2006 BMW 325xi Sports Wagon
Although the adjective sport seems odd when applied to a wagon, BMW makes it work with the 2006 BMW 325xi Sports Wagon. This wagon weighs only 177 pounds more than its sedan sibling, and the x denotes the xDrive all-wheel-drive system. It has all the virtues of a BMW 3 Series sedan plus the usefulness and versatility of a small wagon. This is not the Griswold family wagon.
Breaking with a long-standing BMW tradition of naming models after their engine displacement, the 325xi uses BMW's new 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder engine, also found in the 2006 BMW 330i. Differences in equipment and tuning distinguish the 215-horsepower 325xi from the 255-horsepower 330i.
While our test car's $34,600 base price may seem high, that's only the down payment. Add in the $600 Cold Weather Package of heated front seats and a ski bag, the $2,900 Premium Package (upgraded leather, the BMW Assist system and services, a universal transceiver, an interior autodimming mirror, and power-memory seats with lumbar support), and the $1,200 Sport Package (17-inch alloy wheels with all-season Bridgestone Turanzas, sports seats, and a leather sports steering wheel). Then add $1,275 for the ZF six-speed automatic transmission, $350 for Park Distance Control, $800 for xenon headlights with adaptive headlight control, $2,200 for Active Cruise Control, $2,000 for the navigation system, $595 for Sirius Satellite Radio, and $1,200 for the premium sound system with DSP. Throw in a few other sundry options and a $695 destination charge, and the bottom line comes to a steep $49,640. Expensive? Yes. But the BMW 325xi sports wagon stands alone with its solid combination of refined performance, true sports roadholding, and small-wagon versatility.
As the Sports in its name suggests, the 2006 BMW 325xi Sports Wagon is lower and leaner than a small SUV (or its cousin, the BMW X3) and longer, more elegant, and more graceful than a hatchback. For nearly 50 large, we expect the full complement of luxury accessories, and the 325xi doesn't disappoint. With the electronic transponder in hand, simply walk up to the car and pull on a front door handle. The car unlocks. Put the device in its dashboard slot and press the start button. If the audio system is on, it will barely be interrupted.
Inside, the 325xi is a fine example of Teutonic luxury, size small. It's cozy but comfortable. If the GPS navigation system is present, as it was in our test car, the familiar cockpit-style instrument panel is replaced by a twin-brow design. The latter very effectively shades the navigation and control system LCD, making it easily visible under all lighting conditions, even when the driver is wearing polarized sunglasses.
The optional sports seats in our test car, part of the $1,200 Sport Package, offered first-rate comfort and support. They are power-adjustable, not just in the usual ways but also in the length of the thigh-support cushion, the shape and contour of the lumbar support, and the width of the seat-back bolster. Factor in upgraded wheels and tires, as well as the thick-rimmed, leather-covered steering wheel, which features auxiliary audio controls and manual adjustments for tilt and reach, and we judge the Sport Package money well spent.
All occupants benefit from the standard panorama moonroof, which is longer than usual to provide sunshine and a view for passengers in the rear seats as well as the front. Rain-sensing windshield wipers now come standard--a welcome feature during a very wet week.
BMW's steering wheel buttons use odd symbols but control multiple functions.
As in other BMWs, the iDrive button on the console controls climate, communication, navigation, vehicle information, and the audio system. BMW has simplified and improved iDrive since its introduction. You select categories, menus, and actions by twisting the iDrive control; moving it fore, aft, and sideways; and clicking it like a mouse.
Anyone with experience using computer and consumer-electronics interfaces should find the iDrive's learning curve reasonable. Most functions and required actions are very logical to access. The context-sensitive iDrive control automatically adjusts to the number of the option in the current menu; when turned to the last option, it hits a gently damped stop. A touch of the menu button next to the iDrive control returns the system to the main menu at any time.
The 325xi has voice control for basic navigation and phone functions. Though address entry takes place, typically and tediously, one character at a time, you can also select destinations by moving the map cursor and clicking the iDrive control. The system does a good job of displaying routes and providing additional visual and auditory instructions.
The auxiliary audio jack in the center console makes the cupholder a good place to set down an MP3 player.
Our test car also came with the Premium Sound System, another option we recommend since it accepts today's favored forms of portable sound. For $1,200, it not only sounds great, it includes AM and FM radio and a single-disc CD player that can play MP3 CDs. The system displays MP3s' ID3-tag information on the main screen. In addition, the console box has an auxiliary jack for plugging in an iPod or an MP3 player. Sirius Satellite Radio is another option, at $595 plus a monthly subscription fee. Bluetooth hands-free cell phone integration is also available.
The power for the windows remains on for a short time after you turn off the ignition. While this convenient feature isn't unusual in American or Japanese cars, the Germans have taken a while to adopt it.
