Downside: The BMW 330i has long ranked as one of the most expensive entry-level automobiles, and that trend continues. Is it worth it? The U.S. auto market says yes. The 330i and its 3 Series siblings account for 40 percent of BMW's sales in the United States.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Triple aces. Everything about the new 330i says, "Drive me." The ride is comfortable. Handling is precise, controlled. Acceleration, in terms of highway lane-changing competence, is excellent. This is an easy driver.

Head-turning quotient: Attractive. Women loved it. In fact, two close friends, Patricia and Erica Chew, called it a "woman's car" the first time they saw it. They admired its "attention to detail," as Erica put it. "It's the kind of thing we like," she said.

Body style/layout: The 330i is a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, compact sedan with a traditional notchback trunk.

Engine/transmissions: The 330i comes with a three-liter, 24-valve, inline six-cylinder engine that develops 255 horsepower at 6,600 revolutions per minute and 220 foot-pounds of torque at 2,750 rpm. Valve lift and timing are electronically controlled to yield more power with a minimum fuel penalty. The engine is mated to a standard six-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic, BMW's Steptronic transmission, which also can be operated manually, is optional at an additional $1,275.

Cargo and fuel capacities: The 330i has seating for five people. Maximum luggage capacity is 12 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 15.9 gallons of required premium unleaded gasoline.

Mileage: I averaged 28 miles per gallon, mostly in highway driving.

Safety: Pedestrian-friendly hood; four-wheel disk brakes with anti-lock protection; electronic brake force distribution; automatic brake drying system to help maintain optimum brake performance in wet weather; side and head air bags; traction and stability control.

Price: Base price on the tested 2006 BMW 330i sedan is $36,300. Dealer's invoice price on the base model is $33,215. Price as tested is $39,745, including $2,750 in options (such as the now-optional iDrive navigation and communications system) and a $695 destination charge. Dealer's cost with options and shipping charges is $36,410. But this is a high-demand car. Expect some dealers to go for premiums. Prices sourced from BMW, and, a Washington Post affiliate.

Purse-strings note: Options here can crush your bank account. Consider equipment deletions. Otherwise, buy and enjoy.