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BMW shows off new generation 3 Series sports sedan

October 14, 2011 |  8:46 am

2012 BMW 328

BMW will introduce a new version of its popular 3 Series sports sedan that will weigh less but have bigger dimensions, giving rear-seat passengers more space.

The new model, which appears at dealerships in February, is critically important to BMW’s strategy in the United States and for its global sales, said Tim Urquhart, an analyst with IHS Automotive.

“The BMW 3 Series is in many ways the company's keynote model,” Urquhart said. “It is the bestselling premium passenger car model in the world and has long set the agenda as being symbolic of BMW's wider corporate strategy at any given point.” Bmw2

BMW has sold more than 60,000 of the current model in the U.S. this year, far outpacing other small luxury sedans, including its second most popular rival, the Mercedes-Benz “C” class, 39,000, as well as offerings from Audi, Infiniti and Lexus.

The automaker, which unveiled the car at an event in Germany, did not provide information about fuel economy or U.S. pricing. The current model starts around $35,000.

The new generation 3 Series will have many of the same styling cues as the current model and one version will come with a version of the sedan with a four-cylinder engine.  And for the first time, BMW also plans to sell a hybrid model of the car.

BMW stopped selling four-cylinder engines in the U.S. more than a decade ago, thinking they didn't fit the profile of its luxury buyers.  But more automakers are shrinking their engines as a way to meet more stringent fuel economy standards.  

Four-cylinder engines now account for about 65% of all cars built in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, up from 48% five years ago. Six-cylinder vehicle production slipped to 25% from nearly 40%.

BMW, however, doesn’t expect to be giving up any performance in the new car.

The new powerplant will come in the less expensive 328i version of the sedan. It will be a turbocharged four banger that produces up to 240 horsepower. That’s slightly more powerful than the six-cylinder engine in the current 328i. BMW claims the new 328i will accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.7 seconds.

The more expensive 335i model will come with BMW’s 6-cylinder engine.

BMW also is going to an 8-speed automatic transmission in the new 3 Series, another move that is expected to improve fuel economy. The car also sheds 88 pounds, which should help improve mileage.

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-- Jerry Hirsch
Twitter.com/LATimesJerry

Photos: 2012 BMW 3 Series sedan. Credit: Edmunds.com 

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