2006 BMW 325i

Full Driver Side View

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.

Driver Side Rear View

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.

Front Dashboard View

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.

Driver Side Front View

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.

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