But enough about engine issues and niggles. We fought among ourselves to drive the 330i because it maintains what we have come to expect from a BMW 3-series: fantastic steering, excellent brakes, a torque-rich yet rev-happy engine, and a brilliantly responsive chassis. "The BMW's suspension is so perfectly dialed in," enthused senior online editor Jason Cammisa, "that you'll never feel a single unnecessary body motion, its brake feel is practically telepathic, and its steering quietly reads the road surface to you as you drive along." Even when the cold, snow, and rain of winter arrived, Dunlop Winter Sport M3 tires mounted on seventeen-inch wheels helped keep the BMW stable and nearly unstoppable in poor conditions despite the assumed disadvantage of rear-wheel drive. "These winter tires sure work well in the snow and slush," wrote motor gopher Chris Conwell. "Plus, they improve the ride ever so slightly and reduce tramlining compared with the stock eighteen-inch wheels and summer tires."
Despite the in-line six's mechanical issues, we applaud BMW for producing such a sweet-sounding, powerful, and fuel-efficient engine when most carmakers have switched to the easier-to-package V-6 configuration. The BMW regularly returned close to 30 mpg on the highway, and we never tired of the glorious music made by the 330i's engine as it spun to its 7000-rpm redline.
BMW managed to make both space and feature improvements to the 3-series cabin compared with previous models. The interior is now just big enough to accommodate four adults, although there's still a lack of foot room in the back seat and it can feel somewhat crowded if a child seat or extra baggage is involved.
We were impressed by many interior features. "Why doesn't every other car's Bluetooth system work this well?" wondered Web producer Stuart Fowle. "The 330i downloaded my entire phone book, allowed me to dial straight from the radio's screen, and has great sound quality. It's far and away the best phone integration system around." The 3-series is one of many cars that now feature an auxiliary jack for an iPod, but BMW cleverly locates this input jack along with a 12-volt power outlet in the center console, making it a perfect spot to stash all your wires. And even on the coldest mornings, the BMW's heat cranked up in no time, with the first-rate seat heaters toasting our frozen backsides within minutes.
If you compare the specifications of our BMW 330i with those of its competition, the numbers say that it's overpriced, underequipped, and too small. At $41,195, our test car lacked lumbar adjustment, a navigation system, and even leather seats. But as enthusiasts, we rejoice that BMW hasn't compromised its core values.
As senior editor Joe Lorio penned in the logbook, "The magic of the 3-series is that it's the best combination of sports car and luxury sedan out there. It's a compelling combo, and that's why it continues to keep car enthusiasts in thrall.""The 330i could blow up every 20,000 miles," raved Cammisa, "and I'd still like it better than most other pretend-to-be-sport sedans."
Point taken, but for the average owner, major mechanical problems are a giant headache. We remain hooked on the 3-series, and we don't regret naming it our 2006 Automobile of the Year, but we can't ignore all the problems we've encountered with BMW engines. Until those problems get ironed out, we'll just be happy that BMW continues to build cars that are so fabulous to drive.