake; the 3-Series system is neither the quickest nor the tardiest of all the systems we’ve tried so far.

In addition to the aforementioned improved ride quality, BMW has also focused on improving interior comfort.

Starting in the rear, a wider door aperture provides for easier access to the back seat, where passengers will welcome the comfortable bench, decent headroom, and increased legroom that results from a wheelbase increase of 50mm. (The 3-Series is 93mm longer than before, now stretching to 4624mm in total.)

And whether you’re fussing over quality of materials or fit and finish, the 3-Series impresses.

There are lashings of leather regardless of model and soft-touch trim graces both the upper and mid sections of the dash as well as the inside of the doors. Press any button or rotate any dial and the switchgear is all nicely damped.

2012 BMW 3-Series Review

Storage options are aplenty, though we wish BMW would provide console bins with some useful depth rather than ones made too shallow by its insistence on including a phone connection set-up.

There’s an extra 20 litres of boot space (up to 480L) and the rear seats now fold almost flat in a 40-20-40 split configuration – with release levers again conveniently placed in the boot.

The absence of a spare tyre or mobility kit also allows BMW to provide extra storage compartments under the cargo floor.

Buyers also now have more choice on how the inside of their BMW 3-Series looks. The German car maker has introduced three new optional trim lines, called Modern, Sport and Luxury.

Modern offers lighter interior shades that are apparently targeted at those customers who might otherwise opt for a Volvo; Sport focuses on high-gloss trim parts inside and out and will be the most popular choice according to BMW; Luxury, which includes smatterings of polished chrome on the exterior, is part of BMW’s strategy to conquest more sales from the typical Mercedes-Benz C-Class buyer.

The most bizarre trim is a Modern Line interior that features brown rippled trim pieces that look like they’ve been broken off a giant walnut (see below).

Each trim line costs a few thousand dollars depending on variant, so you’ll need to consider that prices you see quoted for BMW 3-Series models are for ‘base spec’, though these are still equipped with leather seats as standard.

And generally there is more standard gear on the new 3-Series, though of course this is a German manufacturer we’re talking about so there are plenty of options (some pricey) – including new-to-3-Series features such as lane departure warning, lane change warning, head-up display, and ‘Surround view’ that incorporates both the bird’s-eye-style Top View that helps avoid parking or kerb collisions  and Side View that allows drivers to edge out of junctions or between 90-degree-parked cars safely.

Finally, subjectively, the new BMW 3-Series simply looks better. The previous model was conservative by the standards of controversial former designer Chris Bangle, and it wasn’t helped by details such as the blocky, Korean-style tail-lights.

The company’s traditional L-shaped tail-lights – worked into a facelift of the old 3-Series – are this time there from the start for the new 3-Series, which we reckon looks great.

The BMW 3-Series accounts for a third of the company’s sales, so it’s a model it has to get right. First impressions of the new F30 model are that BMW has succeeded like never before – to produce the most ultimate 3-Series yet.

  • Speedo

    I’m not sure what to get, I know this 3 series is all new but I also checked out IS350 Lexus and I liked it, 233Kw, more standard features, more comfortable..

    I hope this new 3 is better than previous model..

    • Grammar Nazi

      I checked out the IS as it seemed great on paper, then I tried sitting in the back seat. I’m not hugely tall (6ft), but it was ridiculously cramped.

      • Guest2

        The Lexus IS series is not meant to be a back seat limo. I know people that used to own BMWs and now the IS series. They all said the build quality of the IS is much better and overall higher quality than the BMW 3 series.

        • Gordy

          Well I know people that have owned  Lexus IS series & then BMW & they say the Lexus is crap.

          • Bingolee

            Had a Lexus which I traded in for a BMW. In less than a year, I was back in a Lexus. BMW is just shoddy workmanship. The drive in my current IS350 while not as good as the 335i, is made up by more superior/higher quality built.

        • Sumpguard

             I’ve heard the same as Guest2. A restaurant owner I know in the Whitsundays aspired to own a Beemer since he was a kid and will never own another. His 3 series was plagued with issues. I’ve heard similar stories over the years from other BMW owners.

              Meanwhile Lexus enjoy one of the highest owner satisfaction ratings world wide. They usually fight for first place with Mercedes.

               I was once a BMW fan myself but wouldn’t bother now and I can certainly afford one.


