New models - BMW - 3 Series - Compact
First Oz drive: BMW 325ti is tight and cheeky
The 325ti Compact is probably the cheapest BMW to qualify as a truly rewarding driver's car
25 Jul 2002
By TIM BRITTEN
CANNIBALISATION is not a nice word, regardless of whether you live in the South American jungle or the halls of power in the car industry.
Yet that is a thought that occurs at the launch of BMW's new version of its three-door compact hatch - the 325ti Compact.
Already a much more serious BMW than the previous compact, with its full-blown 3 Series suspension and generally upgraded presentation the 325ti adds strong road performance to the mix. So strong, in fact, that some potential BMW buyers could well think hard about whether the similarly rapid 330Ci coupe warrants the spending of an extra $30,000.
The 325ti Compact has the advantage of a lower weight to help balance out the power deficit, yet is presented in a way that will appeal mightily to some buyers (equally, there are some it might not appeal to).
Where the 3 Series coupe is rakish, svelte and charming, the compact is tight, snub and slightly cheeky. And it has the advantage of a hatchback rear end for greater versatility.
On top of that is a price tag that, at $63,500 in manual form, makes for a less daunting commitment than $94,000-plus (the auto is $66,100).
Not that there aren't a few extras worth adding to the 325ti.
Perhaps the most alluring is the M Sport Package II. For just $2400 this adds a sportier suspension than the already crisp setup that is standard in the compact, new alloy wheels, a few aerodynamic add-ons plus the odd interior touch including "aluminum black cube" interior trim (in place of the now-common kevlar look), anthracite roof lining, leather-trimmed steering wheel and special door sills inscribed with BMW's M logo.
But even in standard form the 325ti does well enough with its 17-inch wheels and a well-trimmed interior with leather seats, climate control air-conditioning, CD stacker, auto-dipping rear-view mirrors, sports seats, leather-rim steering wheel and trip computer.
The first six-cylinder 3 Series compact offers a rousing 141kW, along with a decent 245Nm of torque, and the manual transmission version is claimed by BMW to reach 100km/h in 7.3 seconds.
It is aimed at the likes of Audi S3, over which it offers a small price advantage as an offset against a 24kW power deficit and constant four-wheel drive. The Mercedes-Benz C200 Kompressor is another rival that gives away about 20kW but is short of the BMW's price by about $6000.
The company expects more male than female interest in the Munich-built 325ti Compact and, as a result, the manual version to be more popular.
The Compact range accounts for about 10 per cent of total 3 Series sales in Australia and is dominated by the 318i version that represents about 45 per cent of compact sales.
The company expects to sell about 1000 compact 3 Series in Australia next year.
DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:BMW six-cylinder engines are unfailingly delightful to the ear, but the 325ti takes these pleasures to another level with a deliberately engineered exhaust note that blatantly encourages the driver to delve into the upper reaches of the rpm band.
Its 141kW are easily accessed, with a good serve of torque at lower engine speeds (good for a BMW anyway - until Vanos, its engines always needed a bit of a rev to get going).
At anything more than 5000rpm it sings beautifully and the five-speed manual gearbox is quite slick and easy to use.
With the optional M Sport package, the 325ti's steering is crisp - a little too crisp for some because it introduces a slight nervousness both in a straight line and when nudging through a high-speed, sweeping corner - nothing untoward but a little more weight, specially in the straight-ahead position, would be nice.
That said, the BMW is a swift car on any road with its responsive engine, excellent grip and powerful brakes.
And, although you'll hopefully never need it, the standard stability control system ensures it is very difficult to involuntarily put a foot wrong in the 325i. The steering might be a little over-responsive, but it certainly points accurately and grips well - especially with the M Sport wheel and tyre package.
Like all 3 Series, the 325ti is very comfortable up front with nicely shaped seats that can be manually adjusted to suit just about any driver.
The steering column adjusts for reach and height, although the Germanic tendency to provide for a wide range of drivers means it tends to sit a little higher (for thigh clearance) than some would prefer.
The interior appearance is well in keeping with the price, especially with the M Sport touches like the extra dash trim, leather steering wheel and door sills.
The split-fold back seat is handy when it comes to carrying luggage but is not really the sort of thing a grown adult would like to spend a lot of time in during an interstate trip.
But as a fast, sporty coupe, the 325ti Compact competently flies the BMW flag. It is probably the cheapest BMW to qualify as a truly rewarding driver's car.
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