You won't roar from stoplight to stoplight, getting waves and nods from F-150 drivers smoking Marlboros, and you won't do smoky burnouts waiting in line at a NASCAR race, but the 2006 325i will make those wishes disappear with every click of its seamless six-speed stick and with every graceful move as it dances through the curves of a backcountry ballroom. The 325i's in-line six-cylinder engine seems a bit lackluster on paper; even the ultra-conservative Toyota Camry V-6 has more power than 215 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. But a car is more than an engine and four wheels, and the refinement and handling balance offered in the 2006 3-series is simply unparalleled.
While the current generation 7- and 5-series sedans offer amazing performance and bodies designed through the use of funhouse mirrors, the 2006 325i proves that Bangle-ism has a bright side. Finally we have a BMW we wouldn't prefer to be hidden under a shroud of darkness. Its lines are flared and aggressive, but less ostentatiousness than the Z4's. Much of the difference is found in light housings, where the wild stretches of the 5-series have been reigned in to appear more evolutionary than revolutionary.
The cabin strikes a similar balance of avant-garde style tempered with familiar ergonomics. Simple, straightforward controls are wrapped in flowing shapes and high-quality materials. You only get iDrive, the spinning joystick control for the complex infotainment system, if you order the satellite navigation: without it, everything is where you'd expect it to be. Ultra-supportive front sport seats with adjustable side bolsters are a must-have option, and come with the $1,600 sport package that also includes stylish split-five spoke 17-inch wheels, a lowered sport suspension, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Run-flat tires are now standard equipment on every 325i.
From a safety standpoint, electronic traction and stability control and front, front-side, and full-length head curtain air bags are all standard. But luckily, the nanny-tronics seldom intervene, as the chassis remains amazingly neutral. The bodyshell is claimed to be 25 percent stiffer, and provides a great platform for the front strut and rear multilink suspensions. The BMW cuts through tight twisties as if it were magnetized to the blacktop. Even through off-camber turns and through the pothole-infested roadways of southeast Michigan, the suspension never lacks composure.
Slightly confusingly, both the new 325i and the 330i have the same 3.0-liter inline-six. The 325i has retuned software and a different exhaust and intake system, lowering power and torque from 255 hp and 220 lb-ft to 215 and 185: the 325i would need only ten more horses to fill the previous 330i's stable. In both forms, the engine has a great note. While we favor the more powerful of the two, $7,000 knocked off the price is hard to argue against. Buying a base 325i and spending one to two thousand dollars in the aftermarket could result in a $32,000 330i, although warranties might vanish in the process. The change to the larger engine strengthens the connection between the two 3-series levels. The 325i sounds and feels more like the stronger 330, and low-end torque is greatly improved over the previous generation. Near-perfect six-speed automatic and manual transmissions transfer power to the rear wheels.
BMW is now offering Bluetooth connectivity in 3-series models as part of a $2,900 premium package. When used in collaboration with a compatible mobile phone, the system allows owners to use their phones through steering wheel-mounted buttons. The stereo head unit logs all incoming, outgoing, and missed calls, and sound from the phone enters the cabin through the front left speaker, allowing completely hands-free cell phone operation. Our only gripe is that we could not access our phone book through the head unit, despite the manual's insistence that such a feature exists.
With a base price of just over $30K, the 325i is a great deal. While the modest 215-hp six-cylinder won't beat an equally priced Infiniti G35 in raw performance, it is a much more elegant car to drive, with more subtle, polished responses. This 3-series is bigger than the outgoing car, too, and continues to deliver the best driving experience in its class, especially when the road starts curving.