By Mike Torpey on 2012-01-16 - Driving Force news editor and responsible for organising our daily output. He was staff motoring editor of the Liverpool Echo for 20 years.
BMW ready to raise
BMW is aiming to leave its rivals trailing with the sixth generation of the world's best-selling premium saloon.
The 3 Series lies at the heart of the German brand, being responsible for one-fifth of the company's global sales, and when the latest model hits the streets next February buyers will be in for a treat.
According to BMW, this latest incarnation of 3 Series will build on the current model's position as the ultimate drivers' car in its sector, but will also be the most logical business proposition thanks to new engines and EfficientDynamics emissions-reducing technology
And while prices have increased - in one case by as little as Â£75 - the new ‘3' is not only larger and more spacious than the model it replaces, but lighter, quicker, more fuel-efficient and safer too.
In fact a wider choice of trim levels and an extensive personalisation programme will allow buyers to order virtually a bespoke car.
From launch there will be four models - 320d, 320d EfficientDynamics, 328i and 335i - to be quickly followed in March by three new engines.
They will be 316d and 318d diesels, powered by 116bhp and 143bhp variants of the 2.0-litre diesel engine, plus another version of the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, which will slot into the new 320i, and be tuned to deliver 184bhp.
By this time there will be eight 3 Series saloons with emissions at or below 120g/km.
The EfficientDynamics technologies featured in the previous series have been supplemented with new ones, meaning Auto Stop-Start is fitted to all versions along with Brake Energy Regeneration and lower rolling resistance tyres.
BMW is also offering an eight-speed automatic gearbox, giving a wider spread of ratios, as an alternative to the standard six-speed manual.
The familiar ES, SE and M Sport trim grades will grace the new cars but BMW is adding Sport, Modern and Luxury models, each with a distinct character.
It mirrors the ‘Lines' range first showcased on the BMW 1 Series launched earlier this year and even the trim on the key fobs differs between the various versions.
All models will come with more kit than before and include 17-inch light alloy wheels, automatic air-con, Bluetooth, BMW Professional radio with 6.5-inch colour screen and iDrive, keyless starting, USB, a multi-function leather steering wheel, cruise control and automatic boot opening.
SE is available with all engines except the 335i, and adds different alloys, rear Park Distance Control, two-zone aircon and a rain sensor with automatic light activation, for a premium of £850.
Sport and Modern versions are priced £1,000 above the equivalent SE, while the difference between SE and Luxury is £2,500.
New safety options include a full-colour Head-Up Display which shows current speed limits, the car's current speed and turn-by-turn instructions when a BMW navigation system is fitted.
Dynamic Safety is another feature offered which tensions the seat belts and closes any open windows or the sunroof if an accident seems imminent.
Internet access via the owner's mobile telephone and BMW's new Real Time Traffic Information service, which delivers faster, more accurate warnings of traffic hold-ups and even offers suggestions on how to avoid them, are among the media services available as part of BMW ConnectedDrive.
Prices for the new 3 Series Saloon, which will make its public debut at the Detroit Motor Show in January, start at £24,880 for a 316d ES.
The 320i increases by only £75, while the 320d sees an increase of £180 and the 328i is £530 more expensive than the less powerful 325i in the previous range, but £2,935 cheaper than the 330i which it out-performs.
BMW says that towards the end of 2012 it will introduce four-wheel-drive and hybrid powertrains to the 3 Series Saloon for the first time in the UK.
The xDrive all-wheel-drive system has been available on the 3 Series in some markets previously, and has now been engineered for right-hand-drive cars.
And the ActiveHybrid 3 will arrive at roughly the same time, and will use the powertrain recently announced for the ActiveHybrid 5, pairing the 335i's 306bhp six-cylinder engine with an up to 40kW electric motor.
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