          • Oneill3

            I own a BMW and never had an issue, been more reliable than my merc.

    • Guest2

      I am all for the Lexus IS series. But the current IS was released in 2005. That’s 7 years ago. But that’s not the problem. It’s just that a totally new IS is just around the corner and when Lexus work out the pricing for the coming new IS, it could be lower than the current IS given the high A$.

    • K20A

      If you are after comfort, get C-Class. If you’re after driving experience, get the new 3er. If you are after standard features and reliability, IS.

      I’ve driven all three cars and can say that the Lexus (for me personally) is the least memorable.

      All are good cars but as someone said below, you’d be crazy to buy the current IS.. at least wait until the new one comes out or just pull the trigger on the 328i (my suggestion) :)

  • Mike

    That’s one bangled butt.

    • Sydlocal

       Shame Chris Bangle left BMW long before the design of this car and the current “design language”… 😉 (TIC)

  • AppleFanBoi

    I am getting a Great Wall. That’s for sure.

    • Jag

      Well prepare yourself for the least reliable car you have ever owned.

  • Marcuspetraska

    its not a propeller badge…

    • Birty_B

      It’s still a nickname

    • Thrillhouse

      Yes, it is.

      • Matthew Werner

        No its not. Its a nod to the Bavarian flag

  • Zaki M

    why can’t they make em good looking again?

  • Robj

    I see no manual cars used in the review. I thought this was the ultimate drivers car? 

    • Phil

      Every single 3 series variation is avaliable in manual (unlike Lexus!). It’s not BMWs fault that Australians keep choosing the autos.

  • Flame Surfacer

    BMW would trounce Benz in sales if they went in hard to reduce complexity, radically improve reliability and service and repair costs. To me this is more of the same thinking from the Germans… Nice car but I would only buy it new with a warranty.

    • Sydlocal

       Repair costs maybe, but you have to remember that whilst a single BMW service is expensive compared to many others, don’t forget you don’t have to service them as often. Over 3 years/60,000km (average kms) something like a BMW 1/3 series is actually cheaper to service over that entire period than a Commodore Berlina for example. Having said that reliability is another thing, even though my old E36 was very reliable over the period of ownership, however that wasn’t as complex as the current crop!

      • Guest

        You must be living in la la land to think that service is cheap albeit less frequently.

    • Jinnzhang

       Good Point re complexity. “Driver Experience Control allows the driver to change the
      characteristics of the engine mapping, steering assistance, gearshift
      timing, throttle response and stability control threshold.” What do we need these for?

      • AndyGF

        Do you buy a TV and only plan on watching one channel?

        (I sometimes wonder how many of my euphemisms actually backfire, especially when taken in context…)

        • Jinnzhang

           Well, the difference between a CAR and TV is…………………………………..

        • Jinnzhang

           Well, the difference between a CAR and TV is…………………………………..

    • Phil

      Mercedes and BMW service costs are basically the same – except BMWs have “on demand” service intervals which can stretch further apart than Mercedes.

      For complexity, I’d say Mercedes were worse.
      For reliability – in the last decade, BMW have typically fared slightly better in the surveys than Mercedes and both generally finish in amongst the top listings, unlike Alfa Romeo.

    • KaleSplit

      Just had a second service of my BMW – $275 (about 12 months between the services). Is that expensive Flame Surfacer?

  • Bruzzer

    the writer thinks its better looking… i disagree and most people think the same from the responses. my inlaws have the superseeded one 2011 model and i think that is far better looking. in terms of engines..i cant comment i havent driven the new one…but the sound that comes from my inlaws 6 cylinder is addictive.

    • Sydlocal

       I agree, the noise from BMW’s straight six as it snarls past 4,000rpm up to the red line is fantastic. I haven’t heard a single 4cyl engine that comes close to a noise that nice, especially with a turbo and the usual “hoover” sound many (not all) of them make…

  • Altezza

    It is unusual for me to see almost entirely white steering wheel with black buttons on BMW. The 328i represents good value for money with decent performance and good pricing. Of course, that’s before pricey optional items added as usual.

  • c1ee

    I’m sure it’s going to sell like hotcakes, but they really stuffed up the design. Looks like something from the 80’s. Oh well, better than the last 3 series. That one just looked like a… car…totally forgettable

  • nugsdad

    Am seiously considering one of these (328i) and the the thought of a manual version is very tempting. Is this a dumb thought given the quality of the 8 speed Auto? Also will manual seem odd and effect future resale value. I welcome all thoughts.

