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It's a whole new BMW ballgame in 2007

December 01, 2006|by MALCOLM GUNN / Wheelbase Communications

Why does the automotive world breathlessly wait for each new BMW product to hit the streets? One look at the company's latest 3-series coupe graphically explains this recurring phenomenon.

At one time, there wasn't much to differentiate two- and four-door versions of BMW's North American entry-point models, apart from the obvious. Both featured squared-off shapes that accentuated practicality (i.e. plenty of rear-seat leg and head space) over styling concerns.

For 2007, it's a whole new ballgame.

Of course, BMW has created a reasonable amount of room in the rear seat for folks to enjoy, but the design team has taken considerable latitude in shaping the two-door coupe in the most wind-cheating form possible. Drawing upon the look of the larger and pricier 6-series model, especially around the rear roof pillar, the stylists have come up with a sensuous style for the 3-series coupe that bears no relation to its sedan counterpart that was recreated for 2006.

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A gain of nearly 4 inches in overall length, 1.7 inches in width and 1.4 inches in wheelbase translates into a roomier interior for both front- and rear-seat passengers. However, the floor console now extends to split the length of the cabin floor, turning the coupe into a 2+2 (four-passenger) touring car.

Despite the size increase, BMW has kept the coupe on a strict diet with less than 50 pounds added to the car's bulk.

This should help out performance, especially since the base and optional powertrains exhibit more strength this year. The starting-point 328i runs with a 230-horsepower 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder, a gain of five from last year's comparable 330Ci engine, but up 46 ponies from the old 325Ci that was the '06 coupe's starting point. The same engine is also fitted to the all-wheel-drive 328xi, the first such application of AWD in a 3-series coupe.

The more athletically inclined 335i operates in rear-wheel-drive only with a 300-horsepower twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder that propels the car to 60 mph in less than 5.5 seconds. Although it's identical in displacement to the non-turbo motor, the two have different cylinder-bore diameters and crankshaft strokes.

BMW chose to install two small turbochargers instead of one large unit to increase peppiness, which, according to the company, eliminates dreaded "turbo lag" that might otherwise make the car lazy under light-throttle cruising.

A high-performance V-8 M3 is in the works and should make somewhere around 400 horsepower. The previous M3 made 333 horsepower from its 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder.

Transmission choices for all models include a six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic.

For 2007, the coupe's advanced suspension, with parts built from aluminum, uses technology that's borrowed from the 6-series coupe. New-tech stuff includes a system that sets the brake pads closer to the rotors should the driver suddenly let off the gas. In this case, the coupe presumes that a hard stop is close at hand. Readying the brake pads cuts down on system reaction time.

As you would expect, all coupes come with a wealth of standard equipment, including dual-zone tilt/telescoping steering wheel, climate control, power moonroof, auto-leveling xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers with heated washer jets, multi-adjustable driver's and front-passenger seats, 10-speaker audio system (13 speakers in the 335i) and a complete range of safety features that incorporate run-flat tires (no spare is carried).

There's also an extensive and varied extra-cost features list, ranging from a leather-covered interior to sport seats, 18-inch wheels, navigation system and steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters for the automatic transmission.

Without question, from a style, performance, content and value standpoint, the new 3-series coupe continues the BMW tradition of satisfying buyers. It appears that coupes really do have more fun.

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