2005 BMW 330Xi
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Review and photos by Russell Purcell

BMW first unveiled the 3-Series cars to the North American market in 1977 when the 320i arrived as a replacement for the aging 2002 coupe. The timing was perfect as the fuel crisis in the mid-seventies had consumers here clamouring for small cars. The 3-Series has been riding a wave of popularity ever since, with 2005 variants bringing an end to the fourth generation (internally known as the E46) of these cars.

While a large portion of the marques’ faithful customers are patiently waiting for the arrival of the all-new 2006 3-Series of cars, there are just as many who are sad to see the outgoing cars disappear. The current car has a graceful shape made up of sensuous curves and classic lines and has served the company well. On the other hand, the forthcoming E90 brings the Bangle-esque design elements that first appeared on the 7-Series and 5-Series cars to the 3-Series in a trickle down affect. The jury is still out on this decision as the almost organic feel of classic BMW designs have been replaced by a more high-tech look expressed by creased bodywork and in the opinion of some, odd angles.

2005 BMW 330Xi
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Recently I had the chance to spend a week with the 2005 BMW 330Xi, the all-wheel drive-equipped sedan that has proven a popular choice in the Canadian marketplace. The BMW’s 330Xi represents the company’s top 3-Series offering, unless you care to count the potent M3 as a member of this popular family of cars.

Interior is business formal

When compared to many of its competitors, the interior of a BMW 3-Series looks somewhat plain. The company prides itself on delivering driving experience second to none, so extra frills and whistles have to prove their worth before being added to the build sheet. This is a good thing, as it gives the cockpit an uncluttered, all-business feel, with just a hint of luxury to keep the young executive happy with his purchase. The 3-Series cars are after all, BMW’s entry-level models, so fat-cat executives and nouveau riche enthusiasts can move up the dressier BMW food chain as their fortunes improve.

The controls and instrumentation of the BMW 330Xi are laid out for both ease of operation and visibility, and the centre stack is slightly angled towards the driver. This gives the car a real cockpit feel which is well suited to the driving experience offered by this capable sedan.

The optional sport steering wheel fitted to my test car is an outstanding 3-spoke design with a wide leather-wrapped rim and thumb locks at the ten and two o’clock positions. Onboard controls for both the audio system and cruise control are well placed on the upper cross spokes where they can easily be manipulated with a fingertip without removing your hands from the wheel and task at hand.

The shifter that comes with the standard manual transmission seems rather long, but its operation is fluid and precise with just enough mechanical feedback to emphasize to the driver that they are in control of the car.

2005 BMW 330Xi
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The seats are firm and supportive and proved comfortable on extended trips. They offer excellent adjustability (manual operation is standard) so that driver and passenger alike can custom fit their space to their individual liking. The optional ‘Montana’ leather seating surfaces are made from hides so flawless that the donor cattle must live free of barbed wire.

This is not a large car, so rear occupants might find the need to call “shotgun” and sit up front, at least when taller individuals occupy the front seats. Cargo room is also at a premium, but the relatively small truck can be enlarged by dropping the rear seatbacks which are in a 60/40 split configuration. A pass-through with integrated ski sack is also an option if long items need to be carried.

2005 BMW 330Xi
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Standard features include power windows and mirrors, automatic climate control with micro-filter, 3-setting heated seats, Xenon lighting and ‘Leatherette’ seating.

Gripes are few, but one literally came to light in the rear window one sunny day during my time with the car. The Harmon Kardon audio upgrade includes rear speakers that incorporate a metal band of bright work across their rear edge. This small piece proved highly reflective as it projected twin strips of light onto the rear window that were a real distraction as they flashed like duelling light sabres in my rear-view mirror.


Without spotting the X logo on the trunk-mounted model badge, few observers will realize that the 330Xi is a four-season sports sedan. This is because bodywork and dimensions are the same as rear-wheel-drive variants, although the X cars (there is also a less powerful 325Xi) ride a little higher, leaving more clearance between the tire surface and the wheel well.

