Offered in 325 and 330 forms with different engines, the redesigned 2006 3 Series is BMW's bread-and-butter model. This series has a history in the U.S. market that dates back to 1977.
Compared with the fourth-generation series, which debuted for 1999, the new fifth-generation 325 sedan is all-new and larger in almost every dimension. Although its body is 30 pounds lighter than before, it's been stiffened. Front-to-rear weight distribution is close to 50/50.
Sedans, wagons, coupes and convertibles have been part of the 3 Series lineup in the past. In this generation, 325 and 330 sedans go on sale first, with other body styles scheduled to arrive later.
BMW says the iconic high-level status of the 3 Series is based on how it drives. On sale in May 2005, the 2006 325 sedan uses a new inline-six-cylinder engine that produces more horsepower and torque. A six-speed-manual transmission is now standard, and a six-speed automatic is optional. Previously, only the more powerful 330 models could be equipped with a six-speed manual.
Suspensions are new and include a five-link rear configuration; body rigidity is greater. Many new features are borrowed from the larger 5, 6 and 7 Series in BMW's lineup. Run-flat tires are mounted on all models. Dynamic Stability Control has expanded functions for 2006, and Dynamic Cruise Control lets the driver apply brakes lightly to control speed.
According to BMW, the new design "blends 3 Series character and tradition with progressive aesthetics and enhanced functionality." Just a glance affirms that it's a 3 Series. The 325 features a long hood and short front overhangs.
Though it's still truly a compact car, its wheelbase has grown to 108.7 inches, and the 325 is 2.2 inches longer overall; it now measures 178.2 inches. The car's width has increased to 71.5 inches, and the sedan is slightly taller. Its weight when equipped with an automatic transmission has increased by only 44 pounds.
Alloy wheels hold 16-inch tires, and 17-inch rubber is optional. Ground lighting in the door handles and adaptive brake lights are standard. Adaptive xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights and Active Steering with Servotronic speed-sensitive assist are optional.
Occupants of the 325's five-passenger interior get more rear-seat space. Shoulder room, front headroom, rear knee room and trunk volume have grown. Trunk capacity is 12 cubic feet, and a folding rear seat is optional. Optional sport seats have adjustable backrest width.
A multifunction remote replaces the conventional key, and the engine fires via a start/stop button. Automatic climate control has a Heat-at-Rest feature to continue moving warm air around the cabin.
For the first time, BMW's iDrive control system is available in the 3 Series as part of the optional navigation system. Subwoofers beneath the front seats are included with the standard audio system, and Sirius Satellite Radio can be installed. Logic7 surround sound is optional. A power rear sunshade is optional, and it includes manual rear side sunshades.
BMW's 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder produces 215 hp at 6,250 rpm and 185 pounds-feet of torque at 2,750 rpm in the 325 sedan. The engine incorporates Valvetronic variable valve lift. A new six-speed-manual gearbox is standard, and a six-speed Steptronic automatic transmission with Normal, Sport and Manual modes is optional.
For the first time in the 3 Series, BMW's Head Protection System uses a side curtain-type airbag system to protect occupants in both the front and rear seats. New seat-mounted side-impact airbags are installed up front, whereas prior models had door-mounted devices. BMW no longer offers backseat side-impact airbags. Automatic seat belt pretensioners are installed in front and at the outboard rear positions.
The prior-generation 325 sedan was altogether enjoyable in the driver-oriented sense, but the handling attributes of the fifth generation are stronger yet. Masterful steering response is about as precise as you'll find in any car on the market. On dry pavement, sure-footed behavior is the rule.
Ride quality is another story, which will please enthusiasts but possibly dismay less-avid 3 Series prospects. Every bump is noticed, even with the regular suspension; however, the overall experience isn't too troubling because the suspension is well behaved.
Engine response is assertive and energetic. When equipped with an automatic transmission, the 325 is impressively swift from a standstill and yields a satisfying snarl, though at higher velocities it's occasionally short on power. On a racetrack, even a manual-shift 325 doesn't recover as well after curves as its more powerful 330 sibling. The differences between the two models on regular roads aren't readily noticed.
Familiar-looking BMW gauges are large and easy to read. The seats are supportive and have helpful bolstering and comfortable cushions.