All-new for 2006, the BMW 3 Series enters its fifth generation as a sedan or Touring wagon. There are new lightweight magnesium six-cylinder engines with horsepower increases over 2005: the 320i becomes the entry-level 323i, while the 325i and 330i now share an engine with different horsepower outputs.

Because the redesigned 3 Series comes only with a roof and four doors, the 2006 coupe, cabriolet and M3 coupe and cabriolet are carryover models from 2005.

Changes on the new models are extended functions on Dynamic Stability Control, including hill-start assist, brake standby to reduce emergency stopping distances, brake drying, fade compensation and “soft stop” for smooth stops with reduced brake dive; new double-pivot front strut design; a new five-link rear suspension; and Active Steering is available as an option on 325i and 330i models. All 3 Series sedans are equipped with a standard six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic; xDrive all-wheel-drive variants are available on the 325 and 330; the new body style is longer, wider and taller than the 2005 models; and trunk space has increased by 20 per cent.

Inside, all models receive a three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel; a standard ten-speaker sound system; chrome entry sills; and stop/start ignition button. The 325Ci coupe receives heated seats as standard equipment, while the 330Ci coupe and cabriolet get adaptive headlights. The 325Ci Cabriolet receives a fully automatic soft-top as standard equipment.

The 3 Series starts as the 323i, which uses a 2.5-litre inline six with six-speed manual that can be optioned to a six-speed automatic. The 325i carried a 2.5-litre in 2005; it now uses a 3.0-litre inline six that makes 215 hp, as does the 325xiT Touring. The 330i uses the same engine, tweaked to 255 hp.

As they did in 2005, the 325Ci coupe and convertible use a 184 hp, 2.5-litre inline six; the 330Ci coupe and convertible use the 225 hp 3.0-litre inline six. The M3 carries a 3.2-litre inline six that makes 333 hp.

Both the 325i and 330i can be ordered with xDrive, a torque-management system that switches seamlessly from rear-wheel to all-wheel-drive when necessary. Unlike many AWD systems that distribute power when one set of wheels slips, xDrive is proactive, using information from the dynamic stability control and other sensors to determine the possibility of wheel slippage and the need to power up or brake a specific wheel, before any wheels actually start to lose traction. It also locks the differentials on take-off until the vehicle reaches 20 km/h for maximum traction.

The 323i includes front and rear ventilated brake discs, automatic headlamps, heated mirrors and washer jets, speed-sensitive wipers, tire pressure warning system, central remote locking, black roof strips, multi-function leather steering wheel, manual air conditioning, six-way manually adjustable seats, tilt and telescopic wheel, “leatherette” upholstery, CD/MP3 player with six speakers, telephone pre-wire and four-function onboard computer.

The 325i adds fog lights, Xenon headlights, body-colour roof strips, twin chrome exhaust tips, automatic air conditioning with residual heat control, auto-dimming interior mirror, heated seats, cruise control, 60/40 folding rear seat with ski bag and ten-speaker sound system. The 325xi adds a high-pressure headlight washer and hill descent control; the 325xi Touring adds a rear roof spoiler, separately-opening rear window and tailgate, roof rails and rear washer/wiper.

The 330i adds adaptive headlights, chrome-plated grille bars, chrome window frame trim, eight-way power seats with driver memory, and power sunroof.

The world’s best-selling premium sedan, the 3 Series is even better for 2006, with sculpted styling, responsive handling, more powerful engines and an extremely smooth and slick shifter/clutch package. It’s still a driver’s car, with a close-coupled interior and tight rear legroom, and some of the switchgear feels a bit cheap; it doesn’t take long to send the price skyward once a few options are added (surprisingly, cruise control isn’t standard on the 323i). Some buyers may balk at paying such a high price for its small package. That’s only because they’ve never driven it.

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