2006 M3 New Car Test Drive
Is there a driver anywhere who doesn't recognize the BMW 3 Series? The 2006 3 Series may require a double-take, at least until we get used to it, because BMW has launched the first all-new 3 Series models in six years.
The 2006 BMW 325i and 330i sedans comprise the fifth-generation of a car that created a concept, or at least cemented that concept indelibly in the buying public's awareness. For 40 years the 3 Series had delivered a special mix of sporting performance, practicality and European luxury in a compact package. It's the car that defines 'sport sedan,' and the benchmark every luxury car maker from Acura to Volvo aims at when it develops a sport sedan or a smaller luxury sedan. Above all, the 3 Series is a driver's car: accelerating, turning and stopping with remarkable agility and balance, without seriously compromising comfort or common sense. Finally, the 3 Series has embodied consistent product character and values, defining what has become one of the most respected brands among automobile enthusiasts. Given mixed reviews following the launch of BMW's current 5 and 7 Series sedans, anticipation for the 2006 3 Series might be exceeded only by the potential for disappointment.
As consumers we certainly are not disappointed, but as enthusiast drivers we're pensive about the 2006 325i and 330i sedans. At their core these remain true sport sedans, but their sporting heart is a bit more difficult to find.
If we characterized the new 330i with one word, it might be 'stuff,' even if BMW would prefer 'technology.' Technology is everywhere in this compact sedan, some of it first-in-class and some not previously applied in any BMW. The 2006 BMW 3 Series offers Active Steering that actually turns the front wheels without driver intervention, not to mention 150-mile run-flat tires, turning bi-xenon headlights and an optional i-Drive interface inside. It's the first car in its class to offer radar-managed active cruise control, and even the standard cruise control will automatically apply the brakes if the 3 picks up too much speed going down a hill.
Technology is not a bad thing, mind you. The 3 Series accounts for 40 percent of BMW's sales worldwide and BMW is a high-tech brand. The car buying public expects technology in its products. Yet after a good test drive we're left to wonder how much technology is appropriate in a 3 Series, and at what point it detracts from the car's original pureness of purpose.
For this year at least, buyers have the unique opportunity of comparing the new with the old. The tires-up overhaul for 2006, including new exterior styling and interiors, more powerful engines, all six-speed transmissions and redesigned suspension, applies only to the 3 Series sedans. Coupes and convertibles are still available, but for now they are built on the previous-generation 3 Series platform, and are more closely related to the 2005 models.
Make no mistake. The 2006 BMW 325i and 330i sedans accelerate more quickly, stop shorter and turn with more lateral grip than the 2005 models. They are roomier, with more standard and optional equipment and more sophisticated electronic controls. For entry-luxury market shoppers who put a premium on driving satisfaction, the BMW 3 Series remains the place to start. We simply recommend that you compare these cars with and without all the new stuff.
Since its introduction in 1977 as a two-door sedan, the BMW 3 Series has evolved into a range of sedans, coupes and convertibles. For the 2006 model year, the line should include at least 10 different models, and the opportunity for confusion may be even greater than usual. That's because through the fall of 2005, only the 325i and 330i four-door sedans will be the all-new 3 Series, codenamed E90 by BMW. The six 2006 coupes and convertibles are still the E46 3 Series that's been in production since 1999. True to BMW tradition, the 325i and 330i sedans are both powered by a 3.0-liter straight six-cylinder engine. Yet their engines are new, and different from those in the coupes and convertibles.
In the 325i sedan ($30,995), the new engine generates 225 horsepower, for an increase of 40 over the 2005 model. The 2006 BMW 325i comes well equipped, with automatic climate and headlight control, a climate-controlled center console, headlight washers, rain-sensing wipers, a power moonroof, 12-speaker AM/FM/CD and the trick new self-braking Dynamic Cruise Control. Burr walnut trim is standard, though the standard upholstery is BMW's Leatherette vinyl. Lighter poplar trim and aluminum are available as no-charge options.
The 330i sedan ($36,995) has a more powerful version of the 3.0-liter six, producing 255 horsepower, or an increase of 30 from 2005. The 330i comes with more standard equipment than the 325i, including eight-way power seats with memory, an auto tilt-down feature for the right side mirror when reverse is engaged, xenon adaptive headlights that turn into a curve with the car, and 13-speaker Logic 7 stereo with two subwoofers and surround-style digital sound processing. Vinyl upholstery is standard.
Safety features that come standard include dual stage front-impact airbags that deploy at different rates depending on the severity of impact, front side-impact airbags and full-cabin head protection airbags. BMW no longer offers rear side-impact airbags on the 3 sedan, on the basis that few buyers took the option, and that the protective benefit does not exceed the risk of airbag related injuries.
Active safety features on all 3 Series models include Dynamic Stability Control anti-skid electronics and the latest generation antilock brakes. The ABS preloads the brake pedal when the driver suddenly lifts off the gas pedal, and includes a feature that lightly sweeps the brake discs dry every 1.5 seconds when its raining.
The most popular option will no doubt be the new six-speed automatic transmission ($1,275). There are also three major option groupings. The Premium Package adds Dakota leather upholstery to the 325i ($2,900) and 330i ($2,200) along with other conveniences, including a Bluetooth cellular phone interface, the tilt-down right side mirror on the 325i, power folding side mirrors, a digital compass in the rear-view mirror and hardware for BMW Assist, the telemetric package that provides safety, convenience and concierge services.
The Sport Package ($1,600) includes sporting suspension calibrations tuned by BMW's M performance division, 10-way sports seats (power adjustable in the 330i) and a wheel/tire upgrade: 17-inch alloys with V-rated performance tires for the 325i; 18-inch with W-rated tires for the 330i. The Sport package and BMW's SMG electro hydraulic manual transmission will be available for the 330i ($1,500) in the fall. The Cold Weather Package ($1,000) adds electrically heated seats, high-intensity headlight washers and a split-folding rear seat with ski sack.
BMW's Active Steering system ($1,250) and radar-managed Active Cruise Control ($2,200) are available as stand-alone options for the first time on the 3 Series. Sirius Satellite Radio hardware ($75) and power rear-window and manual side rear-window sunshades ($575) are available as stand-alones, as are most of the individual components of the three packages, including the split-folding rear seat ($475) and.