I wish Param was still working with BSM. He is a BMW 3 Series fanatic and would have loved to give our 325i a thorough workout. But actually, we are not missing him that much since we have Rohin with us. When we asked around about his cred before giving him a job, the oft-heard criticism – especially from his previous employers – was that he is too much into BMWs. Sure, the kid knows his Munichwagens, and BMW employees better watch out – someday we are going to unleash Rohin on you and you’ll be looking for cover as he goes on about the fine nuances between M3s of different eras. In short, there are people out there – qualified motoring scribes all of them – who are better suited to write about BMWs. Or perhaps not. You see, I am the self-appointed resident sucker-in-charge when it comes to Mercedes-Benz cars and hence, maybe my report on the BMW 325i will be more neutral than theirs. To cut a long one short, the story and the keys to the car was allotted to me (being the editor helps) and I started a rather sweet one week live-in relationship with the first BMW to be assembled in India. And, ahem, since we have driven the all new C-Class that is due next year in the country, we have decided to draw comparisons. Some things never change.
Admit it. It is difficult to be understated when it comes to BMWs these days. And comparisons can be drawn only with other cars from the BMW stable, and that is when we realise that the current 3 Series is the soft spoken one, the kid amongst them. But when the same body style with minor variations go on cars that make just about 130 bhp, to monsters that devour Ferraris for lunch, then the theme better be sporty. And that it certainly is. I am yet to come to terms with the chrome eyebrows over the kidney-grille but the slightly upswept and really trend-setting headlamp units more than make up for it. The stance is aggressive, confident and all ready for action. On profile, the flame surfaced waistline stands out. It is sharp enough for you to think that someone used a very pointed instrument to draw a crease from inside the panels. The curved roof architecture is broken only by the shark-fin antenna. But the real beauty of the car lies in the attention to detail – carved-from-billet like wheels, beautifully bulged-out fenders, ovoid rear-view mirrors and the ‘corona rings’ inside the headlamps (only the 325i gets xenon lighting) are standout examples. There is something special about the car that people cannot help but turn their heads and take a second look, but what is creditable is the fact that the 3 Series manages to do that without being overtly flashy.
Interior and comfort
The 325i interior comes with a bit of panache thrown in. That means a dash of chrome for the leather wrapped steering wheel and the shift selector. Also part of the package is the burl walnut wood trim. Three shades of Dakota leather upholstery are available and we think the beige that our test car came with is just about perfect. The much maligned iDrive unit is easy to use once you master it. But that means sitting with the owner’s manual and spending some quality time fiddling with it. A few testers did find the system a bit of a distraction and I have no option but to agree. If you are spending money on a proper driving tool and nothing else, then you don’t need a sophisticated mouse to play around with, do you?
It was fun to catch DD News on the commute though (the TV screen comes on only when the car is stationary, but you still get the audio while driving). The 325i is also blessed with a hi-fi loudspeaker system and made my hip-hop MP3 compilation sound really good. The instrument binnacle and the console are angled at the driver, thereby emphasising the age-old virtue of the ultimate driving machine. The climate control worked very well in the middle of the Mumbai summer. The seats are comfortable for long commutes and even longer drives. They come with firm side-supports that ensure that you don’t move around too much inside the car while attacking corners (we will come to that soon). Niggles? I thought the front power window switches were far too away and I really think the central locking button should be on the armrest and not on the central console.My biggest worry though was getting in and out of the car. Sure, my waistline should take half the blame, but a relatively low slung car with a high sill equals a not-so-graceful entry and exit – unless you regularly ride horses or walk the ramp. But once you settle in, there are few sedan interiors in the world that will let you comfortably tackle some serious driving like the 3 Series’ does.
