Its hard not to love BMW’s 3 Series. Somehow it delivers the perfect package of athletic performance, nimble handling and a whole lot of German engineering. The rocketship twin-turbo 335i ranks as one of my all-time favorite sports sedans.
But, as usual, the fun-meisters at BMW aren’t resting on their laurels. Next February sees the US arrival of an all-new sixth-generation 3 Series, which re-directs its focus away from outright performance, and more towards efficiency.
New ‘green’ initiatives include the addition of a new 240-horse four-cylinder engine for the entry 328i model – 10hp more powerful than the outgoing six; an eight-speed automatic transmission – a first in this segment; stop-start and regenerative braking technology; and economy-improving features like an on-demand-only air conditioning compressor.
Next year will also see the introduction of an ActiveHybrid 3 model that should see a real-world fuel economy average of close to 37 to the gallon.
See it in the metal and this new 3 is more evolution than revolution. While every body panel is new, it has the sleek, familiar lines of the current model. Its most distinguishing feature is its new, more menacing-looking front end with its elongated headlights that sweep back from the larger, more upright BMW kidney-style grille.
Size-wise, the car is 3.7 inches longer with an extra two inches added to the wheelbase so as to offer a little more space inside. Thankfully, BMW has bucked the usual trend of adding weight with new models by shaving 88 pounds of body fat compared to the current car.
Inside, the cabin has been completely re-designed, with an even more driver-focused cockpit, superbly-designed instruments and the welcome addition of two cupholders built into the center console.
Rear seat riders get a little more kneeroom – just half an inch – but every bit is welcome. Luggage gets treated better courtesy on an enlarged trunk that now has space for a trio of golf bags.
One cool new feature is the hands-free trunk opener. With the ignition key in your pocket and your arms full of shopping, you can simply wiggle your foot beneath the rear bumper and the trunk lid will pop open.
This new 3 Series hits showrooms in February, followed by an all-wheel drive version in the summer, and the ActiveHybrid 3 model in the fall.