The 2006 BMW 325xi Sports Wagon is powered by an in-line six-cylinder engine, a type that BMW has been making since before World War II. Although long, an in-line six provides excellent dynamic balance and even torque pulses for smooth, turbinelike power. Its length is not a problem with BMW's front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, or all-wheel-drive chassis layout. If the 325xi's four valves per cylinder and dual overhead cams are conventional by today's standards, that's where convention stops. The engine's cylinder head and cylinder-water jacket are cast in aluminum alloy, but the upper and lower crankcase assemblies are cast from magnesium alloy for lighter weight.
Like the BMW 330i, the 325xi uses the latest development of BMW's Valvetronic variable valve-lift system. Under control of engine-management software, variable-leverage rocker arms fit between the intake cam and the intake valves to vary valve lift. That and fuel-injection mapping replace the traditional throttle--valve-lift changes completely control engine speed. The engine makes 215 horsepower (at 6,250rpm) and 185 pound-feet of torque at 2,750rpm. The efficiency of the engine system also gives it a very good emissions rating of ULEV II/Bin 5. Fuel economy is an EPA-tested 20mpg city and 27mpg highway. Our observed mileage was 19.9mpg.
BMW's 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder engine is now standard on all the 3 Series models.
Both the standard manual and optional automatic transmissions are six-speeds, benefiting both performance and economy with a wider spread of ratios. Our test car had the automatic, and it was a great match for the engine's power. In standard automatic mode, shift points and speed are calculated for smoothness and fuel economy to the detriment of performance--not a problem, really. Moving the shift lever into the manual-shift gate puts the car into sport mode, which delays shifts appropriately and makes them a little quicker. We found that sport mode shifted very similarly to how we would shift manually, even on the sort of roads that allow maximum enjoyment. Manual shifting was useful for holding a lower gear in corners, but the engine's torque curve is so broad and strong that third was as good as second in most situations. The electronic shift logic also downshifts when the car descends steep grades.
The xDrive all-wheel-drive system drives the rear wheels at all times and the front wheels most of the time, with a 40/60 static front/rear split. At speeds exceeding 112mph, it drives only the rear wheels. Using a multidisc central clutch, xDrive quickly sends torque to the front wheels when needed--for instance, when the rear wheels start to slip. It is electronically controlled and integrated with the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system. We spent most of our time with the 325xi in wet weather, and the system worked admirably and transparently.
Double-pivot front suspension, previously used in larger BMWs, sees its first use in the 2006 3 Series. The new five-link rear suspension provides more precise wheel control. Both the front and rear suspensions are mounted to solid but well-insulated subframes to decrease transmission of road noise into the passenger compartment.
Even with the Sport package, the 325xi has BMW's standard suspension calibration. It's as firm as many competitors' sports tunings, but it's still comfortable and in keeping with the car's abilities and mission. Because of their stiff sidewalls, run-flat tires contribute to a thumpy ride on highway expansion joints and other irregular surfaces. The car's quick, well-weighted, speed-sensitive power steering and suspension tuning help make it an enjoyable companion on any sort of road.
As in the 3 Series sedans, the 2006 BMW 325xi Sports Wagon's unibody structure uses different materials, including high-strength steel, in varying locations for strength and carefully managed deformation in the event of a crash. It meets or exceeds all safety tests and standards worldwide. Dual front and seat-mounted front side air bags are standard, as are front and rear side Head Protection System air bags. There are no rear side air bags, as BMW says that they are not needed due to the head air bags and the side structure.
A front-mounted sensor lets the adaptive cruise control maintain distance in traffic.
The 325xi features the newest generation of BMW's Dynamic Stability Control. The car compensates for brake fade by increasing hydraulic pressure when brake temperatures rise. When the throttle pedal is abruptly released, the brake pads are pressed snugly against the rotors in preparation for braking, thereby decreasing braking reaction time. Similarly, when the standard windshield-wiper rain-sensing system detects moisture, the brake pads are periodically brought just close enough to the rotors to wipe away any water film for better braking performance. The Start-Off Assistant helps hold the car when it is stopped on a hill.
Run-flat tires and a flat-tire warning system are standard on the 325xi. The space under the trunk floor once used for a spare tire is now available for storage.
The 325xi's adaptive brake lights shine more brightly as pressure on the brake pedal increases. The BMW Assist system, part of the Premium Package, automatically activates if an air bag is deployed. It can also be used to request roadside service or emergency services.
Our test car also had Park Distance Control, adaptive xenon headlights that turn with the steering wheel and provide improved nighttime visibility, and radar-based active cruise control that automatically maintains following distance on the highway.
Warranty coverage includes 4-year/50,000-mile new-vehicle coverage, full scheduled maintenance, and 24-hour roadside assistance for 4 years or 50,000 miles. It also includes 12-year, unlimited-mileage rust-perforation coverage.