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2006 BMW 3 Series

2006 BMW 3 Series New Car Review

by Jeff Voth

The city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania seemed like an odd place for BMW to host the ride and drive press launch of the new 3 Series. So odd in fact that none of the assembled scribes could figure out the “official” rationale. When pressed on this issue, BMW employees would only smile and say, “We have our reasons,” and then quickly move on to a different topic.
2006 BMW 3 Series Rear
Surely somewhere warm with a beach like Miami, Florida would have been preferable. Or maybe it would have been better to choose a locale rich in German heritage, where Bavarian culture runs deep and German tourists visit on an annual basis. Exotic South America would do nicely, don’t you think? (I wonder if my beach theme is too obvious.) But Pittsburgh, why there?

It wasn’t until I arrived back home and saw the new 3 Series television commercials that I realized the nature of their choice. If you have seen or read any of the advertising associated with the most important BMW sold in the world, you will notice they have chosen to play up the theme of counting to three.

As it turns out, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania also has a strong connection to the number 3. It is the largest inland port, strategically located at the confluence of three great rivers, the Alleghany, Monongahela and the Ohio. The Pirates and Steelers became infamous in the mid to late seventies playing baseball and football at the renowned Three Rivers Stadium. In hind sight then, there really couldn’t have been a more appropriate location to have my first test drive in the new 3 Series BMW, though my vote still rests with a beach somewhere.

It can’t be overstated that in order to maintain its place as the maker of fine, status worthy automobiles, BMW needs to be successful selling the new 3 Series sedan.

Recent new designs have shown a propensity on the part of Bavarian Motor Works to take risks on the 5, 6 and 7 Series cars. Some have worked very well, and others not so much. For that reason, all care was taken to make sure the new 3 Series is as close to perfect as possible. In my opinion, BMW should be proud of what they have accomplished.

A clean sheet was used to design the new 3. Styling cues were taken from the rest of the lineup, but with less dramatic flare. Exterior dimensions have been increased, (wheelbase adds 1.4 inches) offering improved looks and interior space. The heritage of the 3 Series has been left intact, with the overall appearance being one of sophistication and sportiness in harmony.

Two models define the available 3 Series lineup in the U.S.

BMW 3 Series Engine

The 325i comes standard with a new straight 6-cylinder engine that produces 215 hp @ 6250 rpm. Features include a magnesium-aluminum composite engine block, Valvetronic variable valve lift for improved performance and fuel economy, as well as an electric coolant pump and volume-controlled oil pump.

The 330i offers 255 hp @ 6600 rpm and improves torque to 220 lb-ft @ 2750 rpm. Unique to the 330i is a 3-stage induction system for improved overall performance. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard on both the 325i and 330i models. The Sport Package equipped 330i will also offer a 6-speed sequential manual transmission for added fun.

If I have one complaint of the new 3 Series BMW, it is with the automatic transmission. For reasons known only to the designers, BMW’s “manumatic” transmission shifts in the opposite direction of its competitors, (forward for downshifts, rearward for upshifts). While this may not pose a problem for some, for those of us who drive more than one vehicle on a regular basis, the difference seems to overcomplicate things just for the sake of being different. The bulk of my seat time therefore was spent touring the backroads of Pennsylvania in “Drive” and allowing the car to pick shift points automatically.

Chassis enhancements include a new 5-link rear suspension, as well as an all-new aluminum double pivot strut type front suspension that markedly improves the already phenomenal handling characteristics of the 3 Series sedan.

A much-improved new chassis and body structure provides the platform for this sophisticated setup and BMW makes full use of the added rigidity it offers. Front and rear stabilizer bars are standard, as are twin-tube gas shocks and engine-speed sensitive variable-assist power steering.

On the road, and in our case on the track, performance is exceptional. The backroads of Pennsylvania offer some of the finest two-lane highways to put a performance car through its paces. The new 3 Series exceeded my expectations.

Four-wheel ventilated disc brakes with ABS are of course standard, but BMW really ups the safety and performance quotient by adding dynamic braking, stability and traction control, along with brake fade compensation, brake standby and drying as well as a very practical start-off assist feature. This last feature is particularly useful when resting on an incline at a stop sign or traffic light while driving a manual vehicle. Automatically applying the brakes for a limited time, the new 3 Series allows for easy takeoffs, dramatically reducing the chance of accidentally rolling back into a vehicle that may be too close for comfort. For those living in hilly areas such as San Francisco or Seattle, it should prove to be quite beneficial.

Inside, the new 3 Series is spacious and comfortable, though perhaps a little cold when it comes to the touchy-feely factor. That said, the standard burl walnut trim certainly does add to the warmth and the quality of material used is excellent.

2006 BMW 3 Series Interior

Interior room and trunk space is improved, as was evident when I took my place in the backseat. At 6’1” in height, I was able to fit in the rear seat comfortably without bumping my head on the ceiling. This is a vast improvement over the previous generation 3 Series BMW and one that I greatly appreciate.

Manual 6-way adjustable front seats are standard on the 325i, with power seats available as an option. The 330i includes 8-way power seats. A center armrest is standard on both.

A multi-function, 3-spoke leather wrapped tilt/telescoping steering wheel is standard, as is adaptive cruise control. Active cruise control that offers automatic speed and distance adjustment based on vehicle proximity is available as an option.

GPS Navigation and iDrive with five menus and Force Feedback are optional. Given the response to iDrive as it pertains to other vehicles within the BMW lineup, having it as an option is wise.

In the case of the new 3 Series, the iDrive system offers a less complicated interface. A shorter learning curve meant that I was able to interact with the unit in a reasonable amount of time and quickly access the information or feature I required. While I still prefer standard buttons and dials to an one dial approach, I am no longer put off by the idea of driving an iDrive equipped vehicle, and would recommend it as a “must see” optional feature.

Heating and cooling is fully automatic, with separate left/right temperature settings and activated charcoal microfilter ventilation included. A 2-way power moonroof with one-touch open and close is a great way to let in fresh air and natural light.

Interior safety is increased with the addition of 2-stage dual front air bags, a front and rear seat head protection system and front-seat mounted side-impact airbags. In case of an accident, the central locking system automatically unlocks, while at the same time switches on the hazard flashers, the interior lights and disconnects the alternator, fuel pump and starter at the battery.

In conclusion, the new 3 Series BMW is the next logical step in the evolution of this most important car. With a rich heritage as he benchmark vehicle in the sport sedan segment, it marks a significant improvement in the stellar pedigree of BMW. Once again the gauntlet has been thrown in the direction of the competition, daring others to try and catch up.

Next up for the new 3 Series are the timely introduction of the coupe and wagon, along with a much-anticipated M3 somewhere in the not too distant future. Now if I can just convince BMW to host the upcoming 3 Series coupe and wagon press events at a beach somewhere, I will really be happy. As they say, it never hurts to think positively.

For more information visit the BMW website here.


2006 BMW 3 Series
Sports Sedan
Model options:

325i, 330i

108.7 inches
Overall length:
178.2 inches
Engine size:

3.0L DOHC 24-valve inline 6-cyl

6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic (opt)


Power rack and pinion

4-wheel ventilated disc, ABS, DSC, DTC, DBC, EBP

Air bags:
2 (front) 2 (side) 2 (side curtain)
Fuel mileage city/hwy:

Manual Transmission: 20/30 mpg
Automatic Transmission: 21/29 mpg


325i: $ 30,995
330i: $ 36,995