For the first time, all-wheel drive is available for the coupe, further narrowing this year-round sporty car's list of competitors. The xDrive system's power distribution is infinitely variable, courtesy of an electronically controlled, limited-slip center differential. The default setting sends more than 60 percent of power to the rear wheels. Under ordinary circumstances, the rear-wheel-drive goodness remains intact. When the vehicle is being parked or maneuvered at low speeds, the system disconnects power from the front wheels.
The new coupe is longer yet slightly narrower than the sedan, and the two-door's body structure is both lighter, by 22 pounds, and stiffer than the four-door's. The lightweight, plastic front fenders are dent resistant, easier to shape, and weigh half as much as their steel equivalents.
Swiveling and adaptive bixenon headlights are standard on all U.S.-bound coupes. The familiar "angel eyes" around the front headlamps creatively take the place of daytime running lights, while LED rods in the rear lights further distinguish the coupe from dusk until dawn. (The two-stage adaptive taillights will surprise those following closely behind, especially if they notice the additional lights that flash during panic stops.)
The new 3-series coupe is strictly four-place. The center console continues all the way aft to the rear seatback and is flanked by the individual rear seats. While other manufacturers often mount seatbelts in the seats themselves rather than to the B-pillars, BMW reprises the old German party trick of automatic seatbelt feed. An arm emerges from the rear-seat side panels to hand front-seat occupants their belts. Though these didn't seem to work that well upon our cursory acquaintance, they did remind us that someone ought to offer an option whereby driver and passenger are handed not just seatbelts but other worthwhile things, such as snacks, caffeinated beverages, CD music mixes, and the collected writings of Kahlil Gibran.
Finally, there is the matter of the new coupe's looks. We like them. It marks a natural enough progression from its predecessor, though, once again, it will be seen as a half-step backward from the overt Bangle-ism (or should we say van Hooydonk-ism?) of BMW's controversial 7-series and Z4. Perhaps we've just gotten used to it. Certainly, the world's carmakers who've cribbed liberally from this once-derided styling tangent (witness the unashamed Bangle butt of the new Toyota Camry, if you need any recent proof) have signed on. Say what you will--I'll say I think the new design is not quite as worthy as the outgoing coupe was--but it still looks exactly like a BMW coupe, with pert lines marked by a long hood, a short overhang in the front, and a tasteful rear. Its wide stance, with wheels and tires loud, proud, and mean at the corners, is complemented by the famous Hofmeister kink, lending a graceful resolution to its low coupe roof. The new two-door 3-series is not just better looking than its sedan sibling. It looks even more set to suck up tarmac, and that's what BMW coupes do best. So what else is new?