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Cruise Liner

With BMW’s new 325i, driving pleasure remains the healthy obsession at the centre of it all, writes Ashish Masih.

autos Updated: Apr 30, 2008 20:21 IST

There’s no denying that the folks at BMW strive for perfection thanks to which, they sometimes do things that may surprise you. For example, though it’s been less than a year since the carmaker’s launch in India, it has updated its 3-Series saloon. It might be a move that wasn’t really necessary, but it ensures that the BMW becomes better value for money (since the price hike is minimal) and the customer is a winner.

New look?

The new 3-Series looks just the same externally, save for the new alloy wheels. Sit in the well-contoured driver’s seat and you will be thrilled by the high-quality plastics inside. Everything from the dashboard to the indicator stalks and the doorpads is made from top-quality materials that exude luxury.

The beautifully-finished steering wheel is great to hold and really enhances the driving experience. The front seats and steering wheel offer a range of adjustments, which means that drivers of all shapes and sizes can find a suitable position.

The gauges are nice and easy to read and even the small buttons for the air-conditioner and stereo have a built-to-last feel about them. The dashboard’s layout is straightforward with simple stereo and air-conditioning controls. It’s quite easy to get used to the iDrive control system that monitors air-conditioning, music, navigation, etc, but we recommend not familiarising yourself with it while driving the car.

Both the front and rear seats of the updated 3-Series offer plenty of legroom, though six-footers may find their heads brushing the ceiling in the backseat.

Underneath all the luxury, you can be sure that the car’s construction is solid; something you can even see in the reassuring feeling the doors give when they shut. Overall, this is one cabin you will enjoy spending time in.

On to the motor

Thumb the starter button on the dash and the engine fires up instantly. The six-cylinder motor, which develops a healthy 218 bhp of power, is supremely smooth and phenomenally refined even when pushed to the redline. Flat-out acceleration is good and a mere dab at the accelerator pedal is enough to summon instant power, ensuring that you overtake quickly.

BMW has decided not to introduce a manual gearbox, but the automatic gearbox can be used in various modes. The regular mode works well for daily driving; gear changes are seamless and power keeps building up gradually in each gear. In Tiptronic Sport mode, you can shift gears manually for better control.

Another highlight of the package is the sharp steering, which is one of the most communicative and accurate I’ve seen. It feels heavy at slower speeds but weighs up nicely as speeds build up. The feedback you get at highway speeds is very confidence-inspiring. Body control and good grip give the car brilliant poise through corners, making it great fun to drive, quite in line with BMW’s focus on driver-oriented cars.

And the ride

BMW has modified the suspension a little and the 3-Series’ ride is better than before. However, it still feels firm (partly due to the stiffer run-flat tyres) and makes you aware of low-speed bumps and coarse surfaces. Its rival, the Mercedes C-Class, does a much better job of isolating the road from the cabin.

The 3-Series is a quiet car and makes for a great long-distance cruiser. Engine noise is well isolated and you barely hear it once on the highway. Road and suspension noise are subdued on even the worst road surfaces.

The verdict

The 325i costs Rs 33 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai). It has Xenon lamps, a sunroof and six airbags as standard equipment, which seems decent for its price. While additional power would have been welcome, it is not a major issue. The 325i possesses sensational handling and steering, a refined engine and spirited performance.

It does have a few limitations, like limited rear room and the stiff suspension which can rattle you on less-than-smooth surfaces. But a single drive behind the wheel is all it will take to convince you that these flaws are worth living with. This is a must buy if you love to drive yourself and a good buy even if you don’t.

Autocar India