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BMW 3 Series

Martha Hindes

BMW 3 Series
BMW 3 Series Interior

Benchmarks enjoy a special place in legend. And BMW's eagerly-awaited restyled 3 Series, debuting as a 2006 model sports sedan, is staking a renewed claim to that particular role.

Already, the all-new 3 Series is winning accolades from friend and respectful foe alike, as BMW continues its relentless cross-fleet redesign. Small wonder. Is there any BMW out there that can't be driven with "point and shoot" accuracy nearly breathtaking in its precision? Add to that a cleaner molding of exterior design (that retains the familiar "nostril" air intakes and other traditional BMW cues), longstanding agile "driver's car" reputation and celebrity status approaching awe. No wonder folks expect great things.

The 325i and high output 330i get inline six-cylinder power from a lightweight magnesium/aluminum engine, bumping out 215 and 255 HP respectively. It's BMW's first 3 Series use of fuel-saving variable valve timing. It is mated to a six-speed ZF automatic (always pronounced "Zed Eff"), or later-arriving six-speed manual. Advanced technology almost hits overload. Among stability enhancements alone: Dynamic brake control, fading compensation, Comfort Stop, hill-holding Start-Off Assist and a brake drying function for navigating waterlogged roads.

The rear-drive (and subsequent AWD) 3 Series seats five. With a shade more length and width, it's a bit roomier than the previous model. An under-floor trunk hideout and folding rear seats add to cargo space. Interior changes include a redesigned dash and poplar wood trim. Sirius satellite radio is factory installed.

The 3 Series bases, orginally at $30 K and $37 K, increased an average 1.4 percent in September. That price can jump with such adds as active steering, comfort access for auto control of functions, heated three-stage front seats, power rear sunshades, active cruise control, voice recognition, and nav system paired with iDrive, a computerized driver interface. Cold weather, premium and sport packages add $1,000 to $2,900 to the total.

Sport models ride on larger 17-inch alloy wheels (325i) and 18-inch ones (330i). Despite run-flat, or higher-rated performance tires for fast track driving, both models have a 155-mph speed limiter to keep flat-out runs under control. With the 330i, BMW claims a 6.1-second zero to 60 launch (manual trans number). That's a Bimmer bragging right we won't try to dispute.