What's New for 2006
The BMW 3 Series sedan and wagon have been completely redesigned for 2006. Major highlights include new features, more powerful engines, a slightly larger interior and the incorporation of BMW's latest exterior styling elements. The 3 Series coupe and convertible are unchanged this year but will eventually move over to the new platform being used for the sedan and wagon; expect to see a new hardtop convertible for the 2008 model year.
The baby Bimmer has grown up for 2006. The sixth-generation 3 Series is slightly larger, heavier and faster than the previous 3, which was introduced in sedan form in 1999, followed by the coupes, the convertible and the wagon in 2000. An even better car overall, the 2006 BMW 3 Series has a bolder look, revised suspension and braking, more power and more interior space. BMW's infamous iDrive is now available in the 3 Series, but is thankfully optional (packaged with a navigation system), and the rest of the interior is a model of precision design.
For now, only the sedan and wagon benefit from the complete makeover. The 2006 3 Series coupe and convertible remain unchanged but will likely be merged into a single convertible model with a retractable hardtop design for the 2008 model year. The new 3 Series sedan is again badged as a 325 or 330, although both now use a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder. The 325 is rated at 215 hp, while the 330's engine comes with a three-stage induction system and different exhaust and powertrain software that result in 255 hp. The optional Active Steering system features a variable ratio that turns the front wheels to a greater degree relative to steering wheel movement at low speeds (such as parking lots and tight corners), and even countersteers if the stability control system senses a slide.
The 3 Series is BMW's top seller in the U.S., and for good reason -- endowed with world-class suspension, steering and brake components, these cars have an ability to communicate with their drivers that is unmatched in the entry-level luxury class and, indeed, unmatched by most cars at any price. Lest you think this adroit handling comes at the expense of ride quality, rest assured that BMW still realizes the importance of comfortable cruising. Whether you choose the standard suspension or the optional sport-tuned setup, you'll be able to go about your weekday routine without feeling that you've sacrificed ride comfort for the sake of weekend thrills. Overall, the BMW 3 Series cars tend to cost more than the competition, but if you go easy on the options, we think you'll find that the price of admission is well worth it.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The BMW 3 Series lineup includes the 325i and 330i sedans, the 325xi all-wheel-drive sedan and wagon, the 330xi all-wheel-drive sedan, and coupe and convertible versions of the 325Ci and 330Ci. Because the sedan and wagon are all-new designs, there are slight variations between them and the two-door coupe and convertible in regard to standard and optional equipment. Standard features on 325 models include automatic climate control, one-touch power windows, a power moonroof, automatic headlights, heated mirrors, a CD player and keyless entry. The 330 model adds upgraded wheels, a sport suspension and a Logic 7 premium sound system. Various options include a DVD-based navigation system with iDrive, adaptive xenon headlights, parking sensors, active cruise control, leather seating and active steering. The optional Performance Package includes tighter suspension tuning, performance tires, a higher speed limiter and sport seats.
Powertrains and Performance
The 325 sedan and wagon models are powered by a 3.0-liter inline six that makes 215 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. The 330 sedans have a higher-performance version of the same engine that generates 255 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque. BMW 325Ci coupes and convertibles have a 2.5-liter inline six that makes 184 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque, while the 330Ci's 3.0-liter engine generates 225 hp and 214 lb-ft of torque. Most 3 Series models come with a six-speed manual transmission as standard equipment. The exceptions are the 325Ci models, which have a five-speed. A six-speed automatic is optional for the sedans and wagon; the coupe and convertible's have a five-speed automatic. BMW's Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG) is also available on select models. The 3 Series is typically rear-drive, though models with an "x" designation are all-wheel drive.
Most BMW 3 Series models include four-wheel antilock disc brakes, stability control, dynamic brake control, front-seat-mounted side airbags and head curtain airbags for the front and rear. The sedan's and wagon's stability control system integrates several brake-related features, such as wiping the pads in the rain (wet brakes don't stop too well) and snugging the pads to the rotors when the driver lifts off the throttle, which increases brake responsiveness. In IIHS tests, the 3 Series earned a "Good" rating (the best possible) for its protection of occupants in front-offset and side-impact crashes. The NHTSA awarded the vehicle four out of five stars for front-impact safety and five stars for side-impact safety.
Interior Design and Special Features
Inside BMW 3 Series sedans, drivers will find a restrained show of luxury, wherein the emphasis is on driver comfort and involvement, hence the supportive seats and clean analog gauges. Materials are high in quality and build quality is exceptional; indeed, even the standard leatherette upholstery looks and feels better than you would expect.
The BMW 3 Series never fails to impress us. Its world-class suspension, steering and brakes provide hours of entertainment on twisty two-lane highways -- beyond simply feeling rock-solid when hustled around turns, this car communicates with the driver in a manner that inspires confidence no matter what kind of driving you're doing. And you don't have to give up a comfortable ride to get this kind of athleticism.
Read our BMW 330i Long-Term 20,000-Mile Test