BMW is still king of the hill
New 3-Series on display in Detroit seeks to solidify BMW's top-sales status in the U.S.
BMW blew away the competition in 2011. It sold 305,418 vehicles, its second-highest U.S. sales year ever and an increase of 14.9 percent from 2010. Second-place Mercedes-Benz sold 40,958 fewer vehicles. No other luxury automaker even came close.
One the company's best-sellers, the 3-Series, is getting a comprehensive makeover for 2012, which should boost sales for the brand this year, too. It was announced late last year, but it is making its first appearance here in Detroit at the 2012 North American International Auto Show.
BMW also announced pricing for the 2012 ActiveHybrid 5 sedan, which debuted in September at the Frankfurt Motor Show and will go on sale this spring. It starts at $61,845, including an $895 destination and handling charge.
The last bit of news revealed in Motor City will please traditionalists: BMW will offer a 6-speed manual transmission on the 2013 M5 sedan in the U.S., as a no-cost option. A 7-speed double-clutch transmission is standard.
TOP STORIES FROM THE DETROIT AUTO SHOW:
2012 BMW 3-Series Sedan
What is it? Arguably the best sport sedan in the world, the 3-Series is totally remade for 2012.
What's hot? Lots. It's a little bigger than the outgoing model, but 88 pounds lighter. BMW says the rear seat is noticeably roomier. The turbocharged 240-horsepower 4-cylinder engine that debuted in the Z4 roadster replaces the 6-cylinder previously offered in the 328i. The 335i gets a twin-turbo 3.0-liter 6-cylinder engine like before. Output is the same — 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque — but it's been tweaked for better fuel economy. Converting from the EU test cycle, it gets 29.8 mpg with the 6-speed manual transmission, a 6 percent improvement. It achieves 32.6 mpg with the optional 8-speed automatic, a 16 percent improvement. BMW is the first to offer an 8-speed automatic in a compact car. A Driving Dynamics Control switch will be standard on the 328i and 335i. It has four modes that vary throttle, engine and steering response depending on what the driver wants, be it comfort, better fuel economy or sporty response. The system also varies shift points in cars equipped with the 8-speed automatic. An optional M Sport package offers a lowered and stiffened suspension, larger wheels and a body kit. An electronically adjustable M Sport suspension is another option.
Meanwhile, the ActiveHybrid 3 pairs the twin-turbo 6-cylinder from the 335i with an electric drive system for a combined power output of 335 horsepower. An 8-speed automatic transmission is standard. The ActiveHybrid 3 will get 37 mpg, said Dr. Klaus Draeger, board member of BMW AG, during a press conference at the Detroit Auto Show.
What's not? The 3-Series traditionally has had few notable faults. One that affects all BMWs is the way the company charges for things that are usually standard on other luxury cars, such as heated seats, for example. The styling might be an issue for some, while others might actually like it better.
How much and when? The rear-wheel-drive 328i and 335i sedans go on sale in February for $35,795 and $43,295, respectively. All-wheel-drive versions of both models hit showrooms this summer, followed by the ActiveHybrid 3 sedan in the fall.
MSN Autos' verdict: The 3-Series is poised to remain king of the hill in the compact premium sedan segment. If the performance specs alone don't impress most Americans, here's something that will: Cupholders now located in the center console. This sounds trivial, but to those of us who've had drinks spill from the chintzy dash-mounted ones in the current generation, it's a welcome change.
2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5
What is it? BMW's first midsize hybrid sedan, engineered to balance performance with fuel economy, rather than focusing on just the latter, as most hybrids do.
What's hot? It has the same sweet twin-turbo 6-cylinder engine as the 535i. With the electric drive system, combined power output is 335 horsepower, which means the ActiveHybrid 5 is more powerful than the standard 535i on which it's based. It can go from zero to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. But it can also drive solely on electric power up to 37 mph. The lithium-ion battery pack has a 2.5-mile range when driving solely on electric power at an average speed of 22 mph. A new 8-speed automatic transmission is standard.
What's not? It's expensive. It has a weird name. And as with all hybrids, the electric drive system adds weight and complexity. Don't expect Toyota Prius levels of fuel efficiency, either. This is a big, powerful sport sedan, not a fuel miser.
How much and when? It will on sale in late spring with a starting price of $61,845.
MSN Autos' verdict: The BMW ActiveHybrid 5 is not a car for tree huggers; it's pricey and performance-oriented. Honda tried a similar approach with its Accord several years ago and the car flopped. Perhaps it was simply ahead of its time.
Matthew de Paula wanted to be an automotive journalist ever since reading his first car magazine in grade school. After a brief stint writing about finance, he helped launch ForbesAutos.com and became the site's editor in 2006. Matthew now freelances for various outlets.