It's a well recognised fact that we humans don't like change, we prefer to stick with what we know and trust and resist that we aren't so familiar with. BMW clearly recognised this trait when it updated its very successful 3-Series in 2005 with the new E90 model.
While it was clearly a new car with a raft of changes it still ticked all the boxes a 3-Series needed to tick to ensure it would carry on the success that has made the 3-Series the worldwide prestige car benchmark.
Much had happened in the BMW world since the E90's predecessor, the E46 hit the market in 2000. Most notably was the arrival of the all-new small 1-Series, which in effect filled the traditional role of the 3-Series as the entry point in the BMW range.
With the 1-Series now the entry point the 3-Series was moved upmarket, it was then a stepping stone to bigger things. Gone from the expanded range of 3-Series models was the 318i, the traditional way into the range. It was replaced with the 320i.
The most obvious change from the E46 was the new body, which brought with it the edgy corporate lines that had been introduced on other models like the 5-Series.
Run a tape over the car and you would have found it to be larger than its predecessor. It was longer in the wheelbase by 35 mm and a massive 78 mm wider, which translated into more width in the front seat and greater knee-room in the rear.
BMW also claimed the boot was much larger, but that was in no small part due to the use of run-flat tyres, which eliminated the need to carry a spare tyre.
At launch BMW offered four models: the four-cylinder 320i and its better-equipped 320i Executive sibling, and the six-cylinder 325i and 330i. A 2.0-litre 16-valve double overhead camshaft four-cylinder engine boasting 110 kW and 200 Nm powered the 320i, and there was the choice of a six-speed sequential-shift automatic transmission or a six-speed manual gearbox.
For more zip there was the 325i with a 2.5-litre six-cylinder with 160 kW and 250 Nm, and the 330i with a 3.0-litre six with 190 kW and 300 Nm. The 325i was available with a six-speed sequential-shift auto and six- speed manual, while 330i was only available with the auto.
In a sea of front-wheel drive models BMW has steadfastly held back the tide and the E90 retained rear-drive. As befits a prestige car the E90 came with plenty of fruit.
At the lower end the 320i came with climate controlled air, cruise, remote central locking, power windows and mirrors, a multi-function steering wheel, trip computer, six-speaker CD sound, and 16-inch alloys. Step up to the 320i Executive and you also got fog lamps and leather trim.
A move to a six rewarded you with 17-inch alloys, leather, CD- stacker, power driver's seat with memory, and parking sensors.
ON THE LOT
To get on board the BMW express pay $25,000-$30,000 for a 320i, add $1000 and you'll get the Executive benefits. For the sheer unadulterated joy of a six pay $35,000-$40,000 for a 325i, add $20,000 for a 330i.
IN THE SHOP
BMW parts and servicing don't come cheap if you stick to dealers for your maintenance. Look around for a BMW service specialist, there are many out there, and you will save heaps on servicing and any parts you might need.
The E90 is still in its infancy, with the earliest just coming up five years old and on average with 60,000 km on the odo, so there are very few problems to relate. All BMW engines use a timing chain instead of a belt, so there's no regular servicing required.
ON THE ROAD
The real joy of owning a BMW came in the form of the six-cylinder engine. While the four was adequate, with its smooth driveability and decent fuel economy, there was nothing like a free-revving, silky-smooth BMW straight-six to excite the senses.
Coupled with the superbly stable chassis of the E90, with its stiffer body, and rear-wheel drive the 3-Series was a real driver's car. On the downside, the ride was hard and harsh thanks to the run-flat tyres that BMW used.
IN A CRASH
BMW claimed the E90 body was 25 per cent stiffer than the E46, a great foundation for building a solid safety package. Add to that eight airbags and you had plenty of protection when it came to the crunch.
Before that the R90 driver had a raft of active safety systems, like ABS anti-lock brakes, dynamic stability control, traction control, and others to assist in avoiding a crash.
AT THE PUMP
For economy the 320i would deliver 10.0-11.00 L/100 km around town, and 5.5-6.0 L/100 km on the open road. A six would get between 11.0 and 13.0 L/100 km around town and around 6.5 L/100 km on the highway.
Smart modern style . Roomy interior . Good-sized boot . Smooth, free-revving six . Modest four performance . Great rear-drive handling . Hard ride
ALSO CHECK THESE
VW PASSAT - 2004-2006 VW's entry in the prestige market is a stylish, well-built front- wheel drive sedan or wagon with a choice of 2.3-litre V5 and 2.8- litre V6 engines and auto transmission. Smooth and comfortable, but lacks the thrill of the drive of the BMW. Pay $18,000-$29,000.
LEXUS IS250 - 2005-2006 High-end Toyota shamelessly aimed at the 3-Series. Looks are so similar can be mistaken for the German at first glance, Great driver, beautifully built, and well equipped, but ultimately lacks the cred of the blue-and-white spinner badge. Pay $30,000-$50,000.
JAGUAR X-TYPE - 2004-2006 While Jaguar was a leader in the prestige market many years ago, it has been overtaken by other brands that deliver a more thrilling ride. But of you like the niceties of an older, more genteel time, then sniff the leather, feel the woodgrain, and lose yourself in the quiet comfort of the mid-sized Jaguar. Pay $20,000-$35,000.
THE BOTTOM LINE
A well built, solid, comfortable that turns heads, but is also a delight to drive.