Powertrain and performance
Slot the key in, apply the brakes and with the gear selector in park, thumb the start button to wake up the inline six. Now that is the kind of start-up ritual that I like. For an engine with six cylinders and 24 valves moving around inside, it is eerily quite on idle. Blip the throttle and you immediately know it is not a weenie four-pot under that sinuous hood. This 2497cc engine features Valvetronic (continuously variable valve timing) and is renowned for its refinement and smooth power delivery,and you can feel the 218 available horses even in the simmer mode. The engine develops 25.1 kgm of torque between 2750 and 4250 rpm.
Acceleration is a serious business with this car. Aided by the power-to-weight ratio of 142 bhp per tonne, the 325i can sprint to 60 kph in 4.84 seconds and 100 kph in 8.98 seconds (a manual version can do the 100 kph dash in 7 seconds flat). I know what some of you are thinking – is that quick enough? Sure, there are cars that cost a fraction of the price that can provide you with a seriously tingled spine, but there is something about the way this car accelerates – the sheer change in the exhaust note is enough to get your pulse going and then the whole automobile shrinks around you as it charges ahead with the grace and poise usually meant for wild animals that star on the Discovery channel.This exceptionally locomotive surge, if left to continue, will take you all the way to 240 kph. It was so much fun accelerating hard in this machine that I did just that out of every traffic signal for an entire week. Using the Steptronic manual override to optimum benefits takes time – we did fiddle with it with mixed results. But if you are the sort who would like to know which gear you are in as you are entering a rather tight right-hander rather than let the autobox decide, then the Steptronic is the way to go. But if you do not shift on time, then the car takes over (unlike in say, the Civic) and ensures that the valves are not sent through the bonnet and into the stratosphere.
The BMW six-cylinder engine provides one of the most cohesive driving experiences and the 325i is the best primer when it comes to experiencing it. It is this motor that makes the 325i a special car and that is the reason why we would recommend the 325i over the 320i if you are out shopping for a 3 Series. Again, you can buy this car just to enjoy this engine – it is a must-have ownership experience if you are a true-blue enthusiast who would consider spending money on a BMW an investment for yourself.
Ride and handling
Handling is a given here. This car is meant to be driven hard and it takes only a handful of corners for one to realise this. The faster you enter a corner, the more eager the car is to show off its prowess. It dismissed our slalom track as if it didn’t exist and the only thing that prevented us from doing the entire run sideways was intervention from the electronics. This is the kind of car that you want to drive to Ooty, Manali, Munnar and Darjeeling in – and every corner then would become an experience to write home about (And roads to these hill stations are now very good too, so what are you waiting for?).
What is not that good though is the ride quality. Now we all know that there is a trade-off when it comes to ride that makes the car the kind of handling device that it is, but the culprit here I think are the run-flat tyres. Run-flats just don’t provide the kind of ride quality that you would expect from a car of its class. Since BMW is not offering any other tyres, I do recommend a visit to a good tyre shop where something with more rubber can be bought for the 325i. You see, we do have seriously bad roads and roads that are under construction almost all the time, so the run-flats will send vibes and noises that go through your sternum every time you hit a pothole or a tarmac ridge. For some strange reason, the authorities were re-laying the Eastern Express Highway in Mumbai while the BMW was with me and I had to encounter the ‘pain’ every time I ‘hit’ a newly-laid patch of road. I am sure word has reached Munich already and we should see better boots on BMWs for India.
To sum up
Again, if you are in the market for a BMW 3 Series, this is the version to have. Sure, the diesel is decently quick but won’t be as much fun as this one. And you have to give it to BMW for equipping the Indian lineup pretty well. The 325i gets, apart from other goodies, inner-vented disc brakes at the rear as well as front and xenon headlights as standard. At close to Rs 33 lakh and some change, it is more value for money than its four-cylinder powered cousin (the 320i). But then, if money was a concern, you wouldn’t be interested in a 3 Series, right? For what you shell out, you get an exceptionally well-built, safe, quick and fast automobile that takes you to a higher strata of automobile ownership. Well, as Rohin would say, the proof is in driving it.