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HED: 3 Dimension: Redesigned BMW 3-Series Sedan Stays True to Its “Ultimate Roots

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HED: 3 Dimension: Redesigned BMW 3-Series Sedan Stays True to Its "Ultimate Roots

There is much swoop and swashbuckle in the midsize car segment to get the attention of the American car buyer, but BMW stayed on target for the redesign of its 3-Series sedan.

You'll recognize the new 2012 model by its elongated headlights, a treatment similar to the larger 5-Series. But of greater impact than the familiar styling is the return of a four-cylinder engine to the line that has strong acceleration and impressive fuel economy.

The new car has grown moderately in size, but by using more high-strength steel and aluminum, the curb weight was trimmed by 88 pounds. There is a wider stance (1.46 inches front, 1.85 inches rear), another 3.66 inches in length, and almost two inches were added to the wheelbase.

Sold in 328i and 335i models, the base engine is the 240-hp, turbocharged, direct-injection, 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which is more powerful than the six-cylinder it replaces. 0-60 mph acceleration takes 5.7 seconds with the manual or 5.9 automatic, BMW says. (It's also the same engine used in the Z4 roadster, 528i and upcoming X1 crossover.)

The 335i comes with the 300-hp, turbocharged, direct-injection 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder that will get to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds (manual or automatic) and has fuel economy of 20/30 mpg city/highway.

A six-speed manual is standard on both models with a no-cost option for a new eight-speed automatic. Both transmissions include an engine auto start-stop function to help save fuel. There's also regenerative braking with the automatic transmission to keep the battery charged so the engine can be switched off for longer periods at stops.

Much of the length went to improved back-seat room, BMW says. There is more knee room, 35.1 inches of legroom and a bit more headroom. A new trick with the Comfort Access option (keyless starting), allows the holder of the key fob to open the trunk by waggling a foot below the back bumper. Trunk space is large at 17 cubic feet, but the actual opening is still somewhat small for fitting boxy items.

Front headroom is outstanding at 40.3 inches and the driver area is BMW-subtle with black gauges and white lettering, a reasonably functional iDrive controller on the console and good sightlines.

Pricing is based on power and features, not engine size or displacement. The 328i starts at $35,795 (up $325 from 2011) and $43,295 for the 335i, including the $895 freight charge. There are also new trim-level designations to better define the treatments: Sport Line, Luxury Line and Modern Line. Pricing on the lines varies between models, but each generally adds $1,400 to $2,500 to the MSRP.

All-wheel-drive models will go on sale this summer, and a hybrid model will follow.

The Sport model includes such elements as a firmer suspension, sport seats and different dashboard trim with red and black elements, with red stitching in the upholstery. Exterior mirrors and the kidney grille are black.

The Luxury package, like the previous Premium package, includes more chrome inside and out, leather upholstery and wood interior trim.

The Modern line has a Scandinavian treatment with an overall lighter interior, light tan dashboard cover, tan steering wheel and poplar wood trim in a matte texture.

There are pages of (often confusing) options and accessories, including $900 for hands-free phone and streaming music. A split fold-down rear seat adds $475. Park distance control, $750, gives beeps with a highlighted vehicle silhouette in the main touchscreen, but a rearview camera would be better.

It, however, is either a $400 add-on to a package or requires $5,100 in two packages, including the Parking package, which adds park distance control, rearview camera and top and side-view cameras.

The 328i test car with six-speed manual was $46,420 with options. Do the power/speed/price comparisons and the 328i is the value purchase of the two engine choices.

The 328i is tight, light and lively. It drives and feels like a sports car, not a sedan. The pleasure of the four-cylinder is that it does not launch car and driver past all that good, BMW driving experience. There is uniqueness in the car's dynamics and the orchestration of suspension, tires, weight transfer, engine revs and gear changes.

Steering, braking and acceleration are pure BMW finesse. The car talks with the driver through the seat bottom, the steering wheel and under the right foot. There is complete communication of what is going on with the car and the road. The electric steering has an old-school mechanical touch and reaction. It takes just a tip of the wheel at speed to bring slight correction. When all three elements unite, there is an organic reaction — a smile. It's like walking into a kitchen to the aroma of baking brownies. It just tastes like more, and then you go out and eat up this car.

The 17-inch Bridgestone Potenza 050 tires on the test car gave such outstanding grip and highway comfort that I had no idea they were runflats until I went looking for the spare and didn't find one. This car is very well soundproofed, and there was no noise or harshness from the tires.

The EPA claims fuel economy of 23 mpg city, 34 highway and 27 combined, on 91 octane, for the manual and 24/36 for the automatic. I was getting 27 to 28 mpg around town, and the highway mileage built easily to 30.1 on a highway jaunt and appeared eager to gain tenths had I kept cruising.

The 3-Series sedan still reigns as a world status symbol, but its core strength is in the driving, not just getting someplace.

Specs Box: 2012 BMW 328i

—Body style: midsize, 5-passenger, rear-wheel drive sedan.

—Engine: 240-hp, twin-scroll turbocharged, direct-injection 2.0-liter 4-cylinder; 255 foot pounds torque at 1,250 to 4,800 rpm.

—Transmission: 6-spd. manual.

—Fuel economy: 23/34 mpg city/hwy; 91 octane.

—0-60 mph: 5.7 sec.; 5.9 automatic.

—Fuel tank: 15.8 gallons.

—Length/wheelbase: 182.5/110.6 inches.

—Front head/leg/shoulder room: 40.3/42/55.1 inches.

—Curb weight: 3,406 pounds.

—Trunk space: 17 cubic. feet.

—Turning circle: 37.1 feet.

—Safety features include: 8 air bags, 4-wheel vented disc brakes with ABS, dynamic brake control, cornering brake control, dynamic stability and traction controls, start-off assistant, brake drying.

—Standard equipment includes: engine auto start stop, brake-energy regeneration, remote locking with push-button ignition, leatherette upholstery, 8-way adjustable front seats, floor mats, 17-inch all-season (runflat) tires and alloy wheels, 3-spoke multifunction steering wheel, Bluetooth phone connection, iDrive controller with 6.5-inch color screen, tilt-telescopic steering wheel, locking glove box, electric trunk release.

—Base price: $35,795, including $875 freight charge;

—Where assembled: Munich, Germany.

—Warranty: 4-years/50,000-miles bumper to bumper with no-cost scheduled maintenance and roadside assistance (unlimited mileage).

Mark Maynard is driving in cyberspace at mark.maynard@utsandiego.com. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage. To find out more about Mark Maynard and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2012 THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE

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