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2006 BMW 330i Review

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BMW 330i German Engineering At Its Best
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for BMW

The first (and, as it turns out, only) new car I ever bought was a 1970 BMW 2002. It was a wonderfully simple little car that was probably more fun to drive than any other little sedan on the road - fast, agile and just a tad quirky. It was the precursor of the fabulous 3-Series that would come to define and lead the small sport sedan segment.

This week’s ride is the blazingly fast, eminently sophisticated BMW 330i, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive sport sedan. I was supposed to be evaluating a Kia Rio this week but it was needed elsewhere so the 330i was a fill-in. Neither I, nor my pretty blonde was disappointed. She had her heart set on buying a 3-Series BMW a few years ago when an opportunity popped up to buy a little SLK. She opted for the latter but is still enamored with the Bimmer. She’s planning on getting her lusty paws on this one.

We tend to dismiss advertising tag lines as so much fluff most of the time, but we’ll make an exception on this one. On top of the window sticker, and all over the advertising, is the bold assertion that this car is “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” While hyperbolic it may just be justified. After all, my old 2002 was a treat to drive and this week’s tester is generations better.

On my first drive into town I’m impressed with the 330i’s amazing thrust and effortless revability. (Is that a word?) I just mean with this 6-speed stick the temptation to get the revs up high is irresistible and that engine is smooth and effortless up there. We hear or feel no hint of buzziness, business or harshness, just a willingness to wind as tight as we ask. Brakes, steering, suspension, controls, seats . . . everything is balanced and feels first class.

The color of our test car is called Sparkling Graphite Metallic, sort of dark pewter. The black leather interior is rich and sumptuous. The 8-way power driver’s seat is firm and generously bolstered, perhaps a bit too stiffly bolstered for some. It’s a little restrictive getting my big frame into the seat but once there I’m held with in place with substantial authority. The rear seat of this 4-door sport sedan is adequate for medium-size or small folks but it might be a bit tight for a guy my size. I didn’t spend any time back there.

Everything inside looks and feels taut and Teutonic, that is to say efficient and solid. German engineers have a tendency, in my humble opinion, to make things a little more complex and intricate than necessary. Two examples come to mind. The spare tire on my old 2002 was so intricately packed into the rear panel of the trunk that no one but a German engineer could have ever gotten it back in after a tire change. The second example is setting the clock on this 330i. I had to look it up in the manual, finally finding the procedure to be entirely unexpected, and incongruous. Then I had to go through the procedure at least a half-dozen times before finally getting it right. Now, I ain’t no dummy, but it sure challenged my patience. I’d sure like to know why they designed it that way.

Our test car has the 3-liter, overhead-cam, 24-valve, in-line 6-cylinder pumping out 225 horsepower and 214 lb.ft. of torque. With the six-speed manual transmission it feels more powerful than those numbers would imply. BMW’s unique Double-VANOS “steplessly” variable valve timing is a state-of-the-art system for maximizing breathing efficiency, minimizing emissions and evening out the power curve. Unleaded premium is recommended because of the 10.2:1 compression ratio. Zero to 60-mph, says BMW, will take just 6.4 seconds, and I believe it. This Bimmer weighs just about 3,000 pounds with a weight distribution very close to 50/50.

The EPA says we can expect 20 mpg in the city and 30 on the highway. We estimate the same. We weren’t able to put enough miles on the vixen to get firm numbers ourselves but watching the instant mileage indicator while we’re diving under varied conditions seems to support those numbers. With a

Cornering is fast and flat. Suspension on the 330i is calibrated in a “sport” mode. Front suspension is a strut-type with twin-tube gas-pressure shocks and forged-aluminum lower arms reducing unsprung weight. Rear independent suspension is a multi-link design with cast aluminum upper transverse arms. Anti-roll bars front and rear and careful balance of all the suspension elements along with engine-speed sensitive, variable assist power steerting lay the groundwork for the ultimate driving experience. We weren’t able to get the 330i on a race track but we did push it hard enough around home that we can’t wait to spend more time with it or a sibling.

BMW’s warranty covers the car for 4 years or 50,000 miles with roadside assistance. Rust through is covered for 12 years and unlimited miles.

Our 2006 BMW 330i has a base MSRP of $36,000. That includes all we’ve talked about so far (except the leather is part of an option package) plus lots of air bags, Dynamic Stability Control (Dynamic Brake Control, Brake Fade Compensation, Brake Stand-by, Brake Drying and Start-off Assist), Dynamic Traction Control, and all imaginable safety systems. Options on our test car include: the Cold Weather Package for $1,000; the Premium Package costing $2,200 which includes the leather, Bluetooth system, power lumbar support, garage door opener, and power folding and automatic dimming mirrors; the Sport Package for $1,600 including 18-inch alloy wheels, sports suspension, leather steering wheel and sport front seats; and the Navigation System at $2,000. All this along with Satellite Radio for $595 and destination charge of $695 adds up to a bottom line of $45,165.

The BMW 330i is a driver’s car to be sure. The looks, the feel and the ambiance of this truly great small sport sedan continue to set the standard by which all in its class are judged.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions All Rights Reserved

Compare: BMW 3 Series 1997-2009