Both 325i and 330i models are offered. While previous BMW numeric designations went by engine size, the new American-spec 3 is different in that engines for both models are of 3.0-liter displacement. The 325i has 215 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque; additional features boost the 330i to 255 horsepower and 220 pound-feet. Both have a ULEV2 low-emissions rating.
Our test car was the 2006 BMW 330i. With a base price of $36,300--plus $1,000 for the Cold Weather Package, $2,200 for the Premium Package, $1,275 for the six-speed Steptronic automatic transmission, $2,000 for the navigation system, $595 for Sirius satellite radio, and $695 for the destination charge--it was a healthy $44,540 worth of BMW.The styling of many recent BMWs has been, to put it mildly, controversial. Although the styling trends introduced for the 7 Series and developed for the later 6 Series coupes, 5 Series sedans, and the Z4 Roadster can be seen in the sharp, angular accent lines on the 2006 330i's hood and at its belt line, as well as in the high, well-defined trunk, the overall shape is not too far removed from that of the previous generation. It's much more evolutionary than revolutionary. We received mixed comments from onlookers, with more favorable than not.
The 2006 BMW 330i's interior design and comfort only reinforces BMW's reputation. It's slightly roomier and quieter than before, and it has more of a luxury car character. Front-seat comfort is first-rate. Rear-seat space is marginally increased and good for the size of the car, but it is still a relatively small vehicle. Nighttime access is helped by interior courtesy lighting and small external spotlights in the front-door handles. As is increasingly common in luxury cars, there is no conventional key. The remote-access fob is inserted into a slot in the dashboard. To start the car, you can press the Start button, and you can press it again to stop the engine.
If the GPS navigation system is specified, the much-copied, cockpit-style instrument panel favored in earlier BMWs is replaced by a twin-brow design. The usual brow shading the main instruments is joined by a similarly shaped one directly to the right, which very effectively shades the nav system's LCD screen. It is easily visible in all lighting conditions, even if the driver is wearing polarized sunglasses.
The climate, communication, navigation, vehicle information, and audio system displays are all controlled through the big iDrive knob on the console. When compared with BMW's recent styling, perhaps even more controversy has been created by iDrive here, but the system has likewise been simplified and improved since it debuted in the 7 Series in 2002. Categories, menus, and actions are selected by a combination of fore, aft, and sideways motion; twisting; and a mouselike click of the iDrive control. For anyone with experience using computer and consumer electronics interfaces, the iDrive learning curve should prove to be reasonable. Most functions and required actions are very logical.
Interestingly, the iDrive control is context sensitive. If there are four selections on a menu, it can be turned to four positions--then it stops. If there are three selections, it can be turned to three; if there are five, you have five positions. A touch of the menu button next to the iDrive control resets the system back to the main menu at any time. Although address entry--one character at a time--is as annoying as with many other systems, it's possible to zoom the display out, move the reference position to your destination, and click the iDrive control to set a destination. As with other nav systems, it's safest to use when stopped or when the front passenger can control it. Any intended route is displayed well on the map, with additional visual and auditory instructions.
BMW knows its popularity in the tech world and has a host of standard or optional information, as well as entertainment features, beyond the navigation system. Bluetooth connectivity is part of the Premium Package, although we were unable to pair it with either a Motorola V505 or a Palm Treo 650. Most BMW CD players and changers are MP3 capable, although, because our 330i came with the navigation system, a center-installed remote changer was required for MP3 CD capability. There is an auxiliary input for portable audio devices, and Sirius satellite radio is available. And for the ultimate in drink cooling, check out the air-conditioned cup holder in the center console. Outside, adaptive taillights vary in intensity according to brake effort, and adaptive Xenon headlights turn with the steering wheel for improved nighttime visibility.Although the iDrive system seems high tech, it pales in comparison with what's under the hood. The 2006 BMW 330i's engine is an in-line six-cylinder, a design with fine dynamic-balance characteristics and smooth, even torque pulses. If its four valves per cylinder and dual overhead cams are conventional by today's standards, that's about where convention stops. The engine's cylinder head and cylinder-water jacket are cast in aluminum alloy, but the upper and lower crankcase assemblies are cast from magnesium alloy for light weight.