BMW 3 Series gets makeover with better mpg

LOS ANGELES

The 3 Series first came into being in the 1970s when there really wasn't yet such a thing as a small upscale car.

Through the years, the 3 has never been cheap and isn't today. This new one starts out at $34,000, which sounds reasonable. But start optioning the car up and sticker shock can set in. You can easily spend $50,000 on one and you can spend much more for the 335 with the bigger engine.

But for your premium dollars you are getting a premium ride. BMW has always been able to sell its 3 Series on the driving feel, especially on twisty roads.

Technology has evolved with the 3 Series. If you like gizmos in your car, they're all here, though they obviously contribute to the rather lofty sticker price.

Over the years, each new generation of the 3 Series has gotten a little more expensive, a little bigger and a little more technologically advanced. The latest one is the most advanced of all, but in one way, it's gotten back to its 3 Series roots: under the hood.

For the first time in more than a dozen years, you can get a four-cylinder engine in the 3 Series. It's a sign of the times, as every car brand is looking to improve fuel economy and reduce emissions output.

The two -liter BMW 4 is turbocharged and actually makes more power than the base six cylinder in last year's car. Gas mileage ratings are 23 city and 34 highway. Choosing the automatic will get you a bit more in each cycle, though like many cars in this segment, premium fuel is required.

The 3 Series first debuted in the U.S. in 1976. That was a time when gas was getting expensive and people were increasingly concerned about fuel economy. That sounds familiar.

Over time, BMW's 3 Series has been admired by some and dismissed as overpriced by others. But it's a car that has always evolved to keep up with the times while staying just a bit like that first one that started it all.

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