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2006 BMW 3 Series 325i 330i Review


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Special From Thom Cannell

Joyful and responsible

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for BMW

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” Paul never drove a BMW 3 Series, a vehicle that combines responsibility to family and planet with a fun-to-drive unequaled among its competitors.

Recently I drove an “old” BMW 330i from Detroit to New York. It didn’t take as far as the Indiana state line to “get it.” That 3 Series struck me as a perfect automobile. Light, agile, responsive, quiet, roomy, powerful, and economical. So, why was BMW about to debut their 5th generation of this spectacularly popular sport sedan? Where was the need to produce a better car?

The need was to stay ahead. In a world of me-too and “I can do that,” BMW is dedicated to perpetuating absolutely the best. The new 325i and 330i sedans have all-new engines, all-new suspension, and all-new design. It remains unmistakably a 3 Series and has the best styling out of BMW to date. Each offers luxury and convenience items formerly found only in 5-6-7 series cars, improved chassis rigidity, more rear passenger legroom, and more space for cargo.

Having driven the all-new 325i and 330i, I’m convinced it is indeed the perfect automobile. The vehicles code-named E90 are almost as much fun to drive as a Porsche 911 Carrera or Corvette Z06. They handle every bit as well, too (OK, almost as well as those barely disguised race cars.) Unlike Porsche or Corvette, a 3 Series will eagerly accommodate four passengers in comfort and luxury, whether kids or colleagues. Add in advanced magnesium/aluminum engines with bountiful horsepower and amazingly good fuel economy, BMW’s legendary “fun to drive” road manners, and BMW buyers need not sacrifice between responsibility, family values, and driving pleasure. Tom Purves, President and CEO of BMW NA said, “What we believe in is why we’re successful”

Aspirational

BMW became an aspirational brand by creating a vehicle for people who love to drive. While indisputably a status symbol for folks who have money not competition instincts, even they require a great experience behind the wheel in addition to luxury and value. At $30,995 for the 325i and $36,995 for the 330 before options, pricing puts them in good position; similar Jaguar S-type $44,895; Infiniti G35 V6 $33,960; Lexus IS 300 $31,650 according to the NADA.

Great car companies make great engines.

At BMW, the emphasis on technologically advanced, powerful in-line engines continues. N52 engines created for the 3 Series displace 3.0 liters and produce either 215 hp @ 6250 rpm and 185 lb-ft. of torque @ 2750 for the 325i, or 255 horsepower @ 6600 rpm and 220 lb-ft. of torque @ 2750 in the 330i. The difference in power, and the 330i’s price, is due to complex and expensive changes.

Core Values

BMWs are fun to drive. To achieve this, BMWs are always Rear Wheel Drive with a near 50/50% weight distribution. The new 3 uses mostly aluminum double pivot front suspension and a completely new 5-link rear independent suspension (more links = more precision) made of steel. Much of the unsprung weight, like wheels, brake calipers, and brake shields are aluminum. This improves comfort and responsiveness.

BMW’s all new in-line six-cylinder engine beats the old, producing (330i) 30 more horsepower and 6 pound-feet of additional torque. It revs 500 rpm higher, gets more than 10% better fuel economy, and weighs 22 pounds less. Most of this is the result of adding Valvetronic variable valve lift technology from the 7 Series V8 and V12 engines. Valvetronic replaces a traditional engine throttle by adjusting valve lift, and duration, to control engine fuel-air intake.

The engine itself is unique; the cylinder block is formed from three castings of magnesium and aluminum. Coolant is pumped electrically, as needed, not according to engine speed. A variable output electric pump also delivers oil. Benefits are decreased weight, faster engine warm-up, and less power required. Engines for the 325i use single, not 3-stage induction, different engine control software.

Steering is engine-speed-sensitive rack and pinion with variable assist. It is universally acclaimed for sharpness and accuracy. Optional Active Steering changes the response to steering wheel input based on road speed. At low speed you can maneuver into parking spots with miniscule steering wheel movements, while at high speed the same amount of steering wheel movement barely changes direction. It sounds counter-intuitive, but just works.

A 6-speed manual transmission with light, short-throw shifting is standard. It feels crisp and precise. With the new 3 Series, the 6-speed Steptronic automatic transmission with Normal, Sport and Manual modes is added, and in September a 6-speed Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG) option will be available.

More luxurious, and larger.

The all-new body is unmistakably a 3 Series BMW. Crisper, with a chiseled power dome hood that is visually pulled forward from the A pillars, the nose drops smoothly to wrap a signature grille and blended Xenon Adaptive headlights (they point in the direction you’re turning.) Styling is bolder and more sophisticated in every way. The cabin appears large and the trunk small, with short overhangs at either end. Fenders are stretched taught over 17” or 18” tires, rather than flared.

Inside are manual seats (325i) or memory power seats (330i) or Sport seats for either model with the Sport Package. Burl Walnut is the standard trim, with Natural Poplar or Aluminum a no-cost option. The dash is a single piece, with a single eyebrow over the twin gauge cluster. Of course the gauges are large and easy to read. If you purchase the navigation system for $2,000, it includes voice recognition and alters the dash, adding a second brow. iDrive, the control for all entertainment and communication has been improved; now you can get to the main menu with a single button. All models have improved audio systems, whether the premium Logic 7 system from Harmon Kardon in the 330i or upgradeable 330-Watt 10-speaker system standard in 325i. Either offers MP3 CD playback, and BMW offers an input jack on the dash so you can easily connect your iPod to the system.

New features are literally too numerous to enumerate. Of significance are improved Dynamic Stability Control for traction and accident prevention; Brake Fade Compensation that automatically adjusts brake pressure as brakes heat up; Brake Standby which readies brakes for instant application should you abruptly lift off the accelerator; Brake Drying senses wiper activation and touches the pads to the rotors to keep them dry, Bridgestone Run Flat tires on all models increases trunk space (the spare tire well provides secure storage,)

While it would seem that the 330i blows away the 325i, it simply is not true. With an opportunity to push vehicles to their (and our) limits at Beaver Run Raceway near Pittsburgh, PA., I jumped into what I thought was a 6-speed 330 and was astonished to discover it was a 325i. Yes it had less torque and slightly different gear response in comparison, but if you choose a 325 you will not be disappointed in power, braking, or handling.

BMWs focus on small, nimble sport sedans began with the BMW 1600 and celebrated 2002 - four doors and four cylinders - and has grown to a family of sedans, coupes, sport wagons and convertibles. Today women and men purchase the car equally. And while 5th generation prices appear to have risen - 325i by $1000, the 330i by $600 - incorporation of more standard features results in typical saving of $100. Add in BMW’s 4 year / 50,000 mile service which means a first time buyer pays only for tires and gasoline and you have truly, the perfect car.

Copyright 2005 by Thom Cannell

5/24/05