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As Cool as a Spring Breeze

2005 BMW 325Ci convertible

By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 17, 2005; Page G01

Spring smells better with the top down. There is the scent of flowering plants mixed with tailpipe exhaust, the odor of freshly mowed lawns accented by gasoline vapor; and in Northern Virginia neighborhoods where modest old homes are being razed and replaced by mini-mansions, there is the slightest hint of sawdust floating in the air with bee pollen.

You would miss much of this in a hardtop car with the windows closed and the air conditioner going; and you would miss it completely in one of those very modern vehicles equipped with air filtration systems to protect you from all of the stuff you'd normally inhale by walking or running.

2005 BMW 325Ci convertible
2005 BMW 325Ci convertible
2005 BMW 325Ci convertible

Nuts & Bolts

Downside: The 325Ci is pricey, especially in comparison with other entry-level luxury convertibles. But this appears to be one of those cases where you actually get what you pay for. Also, there is limited storage and little room for rear-seat rumps in this car.

Ride, acceleration and handling: The car is equipped with a four-wheel-independent suspension system and front and rear stabilizer bars to provide a smooth, steady, confident ride on most paved and asphalt surfaces. Handling is tight, crisp. Acceleration, in terms of lane changes and emergency maneuvers, is excellent.

Head-turning quotient: The 325Ci is the automotive version of a cherry blossom. With its top town, people can't help noticing it. Most folks appreciate the sight.

Body style/layout: The 2005-model 325Ci is a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive convertible with a standard automatic canvas top.

Engine/transmissions: The car's standard 2.5-liter, inline six-cylinder, 24-valve, 184-horsepower engine is linked to a standard five-speed manual transmission. A BMW Steptronic five-speed automatic transmission, which also can be operated manually, is optional.

Cargo and fuel capacities: The 325Ci convertible has seating for five people. You can carry a couple of small soft-pack bags in the trunk. Fuel capacity is 16.6 gallons of required premium unleaded gasoline.

Mileage: I averaged 23 miles per gallon, mostly in highway driving at a leisurely pace. This is a cruiser, not a racer.

Safety: Standard side air bags; traction and stability control; four-wheel antilock brakes.

Price: Base price on the tested 2005 BMW 325Ci is $39,000. Base dealer's invoice price is $35,670. Price as tested is $42,930, including $3,235 in options and a $695 destination charge. Dealer's price as tested is $39,305. Prices are sourced from BMW, www.edmunds.com, www.kbb.com and www.cars.com, a Washington Post affiliate.

Purse-strings note: You can option yourself into the BMW 5-Series price range with this one, so you may want to control your lust. Compare with Audi A4, Chrysler Crossfire, Nissan 350Z, Mercedes-Benz SLK 350, Porsche Boxster, Saab 9-3.

But in the leathered lap of the 2005 BMW 325Ci convertible, you can have it all -- at 65 miles per hour, or at a much slower pace, such as being stuck in an hour-long traffic jam around the Washington Monument, trying to enjoy the beauty of the cherry blossoms before they turn to dust.

It is a simple matter of pushing a button on the center console of the 325Ci. Push, and watch the four windows lower themselves simultaneously, followed by the magical opening of a rear hatch into which the canvas roof falls after automatically detaching itself from its front moorings and then folding itself into a neat stack for good and proper storage.

The entire choreography -- for it is nothing short of that -- takes place in less than 60 seconds. It is technology as haiku, drudgery transformed into ballet.

If you plan carefully, you can enjoy the car to its fullest. This involves choosing the right day and the perfect hour to slip into the 325Ci and slip away from your immediate surroundings. I rather like Wednesdays, shortly after noon when I'm done with the Real Wheels chat on www.washingtonpost.com, when the rest of the Washington world is at its desk and the traffic rolling through Virginia's Shenandoah Valley is relatively light.

The perfect escape involves masking intentions, which, in this case, means keeping the convertible's top up until leaving the office work zone. Lowering that top in plain view of fellow wage serfs sends the politically incorrect message that you're just going out to play. Besides, keeping it up in the city provides protection of another sort. The air is loaded with fumes and particulates there; and the wonderful little 325Ci does, indeed, come with its own standard automatic climate control system featuring an activated charcoal, micro-filter ventilation device.

That means you can breathe deeply and freely with the roof and windows up while driving through the city -- until you get out to the countryside, where you can drop the roof, pull down the windows and partake of air and natural beauty almost in the way God intended.

The 325Ci is not a particularly powerful car. It comes with a 2.5-liter, inline six-cylinder engine. "Inline" means all six cylinders are lined up in a straight row, one after the other, like little fire-breathing soldiers. Each cylinder comes with four valves to make breathing easier -- that is, to facilitate the intake, combustion and exhaustion of air and fuel.

The engine develops a maximum 184 horsepower at 6,000 revolutions per minute and 175 foot-pounds of torque at 3,500 rpm. It is a worthy workhorse, but somewhat diminutive in a stable of luxury automobiles where anything less than 250 horsepower barely gets a glance.

But the 325Ci is not for people who rush through life with stopwatches attached to their hearts. It is an automobile for aspirants, dreamers -- an entry-level luxury car for those who still hold fast to the illusion that they can and will move up to something bigger and better without doing the slightest harm to their souls or environment.

The 325Ci is a good car. It and the other members of BMW's 3-Series class -- including the 325i, 325Xi, 330i, 330Xi and M3 -- have long had the reputation as the best entry-level cars on the market. Egad! Even the more-proper-than-thou Consumer Reports magazine gives the 325Ci and its siblings, offered in rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations, a "recommended" rating.

The 325Ci thus is the perfect guilt-free car for enjoying and living contradictions -- pursuing clear skies and fresh air in a gasoline-powered chariot, enjoying the open spaces paved with concrete and asphalt, and obeying posted speed limits in a car, even with its smallish 184-horsepower engine, designed to shatter them in seconds.

Life is good.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company