Test vehicles are like junketeering journalists at a dinner party. They arrive fully loaded. For some reason, the 325i that landed on our driveway was an exception — save the sports suspension and a brushed metal dash. No 255hp engine, iDrive, active steering, autobox or Universal garage opener (Han Solo need not apply). And that's a good thing. When it comes to judging a car s fundamental character, base is best. First, the bad news
Chris Bangle s infamous flame surfacing — the unconscionable combination of swage lines, strakes and protuberances desecrating the 5 and 7 — has given the new 3 a distinctly Japanese demeanor. From its pissed-off Pokemon headlights to its Scalectrix wheels, the 325i looks more like a creased Honda Accord than a BMW. Even on its own bizarre terms, the design lacks coherence. Check out the train wreck of angles, curves and shut lines at the base of the front windscreen.
The new 3 s build quality is another area where BMW has dropped the ball. Exposed engine wires are wrapped with a thin layer of black electrical tape. The headliner is made from recycled laundry lint. Some of the soft touch plastics aren t. The tire pressure monitor is overly sensitive (uh-oh). Clearly, obsessive compulsive engineers no longer rule the Bavarian roost. Ah yes, but
Anyone who doubts BMW s ability to make a performance four-door needs to get to grips with a low spec 325i. Sans active steering, the feel at the wheel is direct, meaty and precise. Whether you're copping some G's on your favorite two-lane twisty, or just jinking around to avoid motorway monotony, the 3's helmsmanship lets you know exactly what you're doing and how it's going. As any aspiring ultimate driver will tell you, it don t mean a thing if you can t feel it sing.
And sing it does, with a suitably Wagnerian engine growl. Although the 325i s magnesium/aluminum powerplant stumps-up just 215hp, the sweet-spinning six revs like a Wearing blender. The supersmooth self-swapper sprints to sixty in an entirely respectable 6.7 seconds. And that s only a small indication of this puppy s friskiness. With 185 lb-ft of torque on tap at a relatively leisurely 2750rpm, the 325i s loaded to the gunnels with get-up-and-go.
Blessed with the usual front strut/multi-link rear suspension set-up, the new 3 s handling offers an ideal blend of solidity and accuracy. Aside from an alarming inability to contain mid-corner bumpery, the sports-suspended 325i carves corners with Rottweilerian tenacity. Pushed to its lateral limits, the 325i is a resolute understeeruberallesmeister. Switch off the handling Nanny and you and your run flat tire supplier are destined to become better acquainted.
It s been a long time since a base Bimmer offered sufficient tactility to facilitate acrid antics. For enthusiasts who can stretch to 30 large, the 325i tenders a tempting combination of easily accessible performance, class-leading safety, adequate amenities and reasonable depreciation. Other than its suspect build quality and fussy, over-complicated looks, the 325i represents excellent value for money and a welcome return to form for BMW. [by Robert Farago]