Never mind the hardware; BMW devotees know that the company's engineers rarely put a foot wrong when it comes to engines, transmissions, suspensions, steering systems, and braking components. BMW isn't able to advertise itself as purveyor of the world's "ultimate driving machines" and keep a straight face for nothing. No, fans of the BMW 3-Series want to know if it's been Bangle-ized, a euphemism that has come to be defined within the automotive community as "made to be ugly."
Judge for yourself whether or not the new 2006 BMW 3-Series is as handsome as before. In our opinion, it's not as appealing as the 2002-05 edition, which itself was not as attractive as the 1999-2001 model. However, it's not ugly, as many have feared.
In back, the new 3-Series exhibits modern, tasteful, conventional design, punctuated by a chrome-tipped twin-pipe exhaust outlet. Blessedly free of the bustle-butt found on the 6- and 7-Series models, the 2006 BMW 3-Series is available in three standard primary colors - red, white, and black - and several optional metallic paint hues.
Overall, we like the way the new 2006 BMW 3-Series looks…better than any other model in the automaker's current lineup.
Passengers riding in the rear seat of the 2006 BMW 3-Series will be more comfortable thanks to added room, rear air vents, power points, and a fold-down center armrest. Both front seatbacks are equipped with storage nets, and there's a headrest for the middle seat position. A power rear sunshade is available to cut solar glare and heating.
Leatherette (vinyl) upholstery is standard, with Dakota leather a stand-alone option or included in the Premium package. Burl walnut wood trim decorates every 2006 3-Series interior, with poplar natural wood or aluminum available as options. On models equipped with the Sport package, the front seat backrests are width adjustable for 2006. A new Logic 7 audio system with digital sound processing and surround sound is available, as well as Sirius satellite radio.
In the 2006 BMW 3-Series, the optional iDrive controls most stereo functions, secondary climate settings, the optional navigation system, and on-board communications features. Primary functions for the dual-zone automatic climate control are located on the dashboard, and BMW provides a CD slot with a knob for power and volume. We wish that we could get radio tuning and station pre-set controls in conjunction with iDrive, but it appears that this will remain a dream.
Voice-control is included with iDrive, accessed via a button grouped with satellite controls for the stereo on the steering wheel, and the 2006 BMW 3-Series is also compatible with Bluetooth-enabled cell phones (Paris Hilton would not think this is hot). The ability to issue voice commands, and perform stereo adjustments using the redundant controls, should help to reduce the amount of fumbling with the silver metal iDrive controller between the seats.
Cars without iDrive have conventional stereo and air conditioning controls mounted in the center of the dashboard between the shifter console and the vents, allowing the driver to concentrate on the point of owning a BMW: Driving.
Active safety is managed through BMW's Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) with traction control. DSC operates through a bigger four-wheel, vented-disc, antilock braking system equipped with electronic brake proportioning. For 2006, several new braking features have been added to 3-Series including brake standby, fading compensation, brake drying, soft stop, and start-off assistant features. Brake standby prepares for a panic stop when the driver's foot is abruptly released from the accelerator, under the assumption that rapid braking is going to be required. Fading compensation reacts to rising brake temperatures, and accordingly adjusts hydraulic pressure relative to pedal force. Brake drying removes wetness from the brake rotors in the rain, based on sensor readings from the standard rain-sensing wiper system. Soft-stop automatically helps generate smoother "limo stops," and start-off assistant holds a 3-Series with a manual transmission in place on a hill until the clutch is released and the accelerator is depressed.
Additionally, the braking system works with the standard dynamic cruise control to help maintain pre-set speeds. Active cruise control is optional, ensuring proper following distances with traffic ahead. Standard adaptive brake lights illuminate more brightly the harder the brake pedal is depressed, and adaptive xenon headlights are available to illuminate the road ahead.
BMW offers an optional Park Distance Control (PDC) system to keep children out of harm's way and the bumpers in good shape during parking maneuvers by warning the driver when objects are close to the 2006 BMW 3-Series, and the optional BMW Assist telematics service includes automatic collision notification, SOS emergency calling, and instant access to both roadside assistance and a concierge service.
The engine installed in the 325i sedan generates 215 horsepower at 6,250 rpm, 31 more than before. Torque peaks at an impressively low 2,750 rpm, where 185 lb.-ft. of twist is available. More power combined with a lower torque curve brings the 2006 325i's zero-to 60 mph acceleration time down to 6.7 seconds with the manual transmission and 7.2 seconds with the automatic, according to BMW.
The engine installed in the 330i might be exactly the same size, but it's got three-stage induction (rather than single-stage in the 325i) and revised software mapping to generate 255 horsepower at 6,600 rpm and 220 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,750 rpm. BMW says that the 2006 330i will run to 60 mph in about six seconds flat, with only a slight acceleration penalty exacted when it's equipped with the optional automatic.
In both models, a six-speed manual transmission drives the rear wheels, with a new six-speed Steptronic automatic with normal, sport, and manual modes available. Starting in the fall, a Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG) will be offered on the 330i equipped with the Sport package. Another latecomer to the powertrain is a Comfort Access keyless ignition system complete with a Start/Stop button on the dashboard.
Though the suspension is completely redesigned, BMW hasn't strayed far from the successful formula of front MacPherson struts and a rear multilink setup for the 2006 3-Series. Up front, the new double-pivot strut suspension is composed entirely of aluminum, and the five-link setup in back is brand new. Standard and Sport suspension calibration is offered, and the fast-reacting Active Steering system from the 5-Series is available on cars equipped with the Sport package. Thanks to the use of lightweight materials in the front suspension and engine blocks, BMW has been able to maintain close to an ideal 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution for optimum handling and responsiveness.
Run-flat tires are standard on both the 325i and the 330i. Standard equipment for the 325i is a 16-inch aluminum wheel wearing 205/55 all-season tires, and for the 330i it's 17-inch alloys shod with 225/45 all-season rubber. Add the optional Sport package to either model for plus-one wheel sizes and lower-profile performance tires. A tire pressure monitoring system is also standard.
Initially, the 2006 BMW 3-Series will debut as a sedan, but a coupe, a convertible, and a station wagon will follow at staggered intervals within two years. Also, BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive system is almost certain to be available for owners in foul-weather climates. And when the new M3 arrives, it will probably pack a V8 punch for the first time ever.
Until the redesigned 2006 BMW 3-Series arrives Stateside in May of 2005, check out these photos and decide whether you want to wait for the larger, more powerful, technologically advanced 2006 BMW 3-Series, or buy one today. For many, the decision should prove more difficult than when the 5- and 7-Series models debuted, which is a wonderful predicament for BMW fans worldwide.
Photos courtesy of BMW