2012 BMW 3 Series Sedan: Detroit Auto Show Photos, Info

Illustration for article titled 2012 BMW 3 Series Sedan: Detroit Auto Show Photos, Info

If you're a die-hard inline-6 aficionado, and are looking for something to finally replace that aging AMC Hornet, you're in luck, as the new 2012 BMW 3 Series looks to be an engaging new way to drive around behind a sextet of lined-up cylinders.


Aside from being one of the rapidly dwindling vehicles of any kind to offer a straight-6, the new 3 Series sports an all-new design, an optional 8 speed automatic gearbox, auto start-stop engine function, and a parking assist system. No word yet if the parking assist system supports the traditional BMW favored parking style of diagonally across two spots.


Design-wise, BMW refers to the 3 Series' new face as a "more athletic face than ever" though personally I find the new headlight treatment that incorporates small extensions of the headlight glass that meet the kidney grilles to be less "athletic" looking and more resembling the nosepiece of a pair of glasses. Which isn't exactly a criticism, as it makes the car look, you know, smarter.

Also on the front facia, the new 3 Series optional Xenon lights incorporate LED "eyebrows" (BMW's term for them. They think cars' headlights are eyes, too) and the lower air intake has been split into two separate parts, forming a dogbone-in-the-Tron-universe sort of shape. The rest of the body design is all new as well, while incorporating the evergreen BMW standbys as the set-back greenhouse and the Hofmeister kink, with new character lines and faceting of the body panels that the BMW press release breathlessly refers to as "taut," "striking," and "injecting brio." It's an attractive, determined looking package, even without the eye-rolling adjectives.

The car is a bit bigger in every dimension, with most of the extra room going to the rear seat passengers. Despite being bigger, it did drop an anorexic teen's weight of 88 lbs, so that's that much less the 240 hp turbo 4 or the 300 hp 6 has to lug around. With a slightly wider track (60.3 front, 61.9 rear) and wheelbase (110.6) the stance has improved, while keeping an ideal 50:50 weight distribution.


Also new for the 3 Series is an ECO PLUS setting for BMW's Driving Dynamics Control Switch, which will let drivers play at hypermiling with on-dash feedback for very efficient driving.

But perhaps the most important change, one that BMW drivers have no doubt been clamoring for, is that one of the front cup holders can now be swapped for an "oddments tray." You're welcome.

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You know how Prozac came out in the late 1980's and became really popular during the 1990's? Did you notice that, at the same time, a lot of the cars started looking really happy? They all had big, expressive headlights, as though their eyes were bulging, trying to contain all the cheer inside? They all had these rounded, bubbly exteriors, full of curves and and swoops and swirls, as though Dr. Seuss came in, threw out all the rulers and straight-edges (somehow Volvo escaped his wrath) and began designing cars with his toes. It was almost as if the designers were trying to recapture some of the design magic of the 1950's and 1960's but always over-shot the mark while still somehow coming up short?

And did you notice that, despite all the overly cheery exteriors and the faces that brought to mind a plastic surgeon performing a face-lift, the insides were...barren. Empty. Full of dull greys and hard plastics. Even the luxury cars had leather that felt more like extruded vinyl from a Halloween costume shop than actual high-end cowhide. Any semblance of joy and happiness on the inside was merely illusionary and the first touch, the first sit-down, destroyed that illusion, revealing the cheap, desperate, and failed attempts at being genuinely comfortable or pleasant in any way, shape, or form.

The interiors of the cars in the 1990's were as vapid and depressing as the exteriors were exaggerated and expressive. It's as though the designers were all on Prozac and using the cars as an extension of themselves, in order to express who they were as People-on-Prozac at least, without actually realizing it. It's like the cars were on Prozac too. I wonder how many automotive designers were actually on Prozac during this time. judging by the car designs of the time, I’m guessing a lot.

Well apparently someone's off their meds.

Now all the cars have these big, over-protective exteriors, full of intense, proto-muscular bulges that hint at masculine athletic potential that often actually isn't there. They have beltlines up to the north pole and windows the size of individual fingernails, as though they are tanks built to protect and hide what's inside from the dangers and judgemental gazes of the outside world. The headlights are all downturned and angry, recessed in deep, black-lined sockets as the lights themselves peer out with a certain furious, untrusting and cynical intensity. The hoods are all warped and folded to looks like furrowed brows, while the grills have all become wide and exaggerated, like flared nostrils. The bumpers and lower fascias have all become wide, bulging, and downturned, as though every car is frowning, pressing their lips together in preparation for confrontation.

Cars these days look angry and angst-ridden, as though they're constantly anticipating having to defend themselves from...well, the reality: a judgemental world and body of peers. They're like the outcasts and goth kids in high school who woke up one day and tossed their prescription mood-stabilizers, and Prozac, and Xanax, and Paxil, and all the other little pills that made them cheery, empty little bubbles of social acceptance into the toilet and pressed the handle to flush them down the drain. Then they spent the rest of the school year going through withdrawals and having awkward, frightening outbursts of long-gestated brilliance, like the FR-S.

And just like those teens, newly off their medications and full of angst, these intensely angry, confrontational, and defensive exteriors hide something astounding: an interior full of genuine quality and depth. Automotive manufacturers have heard the criticisms of their peers and have compensated for the shortcomings of the past by minimizing the hard plastics, adding features, improving the stitching and just improving the interiors of our cars in general. Just like those social pariahs in high school, modern cars use a tough, ready-to-fight exterior, full of angry eyes, wide stances, and bulging shoulders, to hide an interior that is a truly pleasant, interesting place to be.

So congratulations, world. Our cars are now teenagers...who are off their meds.

*P.S. - Picture is mine. All associated rights and copyrights belong to blah blah blah...