In 2006, the BMW 3 Series sedans underwent a full revision, giving birth to their fifth generation, also known as the E90 platform. The 325i's wheelbase has stretched 1.4 inches, and the body is now 2.2 inches longer and 3 inches wider, with a 25% stiffer body shell. This adds up to more interior leg, head, and cargo space as well as better handling.
The 325i also has a new powertrain. The heart of this new BMW is a 3.0-liter, 24-valve DOHC inline six with variable valve timing that produces 215 hp using the first mass-produced magnesium-alloy engine block. A new six-speed manual is standard, with a six-speed automatic optional. Consumer Guide testers achieved a 7.2-second 0-60 time with the six-speed automatic, while Car and Driver blazed a 6.1-second jump with the six-speed manual. Fuel economy reflects the high-tech nature of the new engine, with Car and Driver recording 31 mpg on a 300-mile highway trip, cruising at 70-80 mph, with an overall 25 mpg. The 325i is rated at 20/30 mpg.
Despite the fifth generation's increase in size, Car and Driver recorded an increase of only 48 pounds over the previous-generation 325i. A lot of weight savings came from the engine castings and the extensive use of aluminum in the new suspension setup - up front, double-pivot aluminum control arms and in the rear, a five-link, fully independent suspension. Pushed to the limit, Car and Driver found a little more understeer than the previous generation offered, but also found the new car retains "characteristic BMW neutrality" thanks to a 49.9/50.1 front/rear weight distribution, which helps it generate 0.87g on the skidpad.
Steering also achieves the BMW benchmark for feedback and precision, though reviewers uniformly gave a thumbs down to BMW's new optional Active Steering system. The fifth-generation BMW 3 Series vehicles come standard with an upgraded and innovative stability control system (DSC) that incorporates ABS with rain brake support, which automatically wipes brakes dry in rainy conditions; brake standby, which sets the brake pads closer to the rotors and builds up brake pressure when the driver abruptly lifts his foot off the accelerator, anticipating an emergency move; brake-fade compensation, which increases line pressure when the brakes heat up; and with the manual transmission, hill-start assist, which keeps the car from rolling on hill starts. The stability control system can be turned off, but not the ABS system.
The new interior has more room, upgraded materials, and the traditional 3 Series' great front seats and seating position. With its extra room, the 325i is comfortable for four adults, with the middle back seat best for children. The trunk has more space and easier access than the last generation's, but fold-down rear seats that extend the cargo space are still an option.
If you're in the market for a sports car with sedan capabilities, the fifth-generation 3 Series ups its previous benchmark for this category.