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2006 BMW 3-Series Road & Track Test

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Story by Trevor Hofmann

If Vancouver had an iconic car, a vehicle that possibly says more about the people who live in this beautiful city than any other, a good argument could be made for BMW’s 3-Series.

he car, in its various forms, not only typifies the Terminal City’s sophisticated worldliness, it also satisfies the need to express our unique passion for life. And it doesn’t forget that stalwart reliability is paramount for negotiating the many highways, byways, bridges and tunnels that make up our rather complex road system. And good news for those already initiated into the 3-Series family—the completely revised 2006 model has now arrived after getting rave reviews from the world’s automotive press. It continues BMW’s “flaming surface” design language theme with wonderfully flowing lines from front to back, plus upscale styling touches that give the smaller and more affordable model greater presence among its peers. Currently only available in one single four-door sedan profile, and powered by a 2.5- and 3.0-litre duo of engines, it will soon share the stable with more derivatives such as an economically priced 323i sedan, which replaces the 2005 320i, a 325i Touring sport wagon scheduled to become available this fall in rear- and all-wheel drive, plus a two-door coupe and convertible to be released shortly thereafter. Since none of these variations are available yet, let’s cut to the chase about the new sedan. In a nutshell, it’s better than the outgoing model in every way. It delivers more power, better handling, greater feel of the road, superior braking, way more safety and convenience features, tauter construction and fresher styling.

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After a circuitous drive through Pittsburgh’s suburban countryside, where BMW introduced the new model, and experiencing how the car’s near-perfect suspension set-up managed to soak up extremely rutted tarmac while snaking through winding and undulating roadways with confidence-inspiring precision, we ended up at Beaver Run MotorSports Complex in Wampum, Pennsylvania. Does it get any better than this? Brand new 3-Series BMWs in various levels of trim on a thoroughly engaging road course? It was dreamy.

I can’t say if it was the car that made me a better driver or if I just happened to be spot-on when it came to nailing my braking zones, carving the optimal apex and then bleeding off steering input while exiting the corner, but I felt pretty good about myself when the afternoon was over. The race-track, along with a more tightly confined autocross course (which also featured strategically laid sand on its surface specifically designed to reduce traction, prompting the car’s many driver aids to save the day) brought to light just how nimble and just how sophisticated the new 3’s chassis is.

The 3-Series comes with a lot of features in base form, by the way, and its price point is quite good, especially when factoring in its extremely high resale value after three years of ownership. In fact, despite being better than last year’s 325i in every way, the new model has barely increased in price. The 2006 323i and 325i starts at $35,200 and $40,300, respectively and features an entirely new design. The 325i has an upgraded 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder engine that now makes 215-horsepower compared to the 2005 model’s 184-horsepower rating, a new six-speed automatic transmission with manual mode, enhanced chassis engineering and steering geometry, a totally revised interior and more.

The top-line 330i is improved too, featuring all of the 325i’s upgrades plus an all-new 3.0-litre engine that produces 255 horsepower compared to the outgoing model’s 225, while torque is up from 214 lb-ft in the outgoing car to 220. Unlike the 325i, the 330i’s base price increased when it went on sale, but only by $500 to $47,900. Both new engines are the first in large-scale series production to incorporate magnesium as a main component, a metal that is 30 percent lighter than aluminum. The engines are also the first six-cylinders in the BMW family to make use of Valvetronic, the brand’s variable valve timing system. Both engines pull strongly from takeoff, the 3.0-litre obviously the

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more athletic of the two. I’m especially fond of the song they sing, as nothing else sounds anything like a BMW when the revs start to climb. The six-speed manual is perfectly gated, slotting from one gear to the next in precise increments, ideally suited to the nicely weighted clutch pedal. It’s one of those few cars that has obviously been engineered with significant input from professional drivers, as the balance of the sum of its parts, the way everything works together in a mechanical synchronicity, is wonderfully unusual.

Over and above the mechanicals, other option groups includes a Navigation package, priced the same as last year’s nav system but now including iDrive, which incidentally is much more intuitive than the previous generation. BMW carries forward an upgraded Premium package, available on both models, plus a Sport package, which offers much the same features as the 2005 model. Other stand-alone options include a new, wonderfully refined six-speed automatic transmission, plus various premium leather upgrades, park distance control, a handsome burl walnut or aluminum interior trim and metallic paint.

New for 2006 will be adaptive headlights, which point a set of bulbs in the direction the car is turning, and active steering, a feature that essentially adapts the steering ratio to vehicle speed. But unlike run-of-the-mill speed-sensitive steering systems, the 3’s is a much more sophisticated electric-motor-assisted, planetary-gear-motivated rack-and-pinion system. The new 3’s increased interior room makes a grand difference to comfort levels.

The extra space is most evident in the rear seating area, where there’s now ample room for two large adults to get comfortable and stay that way over a long journey. BMW didn’t need to upgrade the old model’s interior quality at all, as it was already class-leading. Still, the design has been modified to integrate the optional second navigation binnacle, which sits overtop the centre stack. I should also mention that the 325i and 330i will be available with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system in October.

But there’s no reason to wait for the all-wheel-drive version unless you’re living on the side of Blackcomb Mountain. Even then, BMW’s traction control and stability control systems are easily up to the task of handling a little ice and snow. So in the end, does this year’s new 3 maintain its benchmark status? Without a doubt, Vancouver’s iconic car is once again the best in its class.


Price Range (MSRP): $35,200 to $64,985
Body Type: four-door sedan
Layout: front engine, RWD (optional AWD)
Base Engine: 174-hp, 170 lb-ft of torque, 2.3L, 24-valve, DOHC I-6
Optional Engine: 255-hp, 220 lb-ft of torque, 3.0L, 24-valve, DOHC I-6
Transmission: 6-spd manual gearbox (optional 6-spd auto with manual mode)
Brakes (front/rear): disc/disc, ABS
Curb Weight (min – max): 1,490 to 1,565 kg (3,285 to 3,450 lbs)
Acceleration (0 – 100 km/h): 6.1 seconds (330i, manual)
Fuel Economy (city/hwy): 11.8 / 7.8 L/100 km (20 / 30 mpg)
Aerodynamic Drag Coefficient: 0.30
Warranty (mo/km): 48/80,000 comprehensive
Direct Competitors: Acura TL, Audi A4, Cadillac CTS, Chrysler 300C,
Infiniti G35, Jaguar X-Type, Lexus IS, Mercedes C-Class, Saab 9-3, Volvo S60

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