Jeff Thisted: Shopping for a 2012 BMW 3 Series could be as confusing as it is rewarding. There's the new model, completely redesigned and more efficient, but it only comes in a sedan.
The 3 Series lineup includes two basic trim levels, the 328i and the 335i. Rear-wheel- and all-wheel-drive models are available.
Amanda Salas: The new version of BMW's popular 3 Series sedan is a little longer than before, and the classic twin kidney grille has gotten a bit wider, joining the headlight clusters.
Jeff: They're not really dramatic changes, but coupled with the new electrically assisted steering system and a softer suspension, they signal BMW's shift towards refinement more than performance.
There's clearly more flair in the interior thanks to the available new style lines- Sport, Modern and Luxury-and each utilizes different trim colors and materials to create its own specific look and feel.
Amanda: We've got the Sport Line that includes the brushed aluminum trim, sports leather steering wheel and these fabulous sport seats. One change that we especially like is that the iDrive screen now sits within the center stack like an integrated iPad.
Jeff: The iDrive system keeps getting better. It's more intuitive, and best of all, now it comes as standard equipment.
Amanda: AutoTrader recommends the optional Technology package. It includes a navigation system and a remarkable head-up display on the windshield that keeps the driver focused on the road while still seeing important vehicle information.
Jeff: Powertrain configurations in the 2012 3 Series reflect the mix of old and new BMW DNA.
Amanda: Well, it's either your last chance to get a 230-horsepower three-liter inline 6-cylinder engine in a 328i coupe, convertible or wagon, or your first opportunity to enjoy the superb new 240-horsepower turbocharged two-liter inline-4 that's planted in the 328i sedan.
Jeff: As I mentioned before, BMW offers a lot of choices. If you want more power, for an extra $7,500 you can step up to the 300-horsepower twin-turbocharged inline-6 like we've got here in our test car.
Amanda: That's right, Jeff. It all depends on how much sport-like acceleration you want.
Jeff: You've got that right! And just for the record, all 3 Series come stock with a six-speed manual transmission.
Amanda: The new-gen sedan offers two eight-speed automatics, a Steptronic at no extra cost and a Sport model that comes with an automatic sport or manual shift mode.
Jeff: The old-gen models have a six-speed automatic available unless it's an i-s, which offers an optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Amanda: As for fuel economy, the new two-liter with the eight-speed automatic ranks highest, getting 24 city, 36 highway. The 335is convertible with the seven-speed DCT is at the bottom with just 17 city, 24 highway. Pricing for the 3 Series starts at about $35,000 for a 328i sedan. Expect to pay close to $70,000 for a well-equipped 335is convertible.
Jeff: There's a lot to love about the outgoing 3 Series, and this new 335i sedan is excellent in its own right. I like the twin-turbocharged straight-6, but if you're not all about the performance and power, the 328i has the best combination of performance and fuel economy.