Tuesday, April 04, 2006

NEW IN REVIEW: Three Series Bimmer Better Than Ever


Of the approximately one million vehicles BMW will sell worldwide in 2006, about 600,000 of them will be variations on the Three Series compact sports sedan that is now into its fifth generation. This is truly the car that made BMW.

It’s had some stumbles along the way – remember the 320i?- but this is the quick, agile grin-maker that first taught Americans that driving fun did not always require eight cylinders and two tons of Detroit iron.

For 2006, the 330i is, like the rest of the Three Series lineup, on a new platform and features the latest and greatest edition of that greatest gift of German engineering to the world, the BMW straight six.

The Three Series is a little longer and wider and there is 150 pounds more on the scales than the previous 330i, but you hardly notice it, thanks to improvements under the hood and throughout the key parts that interact with driver and road.

The 3.0-liter DOHC six is good for 255 horsepower but along with the increased power comes better fuel economy, especially on the highway, thanks largely to a new three-stage induction system and application of the Valvetronic system first seen on the Seven Series.

My Arctic Metallic tester was also equipped with the six-speed stick shift transmission and everything about the 330i seemed livelier than the 2005 model. Acceleration was definitely improved with six-second 0-60 mph times being routine.

But the 330i’s jump off of corners and throttle response in passing situations seems much sharper as well, and the revised double-pivot front suspension and five-link setup in back, along with the 18-inch wheel/tire combination that put a lot of rubber on the road resulted in an extremely fast sedan, regardless of road direction.

The thing I like best about the Three Series is that it looks the least like the Seven Series, with the Banglized rear deck. The 330i still looks very much like a Three Series is supposed to look.
Oh yes, my tester also was without the iDrive horror, which is thankfully an option in the Three Series.

Elsewhere, the interior has a very businesslike steering wheel with a thick rim and thumb grabs in just the right places. The basic stereo and environmental functions are fairly easy to decipher and the front passengers get more than sufficient room to make a long trip quite an enjoyable experience. Rear seaters aren’t quite so fortunate.

The 330i is on the pricey side of the Three Series equation, with my tester bottom-lining in excess of $46,000. There are thousands of folks who won’t even think twice about paying that amount for a 330i and I cannot say that I blame them.