By Joe Wiesenfelder on January 8, 2012
Of all BMW's cars, the 3 Series is the one that somehow escaped being hit by the Chris Bangle ugly stick, so I didn't go to the redesigned compact sedan's North American debut looking for sweet relief, as I have for so many other models. Even so, I left mighty impressed.
The way the headlight assemblies flow into the grilles gives the car a broad look that belies a slight decrease in width compared with the 2011. The light clusters themselves improve on other recent BMW redesigns: Rather than a translucent-white eyelash that looks like it was meant to be removed after shipping, each of the new car's headlights has a more pleasing silver stripe with LED accents.
The tail is conservative but clean. In profile, the greenhouse is a bit tall, but I'd rather have this look than a more cramped interior.
The cabin looks great — characteristically simple but with high-quality materials. The aluminum trim in the Sport Line model is patterned and textured — something I'd expect from Audi, and that's a good thing. The ActiveHybrid 3 on display, in the Modern Line trim level, featured "open-pored" wood trim, which has raised grain as if it's been rubbed down, creating what looks like sand drifts.
The front seats have nice, long travel for plenty of legroom. The Driving Dynamics Control buttons are now a rocker switch in the style of other recent BMW redesigns. It allows you to cycle through the various Comfort, Sport and Economy modes without pushing a bunch of buttons. Unfortunately, the new 3's automatic transmission still has the springy toggle-style gear selector.
Folks, it appears that German automakers' campaign against beverages appears to be ending. The 3 Series has two respectable cupholder wells pretty far forward on the center console, as well as bottle holders in the door pockets — though the latter are canted at such a severe angle that the bottles would best stay capped.
In the backseat, headroom is workable for adults, but legroom still comes at the mercy of front seat occupants. The floor is high enough to raise your knees to a higher level than I appreciate, but short trips — and shorter passengers — should be fine.
I think the most quantifiable change is in the trunk, now a respectable 13.7 cubic feet, up from 12 in the previous generation. For a car that appears only slightly longer than its predecessor, that's pretty good. The hybrid's trunk was locked and couldn't be viewed, but there's now enough trunk space to minimize the intrusion of an added battery pack. BMW says the optional folding backseat is completely unobstructed. That makes it one of the first and only hybrid sedans to accomplish this goal.
Executive Editor Joe Wiesenfelder, a Cars.com launch veteran, leads the car evaluation effort. He owns a 1984 Mercedes 300D and a 2002 Mazda Miata SE. Email Joe