    • Birty_B

      It really depends, if you’re not doing massive km’s and look after your cars then an enthusiast will definately pay more for your manual car. If you’re doing a lot of Km’s it’s probably more advisable to go with the auto as it will be easier to sell cause your market is larger. It’s a bit of a 50/50 call really, if you’re going to spend that much on a car make sure you’re happy with it.

    • K20A

      I’m not sure if manual will be offered at all. At least not initially. Even on E90 it was getting really hard to get a manual.. you have to either go for very early cars (2005), or a Coupe or Sports version.

      To get a manual these days, you have to ‘downgrade’ to a 1-Series.

      • Birty_B

        You can still factory order a manual as a no cost option from the factory, just take quite a while to get one.

  • Homer

    The 335i is $16k less than the old model and seems better equipped. I think I’ll wait a about 6 months and get the old 335i second hand. Pity the poor guys who shelled out $120K plus options on one.

    • Peter N GLENN

      Go the 135i and save even more for a real fun car

  • gt86.com.au

    lovely interior, except for the modern line, that is just odd. why could they not modernise the old 6 cylinder and do cylinder de-activation and camless valve tech or something class leading… You just get the feeling like they are making uglier Audi A4s.. Better handling sure, but ouch on not having a dual clutch auto in this day and age..

    • Thrillhouse

      8 speed auto is far better than the crummy VAG group DSG. And, unlike the A4, at least they’re not expensive FWD VW’s.

    • Phil

      No cars yet that offer cylinder de-activation have had decent economy. In fact so far, cars like the Honda Accord and Chysler 300C actually use more fuel than competitors without it.

      Also BMW have offered dual clutch gearboxs in some of their cars like the Z4 and are now replacing them with the traditional style automatic.

  • O123

    I actually really like the modern line interior, wouldnt buy one though, just to expensive knowing how ripped off I’m getting 

  • jay

    where is this one made

    • Styrenic

       Redbook says South Africa

      • Chaitanya Samardhi

        So a C Class is more Original that a 3 Series?? So what you end up buying is German engineering made in South Africa.

        • Bokke

          C Class is made in South Africa sunshine

          • Bigunit

            All W204 Australian C Class sedans are made in Germany not South Africa.

          • Tom

            Hope it fares better than the last series Golf that were made in RSA and were shockers.

    • Bokke

      South Africa the best

  • MM

    RIP the smaller sized 6cyl – its exhaust note was brilliant. I just can not see how the 4cyl can compare – recently test drove the RR Evoque Petrol – certainly did not sound like a $100k plus vehicle. If the smaller engine is the future – I will long remember the past.

  • O123

    ahhh, the reflector headlights look terrible, too much to ask for xenons in a 60k car?

  • Vic

    Headlights look great.

  • DVK81

    I’m thinkin to get  C250 OR BMW 328 OR Lex is350…
    I’m not driving harshly but want some driving dynamics, wants some comfort, basic equipment level and mind running cost aswell (insurance, service cost etc…)
    Can anyone tell me recommendation regard this?

    • Oz

      I’m thinking the same. I think the Lexus is close to the end of it’s model cycle so won’t get that for now. I’m concerned about the quality and reliability of the BMW but like the look of it the best. The Benz is probably the best all round to purchase but I personally can’t get into the styling of it. It just doesn’t appeal to me that much. I thnk I’ll chance my hand on a 328i sport and keep my fingers crossed.

  • Beemer fan

    Invited by Sydney BMW recently to test drive the new 3 series.  The car is definitely roomier and a nice place to be in although I did get the feeling that it was a little “cheaper” in quality.  Hard to put my finger on why though.  The gadgets are great, the usual sharp BMW handling is there.  The 335i and 328i are both good value compared to the cars they replace.  Overall I like. But there are other great cars out there to look at for similar money.

  • Danny-cargeek

    if you are looking for comfort by the c class or the audi a4 if you are looking for both comfort and sport it is the 3 series but as always you must wait for the m sport package it is a diffrent car it looks soo much better than any car in this segment trust mee

  • Eddie-siu

    BMW will always be my first choice. No matter what!!!!

    • Anthony

      I’m surprised no one commented on the lack of LED brake lights and turn signals.