2009 BMW 3-Series
BMW has a lot of stock in the 3-Series' signature look, so the 2013 BMW 3-Series has to look "the same yet different." The 2009 BMW 3-Series is shown here.

Consumer Guide’s Impressions of the 2013 BMW 3-Series

It’s still a few years off, but the next iteration of BMW’s top-seller is shaping up as a mix of fresh styling, big-Bimmer tech features, and thriftier engines. And yes, the redesigned 3-Series is almost sure to cost more.

What We Know About the 2013 BMW 3-Series

The next edition of BMW’s top-selling 3-Series is in the works, but don’t look for it anytime soon. Reports indicate the redesigned “F30” line won’t start home-market sale until 2012, which likely means a 2013 U.S. debut. Typical of European brands, the new 3-Series will launch with sedans, then add wagons and coupes a year or so later. An updated hardtop-convertible should arrive in 2014. Also due is a first-ever 3-Series 4-door hatchback, a sort of kid brother to the recently announced 5-Series GT and with most of the same functional attributes. The current E90 3-Series design will be seven years old when the rollout begins, having bowed in Europe during 2005 and in America for model-year ’06--quite a long run in today’s super-competitive global auto business.

The 2013 BMW 3-Series has lately been spied testing in Germany disguised in E90 bodywork, albeit with some telling alterations. Prime among them are a reported wheelbase stretch to 110.2 inches, up 1.5 inches, and axle tracks broadened by perhaps 2 inches front and rear, matched by like gains in overall width. The F30 should also be a bit longer than E90, but little, if any, taller. Curb weights will likely rise, but we think BMW will limit the gains to 100-200 pounds. As with E90, the F30 architecture--which may or may not be technically “all-new”--will also underpin BMW’s smaller 1-Series premium-compact cars that get their own redesign for release about a year before the new 3s.

Chassis design is said to be basically a current-model carryover. Though the suspension may get some redesigned hardware, the 2013 BMW 3-Series will retain a 4-wheel independent setup with front struts, so-called “Z-axle” multilink rear geometry, and an antiroll bar at each end. Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS will continue per BMW tradition. So, too, a standard stability system with traction control, available auto-adjusting shock absorbers, and BMW’s optional “Active Steering” that’s designed to quicken low-speed response for more-nimble handling. Wheel sizes are likely to stand pat as well, with 16-inchers, 17s, 18s, and 19s all available, depending on model. Run-flat tires should remain standard across the board, mainly because they eliminate the need for a spare wheel and thus save a little gas-wasting weight.

We’ve heard conflicting reports on powertrain choices for the 2013 BMW 3-Series, but one source insists the U.S. lineup will kick off with a 4-cylinder engine to ease corporate compliance with tough new U.S. fuel-economy standards and more-stringent CO2 emissions limits in Europe. If that source is right, this will be the first time in well over a decade that BMW has offered four-bangers to its U.S. customers.

Expected to come in with 2.0 liters and some 220 horsepower, the new engine is part of a family that’s available in other markets in sizes as small as 1.3 liters. All are lightweight aluminum units with direct fuel injection and variable intake- and exhaust-valve timing; most are also turbocharged, though apparently not the 2.0 coming Stateside.

What about the familiar 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder gasoline engine? That seems to be in for some careful tweaking that we guesstimate will add at least 20 horsepower and that many pound-feet of torque. Both these engines should team with a 6-speed manual and optional 6-speed automatic transmissions, with all-wheel drive available for some models as an alternative to the normal rear drive. Also due to return is the rear-drive 335d with a 3.0-liter 6-cylinder turbocharged diesel, likely to be unchanged, plus a mandatory automatic.

As for the high-performance M3 sedan, coupe and convertible, there’s talk of a high-tune twin-turbo 4-cylinder replacing the current 4.0-liter V8 and making the same 300 horsepower as today’s twin-turbo 3.0 inline six, which will apparently be dropped as a mainstream-model choice. No word on whether the current M3’s 7-speed dual-clutch automated-manual transmission will continue, but we think there’s at least an even chance that it will.

Regardless of powertrain, the 2013 BMW 3-Series reportedly gets an expanded suite of mpg boosters under BMW's “Efficient Dynamics” label. See “Notable Feature” on the next page for more on that.

New styling will be the most obvious change for the 2013 BMW 3-Series. It’s said to be patterned on the big 2007 Concept CS, a swoopy 4-door that was slated for production as the Gran Turismo until the global economy imploded. Judging by speculative renderings we’ve seen online, the next 3s will borrow the concept’s so-called “sharknose” front-end treatment, with a taller fascia, larger “twin-kidney” grilles, and a raised hoodline, all to meet new European rules for minimizing pedestrian injuries. The facial surgery is also said to involve big new “cat’s-eye” headlamps and larger front-bumper air intakes. Bodysides are expected to be sculpted a la BMW’s latest 7-Series flagship sedans, with a bold C-shaped “character line” scribed from door handles to door sills. Incidentally, the F30 is the first BMW created under the aegis of recently appointed design chief Adrian van Hooydonk, who took over when the outspoken Chris Bangle left to pursue other interests.

BMW seems determined to blur the lines between sports sedan and functional hatchback with the AWD X6 and now the 5-Series GT. The 3-Series GT is simply a next step on this presumed road to niche-marketing Nirvana. Like the 5-Series version, it’s a sloped-roof design that’s expected to come with twin fold-down and sliding rear seats instead of a three-place bench. It should also have the same novel two-piece liftgate with a lower section that can be opened separately for slotting in smaller cargo or raised fully for max access to the luggage bay, which promises to claim as much volume as a 3-Series wagon.

Regardless of body style, the 2013 BMW 3-Series should get several new high-tech options borrowed from the larger 5- and 7-Series models. These reportedly include a Mercedes-style “drowsy-driver” detection/alert system, lane-departure warning, night vision, and radar-based cruise control with an integrated automatic-braking function designed to lessen impact severity.

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