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 330 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 follow later.
On sale in May 2005, the next-generation 330 sedan uses a new inline-six-cylinder engine that produces 30 horsepower more than the base engine of its predecessor. Suspensions are new and include a five-link rear configuration; body rigidity is greater. A number of 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 functionality, while Dynamic Cruise Control has the new capability of gently applying the brakes to maintain the preset 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 sedan. The 2006 model promises more efficient aerodynamics. The 330 features a long hood and short front overhangs.
Though it's still a compact car, its wheelbase has grown to 108.7 inches, and the 330 sedan is 2.2 inches longer overall; it now measures 178.2 inches. Its width has increased to 71.5 inches, and the sedan is slightly taller. Its weight with an automatic transmission has increased by 88 pounds.
Xenon high-intensity-discharge adaptive headlights are standard on the 330 sedan. Alloy wheels hold standard 17-inch tires, and a Sport Package includes 18-inch rubber. Active Steering with Servotronic speed-sensitive assist is optional. BMW's Start-off Assistant can keep manual-shift 330s from rolling backward on an incline.
Occupants of the 330's five-passenger interior get more rear-seat space. Shoulder room, front headroom, rear knee room and trunk volume have grown. Trunk volume is 12 cubic feet, and a folding rear seat is optional. The optional sport seats included with the Sport Package have power-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 is available in the 3 Series as part of the optional navigation system. Logic7 surround sound is standard. Subwoofers beneath the front seats are included, and Sirius Satellite Radio can be installed. A power rear sunshade option includes manual rear side sunshades.
Under the Hood
BMW's 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder develops 255 hp at 6,600 rpm and 220 pounds-feet of torque at 2,750 rpm in the 330. Fuel efficiency has been improved, and the engine is 22 pounds lighter and more compact. The 330's engine also works with three-stage variable induction. A six-speed-manual gearbox is standard, and a six-speed Steptronic automatic transmission with Normal, Sport and Manual modes is optional. A six-speed sequential manual transmission will be available in fall 2005.
For the first time in the 330, 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 rear side-impact airbags. Automatic seat belt pretensioners are installed in front and at the outboard rear positions.
Whether in 325 or 330 form, precision handling is the BMW 3 Series' main attraction — and it's even better in the fifth generation. The 330's masterful steering response is about as precise as you'll find in any sport sedan. You can expect confident, sure-footed behavior on dry pavement.
Ride quality is less appealing. Enthusiasts may applaud — if they consider a certain amount of roughness is an appropriate exchange for such handling prowess — but some riders are likely to complain. When equipped with a sport suspension, the 330 sedan yields a decidedly stiffer ride than its 325 companion.
The 40-hp difference between the two 3 Series models is easily noticeable on a racetrack, but in ordinary driving it's less significant. Even with an automatic transmission, the 330 sedan recovers smartly after slowing for a turn.
Comfortable seats provide superior support and helpful bolstering. BMW's iDrive system is little more logical in the 3 Series than in more expensive BMWs and likely to produce more annoyance than assistance.
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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