We haven't heard too much squawking from enthusiasts since BMW launched its redesigned 3 Series sedan in May -- at least nothing like the cries of outrage when the German automaker did a controversial makeover of its big 7 Series several years ago.
Frankly, there isn't much to grouse about with the 2006 BMW 330i, which should have no trouble retaining its crown as the king of the premium compacts.
We tested a nicely equipped 330i -- albeit without a navigation system and the dreaded iDrive controller -- priced at $42,390.
HE: The more seat time I get in the new 3 Series, the more impressed I am with the way BMW has managed to improve nearly every facet of its best-selling car line -- the room, the performance, the looks, even the safety. It must get progressively more difficult to take what has been one of the world's most successful sports sedans and continue to raise the bar, but that's exactly what BMW has done. Not that the old model left much room for criticism. But the new 330i is truly a joy to drive. The steering is precise and responsive, the ride quality firm yet supple. The car displays a remarkable agility and poise -- well, perhaps not so remarkable considering BMW's long history of building some of the finest luxury-sport sedans on the planet.
SHE: Yeah, but they still don't want to put adjustable pedals on the darn thing. Must be too much of a girlie cue. As much as I liked the new 3 Series, I never felt like I was perfectly comfortable behind the wheel. I always felt that by the time I moved the seat far enough forward to reach the clutch, I was too close to the headliner and the windshield.
HE: You bring up a good point. I remember when BMW used to brag about ergonomics; in fact, I think they were the first auto company to use the word. But I could never get quite comfortable behind the wheel either, for a different reason. The one glaring problem with the previous 3 Series that has not been solved on the new one is the massive center console, which cuts drastically into the driver's knee and legroom.
SHE: However, the 3 Series is a great vehicle and has the potential to get some folks out of compact SUVs and back into cars again. I was really impressed with its fuel economy -- 20 miles per gallon in the city and 30 on the highway. Just about the only people who get penalized in the new BMW are tall rear-seat passengers who don't get a lot of legroom. But they do get lots of other great stuff, including rear-seat vents with a temperature control and individual airline-style overhead reading lights.
HE: BMW still makes a great inline six-cylinder engine, and the updated 3.0-liter unit in the new 330i is no exception. Power and torque have been bumped up a notch, although the company could have gone further. I was stunned to learn that the new Toyota Avalon, for instance, makes considerably more power and torque than the new 330i. What's wrong with that picture? Fortunately, BMW offers a wide choice of transmissions, including a sweet six-speed manual gearbox that's perfectly calibrated to take maximum advantage of the car's flat torque curve.
SHE: Torque, schmorque. Let's talk about safety. How can you beat all the standard features on the 330i, including stuff you almost never see on more conventional vehicles, such as adaptive brake lights? Those two-stage lights get brighter the harder you mash down on the brake. It's a way of communicating with the driver behind you in a very clear way. Our test car also had standard run-flat tires which means you can most likely make it to your destination before you have to change a flat -- a true safety feature for women because it means you won't be a sitting duck on the side of the road. There are more safety features, too, including rain-sensing wipers, dynamic stability control and antilock brakes. In other words, BMW thought of everything and more. Too bad with all that engineering capability the BMW engineers couldn't make a very good front cupholder. The one in the dash is flimsy, and the one in the center console is mug-shaped but didn't hold any of the mugs in my kitchen.
HE: Cupholder, schmupholder. This is all about the driving -- and BMW still offers one of the best road-going experiences out there. If you have an extra 40 grand kicking around your crib, the 330i should be somewhere near the top of your shopping list.
Anita and Paul Lienert are partners in Lienert & Lienert, a Detroit-based automotive information services company.
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2006 BMW 330i
Type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, five-passenger sedan.
Price: Base, $36,995 (inc. $695 destination charge); as tested, $42,390.
Engine: 3.0-liter I-6; 255-hp; 220 lb-ft torque.
EPA fuel economy: 20 mpg city/30 mpg highway.
Where built: Germany
Key competitors: Acura TL, Audi A4, Cadillac CTS, Infiniti G35, Jaguar X-type, Lexus IS, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, Saab 9-3, Subaru Impreza WRX, Volkswagen Passat, Volvo S60
12-month insurance cost, estimated by AAA Michigan: $1,690 (Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)
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Anita's Vehicle rating: 4
Likes: World-class safety features, including run-flat tires, adaptive headlamps, dynamic stability control. Exceptional fuel economy for a sports car. Longer, taller, wider, roomier than old 3 Series. Lots of high-tech options for gadget freaks.
Dislikes: No adjustable pedals. Inadequate rear legroom. Flimsy single cupholder in dash. Center console mug-shaped cupholder doesn't hold American-size mug.
Paul's Vehicle rating: 5
Likes: Firm, supple ride. Precise, responsive steering. Remarkable agility and poise. Crisp, clean, contemporary lines not as polarizing as 7 Series. Well-balanced six-cylinder engine. Nicely calibrated six-speed manual gearbox.
Dislikes: Wide center console cramps driver's leg room. Can't order navigation system without iDrive. Not as powerful as a Toyota Avalon.
Rating system: 1 - unacceptable; 2- subpar; 3- acceptable; 4-above average; 5- world class
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Joe Wiesenfelder||Cars.com National||June 3, 2005|
|Jim Flammang||Cars.com National||June 22, 2005|
|Dan Neil||Los Angeles Times||August 3, 2005|
|G. Chambers Williams III||Star-Telegram.com||June 29, 2005|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||June 5, 2005|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit Newspapers||May 25, 2005|
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