The 325i offers great everyday handling, responsive steering and a smooth-shifting automatic transmission.
Karla Pincott road tests and reviews the BMW 325i with extra kit and reduced price.
The mainstay of the BMW range has been given some extra weapons to take into what has become a close-fought battle.
For 35 years, the 3 Series has been the benchmark for the prestige medium-sized field - and last year notched up 37 per cent of BMW's sales here. But in recent times it's had to fight harder against the Audi A4 and sales leader Mercedes-Benz C-Class - which launched a new assault last month. That doesn't worry BMW, spokesman Toni Andreevski says.
"We're very happy with how the 3 Series has performed in the segment over the past 36 years," he says. "We don't pay attention to a few months' worth of sales figures."
However the 3 Series has recently been well-positioned to claw back some territory with package and price adjustments.
The main attention in the range has been given to the 325i sedan tested here, which has wiped $5000 off the price tag and added nearly the same amount in extra kit by making the Innovations package standard - giving you premium nav, voice control, high-beam assist bi-xenon headlights with washers, and power folding exterior mirrors with anti-dazzle function.
That gives the 325i a price of $71,900 for the manual, and a 'more for less' benefit of 11 per cent. But it's worth shopping it against the $59,700 BMW 320d and looking at adding in the extra spec options - thus saving 2.5L/100km with the diesel's better economy while getting the extra torque benefit.
The $67,900 C-Class C 250 and $69,300 A4 2.0T quattro both have less power but more torque than the 325i. They also have slightly more boot space, and the Audi wins in usable rear seat room - something to consider if the kids are growing.
It's a handsome body and face, but not outlandish. And that means while there's a new look coming next year, the current one will still look good in traffic for a while to come. The interior is a different matter, where even the contrast of real metal accents against the dark dash of our test car wasn't enough to prevent it feeling outdated.
We liked the roomy boot, but would have welcomed better design for storage around the cabin. The door pockets are miserly, the multi-level centre console bin is annoying and the pop-out dash cupholders - which position your coffee for the optimum trajectory toward your lap - are just plain scary.
The 325i gets a 2.5-litre inline six-cylinder with 160kW of power and 250Nm of torque put to the rear wheels via either a six-speed manual, or the six-speed auto on the test car.
Worth comment - since it used to be commented on so adversely - is the nav, entertainment and information 'command central' iDrive system, which has over time been simplified and become much more user-friendly.
It's got five crash-rating stars, six airbags and any number of safe-tech acronyms. But no spare - which is not a problem with the run-flat tyres as long as you stay within city limits. Pot(hole) luck in the country.
The 325i is far from the most powerful in the line-up - that gong of course goes to the M3 end of the range -- and it's not the most economical. But it's also far from being the runt of the litter, and for those who want to stick to a middle-position petrol engine it offers a good prospect.
There's enough torque on offer to tickle it along respectably, and the majority of buyers will never be dissatisfied with the reserves. The ride is a good balance between cushioned compliance and a dose of firmness that avoids wallowing, and the cabin's level of hush probably has official librarian approval.
But the real pleasures of the car are in the driving. While the M3 will out-track it, the 325i offers great everyday handling, responsive steering and a smooth-shifting automatic transmission.
Whether you're crawling in the city, or cruising in the country, this car will keep you comfortable and contented.
Price: from $71,900
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Service interval: 15,000km/1yr
Thirst: 7.2L/100km (7.4L auto); 98RON, 168g/km CO2 (174g auto)
Safety equipment: Six airbags, ESC, ABS, EBD, EBA, TC
Crash rating: 5 star
Engine: 2.5-litre inline 6-cylinder, 160kW/250Nm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, six-speed auto
Body: four-door, five-seater
Dimensions: 4612mm (L); 1782mm (W); 1395mm (H); 2760mm (WB)
Weight: 1430kg (1460 auto)
BMW 320d- compare this car
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel, 135kW/380Nm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, six-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Body: Four-door sedan
Thirst: 5.3L/100km, diesel, 140g/km CO2
MERCEDES-BENZ C-CLASS C250- compare this car
Engine: 2.1-litre 4-cyl turbo petrol 150kW/310Nm
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Body: Four-door sedan
Thirst: 7.2 l/100km, petrol, 167g/km CO2
AUDI A4 2.0T QUATTRO- compare this car
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo petrol 132kW/320Nm
Transmission: six-speed manual, seven-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Body: Four-door sedan
Thirst: 7.4 l/100km (7.5 auto), petrol, 173g/km CO2 (179g auto)