BREVARD , N.C. -- Twisty kinks on slinky route 276, which cuts across the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, show off the sporty handling characteristics built into a superb new design for the compact sports sedan from Germany's BMW -- the 330i.
This latest iteration of BMW's 3-Series does not protest our aggressive treatment in the driver's seat. Actually, it seems to invite even more action.
Big wheels, capped by optional speed-rated rubber and floating independently at each corner, jiggle through the asphalt road ripples like a taut basketball dribbling in double time as suspension components of springs and shocks match the bouncy wheel rhythm yet never upset the perfect balance of this precision machine.
Big disc brakes, linked to computer-controlled anti-lock and traction-checking devices, rein it rapidly in linear progression without notable front dive as sharp rack and pinion steering gears kick in to point the nose around the next hard bend.
The tail, motivated by rear drive wheels, follows the lead of front wheels by etching a keen curve to the apex of the corner before settling into the next straight.
Big torque, pumped from a beefed-up engine, exerts tenacious but controlled force on back wheels through the curve before increasing the effort while driver paws a short manual shift lever through up-shifts to play gears in a run up to high speed.
Our romp through the Blue Ridge Mountains clearly demonstrates that the latest sedan from BMW can meet the worst challenges of a tortuous route and still deliver uncanny control for driver for such important tasks as steering, accelerating, braking and all other linear actions of the automotive kind.
Of course, BMW has built its reputation on developing cars that appeal to aggressive drivers.
With new 3-Series sports sedans, however, that appeal stretches even further.
Bavarian designers at BMW have honed this latest take on the essential compact to a hard edge for ultimate performance, then equipped it with sophisticated hardware on the cutting edge of automotive technology.
Remember, it was BMW's designers who virtually invented the concept of a compact sports sedan way back in 1968 with the 1600-2. That little thing looked like three congruent cubes on wheels (a big one for riders sandwiched between smaller ones in front and back for engine and trunk) but it carried an overhead-cam engine plus an independent suspension and disc brakes -- and ran like crazy, hugging corners like nothing else in its day.
The 1600-2 led to another boxy compact, the 2002, and by 1975 to the first 3 Series sedan. A subsequent iteration in 1978 introduced 6-cylinder power, and by 1996 the 328i emerged with modern refinements and a swoopy shape that smoothed out the tri-cube angles of predecessors. The last evolution in 1999 increased the size and scope of the series, with model nomenclature changing in 2001 with new in-line-six engines for two sedans dubbed 325i and 330i.
For 2006, the next generation of designs for 3-Series sedans -- still named 325i and 330i -- are constructed on an expanded rear-wheel-drive (RWD) platform with a longer wheelbase and wider track to enhance chassis dynamics and hone the handling traits.
In effect, the 3-Series body grows a little longer and wider and taller. Overall length increases by two inches, the width by three inches, and the roof rises almost an inch higher.
The passenger compartment, still arranged with front bucket seats and a back bench big enough for three, shows modest gains in space for legs and shoulders of backseat passengers, but the trunk expands more than 10 percent to 12 cubic feet.
Styling for the body is fresh yet evolutionary -- these cars still look familiar as muscular little BMW compacts.
The distinctive signature of BMW's twin-kidney grille mounts on the prow in a crisp interpretation ringed in chrome with smooth body-colored bumpers below holding horizontal air intakes and corner foglamps.
Multi-lens headlamp clusters wrap around front corners with trailing rims studded by amber-tinted turn signals.
Optional xenon high intensity discharge (HID) headlamps operate with BMW's Adaptive Light Control (ALC) system where a pair of unique swivel lamps -- keyed to the angle of the steering wheel -- rotate during turning maneuvers to keep a light shining on the vehicle's forward path.
From side view, 3-Series overhangs fore and aft seem quite brief for a sporty stance and big wheels fill the round arching wheelwells.
Beneath the skin, 3-Series cars carry a front-end structure made from lightweight aluminum with suspension equipment also cast from aluminum, which pares the overall unsprung mass.
Both cars stock a responsive rack and pinion steering system using BMW's double-pivot design that brings handling stability and quick responses.
In performance cars like these, brakes become a key factor for control, and both 3-Series sedans use ventilated discs with aluminum calipers in front. Everything's tied to electronic controls, with brake proportioning and anti-lock action plus BMW's computerized Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) mechanism that can correct potentially dangerous car movements when wheels slip laterally.
On-board safety devices include BMW's Head Protection System (HPS) air bags.
Revamped six-cylinder engines drop into 3-Series cars.
The 3.0-liter six-in-line plant, made with magnesium/aluminum composites, employs BMW's Double Vanos variable camshaft controller. Variations occur with engine software plus the induction system, as the 325i shows a single-stage intake manifold and 330i has a three-stage induction.
Power numbers differ. For 325i the plant produce 215 hp at 6250 rpm plus 185 lb-ft of torque at 2750 rpm, and 330i nets 255 hp at 6600 rpm with torque tallying to 220 lb-ft at 2750 rpm.
Six-speed transmissions rule -- either a six-speed manual by Getrag or the ZF HP19 electronic automatic with Steptronic mode for clutch-less shifts.
The 330i also offers BMW's six-speed sequential manual gearbox (SMG) with automatic and manual shift programs. In manual mode, the driver may shift the SMG by tapping the shifter lever or finger paddles on the steering wheel.
Premium points apply to these premium sports sedans, with MSRP figures commencing at $30,995 for 325i and $36,995 for 330i.