2005 BMW 330Xi
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The out-going 3-Series cars represent one of the most recognizable design studies in the automotive world. Signature elements like the twin kidney-shaped grille, chrome window surrounds, rear opera windows and the famous ‘Roundel’ propeller ornament (riding dead centre at each end of the car) are instantly recognized by automotive buffs. Aggressively-shaped headlamps, twin exhaust tips, slender fender flares and an upswept trunk lip are the only design cues required to convey the car’s sporty nature.

Behind the wheel

2005 BMW 330Xi
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BMW offers three different engines in its current 3-series line-up, ranging from 2.2-litres to 3.0-litres in displacement, and all with similar DOHC inline 6-cylinder architecture. My test car came fitted with the most potent offering, that being the silky-smooth 3.0-litre, delivering a healthy 225 hp and 214 lb/ft of torque. I was happy to see that my car was equipped with BMW’s brilliant 6-speed manual transmission, but a 5-speed automatic with Steptronic auto-manual capabilities is a popular option. BMW claims that the 330Xi will sprint from 0-100 km/h in a mere 7.5 seconds (7.9 for the Steptronic).

The true magic happens when the road noodles through a series of switchbacks. If the road is dry the car behaves like a rear-wheel drive sports sedan, for the most part, with a little less tail wagging at higher speeds. The driving experience is sporty, even if the car is less powerful than most of its immediate rivals, but a lot of this athleticism may be due to the well-engineered suspension and speed- sensitive steering. A firm clutch conveys durability and gives each up or down shift the extra authority usually reserved for pure-bred sports cars.

2005 BMW 330Xi
Click image to enlarge

Power from the 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder feels like it is delivered to the rear wheels (which was the goal of the engineering team), when in fact a variable torque distribution all-wheel drive system sends 62% of the power to the rear wheels and the remaining 38% to the front. When the car’s various sensors detect wheel spin or slippery road conditions the Automatic Differential Brake steps in to correct the wayward wheel(s) in an effort to keep the car on course and moving forward.


Not surprisingly the 3-series comes equipped with a full complement of airbags, ensuring that all five passengers will stand a chance in the event of an accident or roll-over. The BMW 330Xi has dual-stage front-mounted units to protect the driver and front passenger, as well as side and side curtain air bags, the latter reaching back to protect rear occupants as well.

Advanced multi-channel ABS brakes (disc/disc) with cornering brake control are backed up by both stability and traction control systems, which operate in perfect harmony with BMW’s innovative all-wheel-drive system. The brakes themselves brought the car to a halt without drama, and proved to be fade-free.

Bi-Xenon headlights and valance-mounted halogen driving lights help illuminate the path ahead, while speed sensitive windshield wipers with rain sensors are assisted by heated washer nozzles to keep your vision clear.


With a larger, more powerful and gizmo-laden 3-Series on the immediate horizon, the end is near for the fourth generation of this legendary world car. However, for fans of its classic lines and legendary handling, there is still time to ring your local BMW retailer and work a deal on the car that became the benchmark for others in this crowded class.

Technical Data: 2005 BMW 330Xi

Base price $52,700
Options $3,610 (M Executive AWD Sport Package, $2,000; Harmon Kardon Sound System, $950; Through Load with ski bag, $660)
Freight $1,595
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $58,005
Type 4-door, 5-passenger mid-size luxury sedan
Layout longitudinal front engine/all wheel-drive
Engine 3.0-litre inline 6, DOHC, 24-valves
Horsepower 225 @ 5,900 rpm
Torque 214 ft-lb @ 3,500 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic with manual shift mode
Curb weight 1,580 kg (3,483 lb.)
Wheelbase 2725 mm (107.3in.)
Length 4471 mm (176 in.)
Width 1739 mm (68.5 in.)
Height 1434 mm (56.5 in.)
Cargo capacity 440 litres (15.5 cu-ft.)
Fuel consumption City 11.8 L/100 km (24 mpg
  Hwy 7.4 L/100 km (38 mpg
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km (comprehensive)
  4 years Roadside assistance
  3 years scheduled maintenance

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