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This is the sixth-generation BMW 3 Series. The 3 Series is an exceedingly important car for the company in the U.S. market (as well as across the globe). In 2011 in the U.S. it sold 94,371 3 Series cars, which is greater than the combined number of 1, 5, 6, and 7 Series vehicles in the U.S. (75,525).

Dimensionally, the 2012 3 Series is bigger than its predecessor. The car is 182.5 in. long and has a 110.6-in. wheelbase. It is 71.3-in. wide and 56.3 in. high. Its coefficient of drag is 0.26.

In keeping with its Efficient-Dynamics approach to mobility, the 328i features a 240-hp four-cylinder engine that provides good fuel efficiency without sacrificing performance. The top speed of the 3 Series with the four, as well as the six that’s in the 335i, is a standard 130 mph.

The 3 Series is built for the global market in BMW’s home plant in Munich. The company invested 0.5-billion Euros in the facility, including installing a new press line with a throughput of 600 metric tons of steel per day. Also, there was a new body shop built, which uses robots for applications ranging from welding to bonding (adhesive bonding is being used in several applications in place of spot welding to improve sealing and provide corrosion protection).

Three Things About the BMW 3 Series

Oliver Ganser is the BMW 3 Series product manager, BMW of North America.

Oliver Ganser is the BMW 3 Series product manager, BMW of North America. He actually began working on the sixth-generation of the massively popular (i.e., largest-selling premium car in the world) 3 under the hood, working on the N20 engine that is being offered in the 2012 328i. (The engine had its debut in the 2012 Z4 sDrive28i.) Consequently, when asked for the things that make this latest version most notable, he comes up with three.

“Number-one is the drive train. This is what BMW is all about. Bayerische Motoren Werke. This is our heritage,” Ganser says. (Though he admits that having worked on the N20, he’s a bit biased.)

For one thing, the 3 Series is available with an eight-speed automatic transmission, which is the first in the segment. It includes an automatic start-stop function. Consequently, it facilitates fuel efficiency. According to BMW, the eight-speed actually matches or bests models that are equipped with a manual transmission so far as fuel economy goes. (There is a wider gear ratio spread than in the standard six-speed automatic, but the spacing between the ratios is small, thereby providing a better ratio based on the driving conditions.) The standard transmission for the 3 Series is a six-speed manual.

There are two engines for the 3 Series. There is the 300-hp 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine (N55) available in the 335i. And then there is the engine that Ganser worked on, the N20. Which he says was a choice that wasn’t easily made for the U.S. market. “There were long discussions in Munich,” Ganser says. Lots of deliberation.

The N20 is a four-cylinder engine.

“We decided, ‘Yes, we have to bring it to the U.S. because otherwise, if we do not bring it to the U.S., we will not be leading in EfficientDynamics, as we claim.’” He adds, “It is sustainable but still powerful.” It is also technologically sophisticated.

The N20 is a 240-hp 2.0-liter engine that is modeled after the N55 in that it is fitted with what BMW calls “TwinPower Turbo” technology. This means that it combines direct injection, variable camshaft timing and variable valve timing, and twin-scroll turbocharging. The direct injection means the solenoid injector is centrally positioned between the valves so the fuel, injected at up to 200 bar, is very close to the tip of the spark plug for better combustion. The variable valve timing (BMW name: “VALVETRONIC”) and the variable camshaft timing (“Double-Vanos”) result in high power output and reduced emissions. The twin-scroll turbocharging has exhaust from cylinders 1 and 4 and from cylinders 2 and 3 routed via separate scroll-shaped paths to the turbine wheel, thereby using exhaust gas as efficiently as possible. Other features of the new engine are the use of twin balancer shafts positioned at different heights for vibration absorption and a centrifugal pendulum absorber in the dual-mass flywheel that reduces rough running at low engine rpm.

So what’s the efficiency? The 328i with an eight-speed has an EPA estimated 24/36/28 mpg (city/highway/combined); the six-speed manual’s numbers are 23/34/27 mpg.

The second aspect that Ganser cites is what they’re calling the “lines concept.” This is bringing levels of personalization to the car that previously weren’t nearly as comprehensive.

There is the standard trim package. Then—in addition to the M Sport Package, which is more compre-hensive, adding an aero package, specific 18- or 19-in. alloy wheels, sport suspension, etc.—there are the Modern, Luxury, and Sport lines. These are visual modifications, both inside and out, to provide differentiation to the cars.

Consider the primary outer change for each, focusing on the kidney-shaped grille, which is wider and squatter than the previous 3 Series. For Modern, there are 11 satin aluminum slats; for Luxury, there are 11 chrome slats; and for the Sport there are eight contoured high-gloss black slats.

On the inside, Modern is available with a unique trim material, an open-poured wood that resembles brown clay through which channels have been raked. Luxury has more traditional high-gloss wood trim. Modern uses a high-gloss black with coral-red accents. Seating materials and even gauge faces are appropriate to each of the lines.

The third element that Ganser says is notable about the 2012 3 Series is the electronics that are available, a wide suite of capabilities that fall under the moniker “ConnectedDrive.” For example, there’s a head-up display that provides high-resolution, full-color information on the windshield in the driver’s immediate view. There is Bluetooth-enabled Internet functionality so that there is the ability to get weather, news, text messages, and email displayed on the transreflective high-resolution display that is also used as the iDrive monitor. BMW has worked with Apple to develop BMW Apps that work through an iPhone; the apps are available through the iTunes Store. In addition to entertainment options like MOG and Pandora streaming audio, the car can be equipped with a video parking assistant and surround view, as well as collision warning, blind-spot detection and lane-departure warning systems.