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BMW 3 Series (2012)

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Almost every journalist in world touts the BMW 3 Series as the absolute best of the best.

Well, I had my chance behind the wheel of the all-new sixth generation of this automotive icon and I have to agree – for the most part – that this “little sedan that could, did.” And here’s why.

First, BMW doesn’t stray too far from the design of its outgoing models. Let’s face it, part of what makes a car successful is its familiar look, but like almost every other carmaker, BMW increases the size of the new 3 Series in almost every way. In fact, it’s almost as big as a 5 Series just a few years ago. Is that because current owners want a bigger car? If that’s the case, then why don’t the buy the larger model? Sorry, I just don’t get it.

As for the new “look” of the 3, think of it as the “freshman 15,” you know, your kid leaves for college in August and comes back at Christmas – 15 pounds heavier. In this case, however, the car actually weighs 88 pounds less than its predecessor thanks to extensive use of weight saving materials both inside and out. There is still no mistaking the look of the new car for anything other than a BMW 3.

The new “3” is offered in three different trim levels, Sport, Luxury and Modern, each with its own look. The Sport has black grille slats and red accents that transfer into the interior. Luxury is as you would expect, high gloss chrome grille and other chrome trim elements along with special stitching on the leather seats, just to name a few. The Modern Line distinguishes itself with satin aluminum finishes and wood inlays in the interior.

For all of us die-hard lovers of BMW’s famous in-line six cylinder engine, it is still offered – thank goodness – but the talk of the town is the new 4-cylinder engine. The 328i now comes with a 2-liter I-4 with a twin-scroll turbocharger and direct injection, good for 240 horsepower and 23 MPG-city / 34-highway, making it the most fuel efficient BMW ever sold in the U.S. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard and an 8-speed automatic is optional.

The 335i holds my engine of choice, the 3.0-liter in-line 6 with 300 horsepower that gets 20-city and 30-highway.

Let’s not forget that this is a German-built performance sedan and that means it has a stiffer ride than what you may be familiar with in most American or Asian-built machines. That’s not to say it rides like a race car, but it is capable of going around corners at a brisk pace without losing grip. For the BMW purist, you may not like the new electric steering since part of the 3’s allure is the feel of the road. Although it dulls the feedback a bit, most won’t even notice.

Now the interior, it is everything you might expect from the evolutionary process including more room. I didn’t say “a lot more room,” just more room and it’s proportional throughout the cabin. The dash and center stack remain uncluttered thanks to the iDrive user interface. To me, it’s still too hard to maneuver through all those pages to perform simple tasks, but I will have to live with it…I guess. Just tell me to stop complaining and I will.

Seating choices are dependant on the trim level you choose, so sit in all 3 of them.

The 328i starts at $34,900 while the 335i begins at $42,400. Expect a nicely equipped 335 to set you back about $50 G’s.

If you’re already sold on one then you won’t want to bother with cross shopping the competition. If not, then take a look at the Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class and the Infiniti G.

I’m giving the 2012 BMW 3 Series 5 out of 5 stars.

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