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2006 BMW 325i/330i Review

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SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for BMW

SPECIFICATIONS MODEL: BMW 325i/330i ENGINE: 2.5-liter/3.0-liter DOHC inline six HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 215 hp @ 6,250 rpm/185 lb-ft. @ 2,750 rpm(325i) 255 hp @ 6,600 rpm/220 lb-ft. @ 2,750 rpm (330i) TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual or automatic FUEL ECONOMY: 20 mpg city/30 mpg highway (manual) WHEELBASE: 108.7 in. LENGTH/WIDTH/HEIGHT: 178.2 x 71.5 x 55.9 in. TIRES: 205/55R16 (325i)/225/45R17 (330i) CARGO: 12.0 cu.ft. BASE PRICE: $30,995/$36,995

BMW's fifth-generation 3-Series will continue to be the benchmark in the small sports sedan category. Ever since the BMW 2002 was introduced in 1967, BMW has been at the forefront of the small sports sedan category. The 2002 was followed in 1975 by the E21, the first true 3-Series. That was followed, in turn, by the E30 in 1984, the E36 I 1992, and the E46 in 1999. This generation is referred to as E90. The E numbers reflect internal BMW model numbers.

You'll immediately recognize the New 3 (as it will be called in commercials) by its adhesion to the modern BMW styling idiom. Yes, it has a semblance of the 7-Series' bustle-back trunk, although in both series it is more subtle and refined than in the original. I'd like to reiterate that I didn't dislike it in the 7-Series as much as some of my colleagues.

The New 3 is also more aerodynamic frontally, and it has some neat styling touches that smooth it out greatly. When you look at the way the series has progressed over the years, you sometimes wonder how BMW was able to make such a success of it. But, of course, styling in general has improved, so that's really not a knock on BMW style. There is no question you'll recognize a New 3 when you see it.

Under the hood is a pair of new engines, both inline sixes. The 325i has a 2.5-liter six rated at 215 horsepower. The 330i has a 3.0-liter six with 255 horses. Both transmit power to the road through a 6-speed transmission, either manual or automatic with a manual mode. BMW is most excited about an invisible feature of the engines - the use of magnesium in the construction to reduce weight. If you don't know it, though, you'll nevernotice it.

For general cruising on a wide variety of roads (and road surfaces) I liked the 325i. In some instances, the 330i seemed almost too powerful. This could be an age factor, because my younger co-drive at the introduction had no problems with the extra oomph. But we had an opportunity to take both out on the road course at BeaveRun Motorsports Park. I had no problems with the 330i, but went off course twice with the 330i.

Neither version of the New 3 is overpowering, however. Both have more than adequate power for anything you'd want to do, and both reach highly illegal speeds in a short period of time. BMW claims 0-60 mph times with the 325i to be 6.7 seconds with the manual and 7.2 seconds with the automatic; with the 330i it's 6.1 and 6.3 seconds, respectively. On our ride, we were over 100 mph way too soon.

What has made BMW so successful over the years is the company's attention to detail and the ride experience. Thew New 3 doesn't disappoint. A new suspension front and rear allows for a comfortable ride on most road surfaces (although Western Pennsylvania seems to delight in putting potholes at the apex of turns). Under hard driving on the road or track, the BMW is equally docile. Optional Active Steering allows the driver to keep his or her hands on the steering wheel through almost every corner. This was a feature I liked because as the driver I could keep my hand sin one place all the time without having to shift all the time.

There's also a hill holder feature with the automatic that keeps the car at rest on a hill without having to use the brake pedal.

Dimensionally, the New 3 has a longer wheelbase (+1.4 inches), wider track (+1.2 inches), longer overall length (+2.2 inches), width (+3.0 inches) and height (+0.8 inches). It's slightly heavier, but still retains the nearly ideal 50-50 front-rear weight distribution. And yes, purists, it's still front engine-rear drive. For those of us who find it important, the trunk is larger as well, by 1.3 cubic feet.

Like other BMW series, the New 3 has a "Start/Stop" button to get everything going. The "key" must be in the ignition, though. It also has a version of I-Drive that is either much more intuitive than the original or we have become more accustomed to I-drive and the competition. We still had trouble adjusting the volume on the audio until we discovered we could use the buttons on the steering wheel.

The interior is definitely Teutonic, with good leather seats that offer side support and tasteful wood trim. The instruments are clear and easy to read. Most switch labels make sense.

Our only complaint was what appeared to be a low whine with the automatic. Since our testers were early production versions, this may disappear in later models, or it may have been an aberration in our car. Rear seat legroom, although increased slightly, is slim with the front seats moved back.

But these are minor inconveniences in an otherwise great car. BMW set the standard in small sport sedans with the first 3-Series 30 years ago, and continues to be the benchmark that all other manufacturers aim for.

2005 The Auto Page