At last the four-wheel-drive 325i has made it to Britain. Wet weather handling and traction benefit-but refinement suffers. Photographs by Maurice Rowe. The BMW 325iX E30 badge on the bootlid is one clue, the subtle wheel arch and sill extensions are another; line the 4WD BMW up against its rear-wheel-drive 325i counterpart and you will notice that it stands taller (but only by 20 mm/0.8 in). Only the aficionado will spot the 4WD derivative from the outside: at BMW, understatement is the name of the game.
Originally, BMW (GB) Ltd had planned not to import either the 325iX or the M3 E30 production racer. Now the company have changed their mind and offer both cars in left-hand drive. The 325iX E30 costs £18,345, but you can save £495 by opting for the two-door or spend £1060 more on the four-speed automatic version.
It has the same M20B25 2494cc sohc in-line six-cylinder engine (classic BMW “small six”) developing 171 bhp at 5800 rpm and 167 lb ft torque at 4000 rpm, mated with a Getrag five-speed gearbox as the 525i SE E28. They also share similar all-independent suspension – by front Mac-Pherson struts and rear semi-trailing arms, four-wheel disc brakes with Bosch ABS anti-locking (now fitted to all 325i models) and power-assisted steering.
In concept, the four-wheel-drive transmission is very similar to the Ferguson system used in the Ford Sierra 4×4. Mounted behind the unchanged five- speed manual gearbox is a centre transfer gearbox (containing a ZF planetary differential) that delivers 63 per cent of the power to the rear wheels via a singlepiece propshaft and unchanged rear final drive unit. The other 37 per cent goes forwards by means of a chain and offset propshaft to a newly developed final-drive unit bolted rigidly to the engine sump.
Viscous couplings – produced by Visco Drive, a joint Ferguson/ZF company – are used in both centre and rear differentials. These further alter the torque split in the event of either axle or rear wheel losing grip to give improved traction in very slippery conditions. There is no viscous coupling in the front differential because, according to BMW, this would affect the steering; for the same reason, equal length front driveshafts are used.
One difficulty that has been overcome is the ability to make ABS brakes work on a car with 4WD and limited slip differentials (with Audis, for example, the ABS has to be disabled when the diff locks are engaged).
Nearly all the front suspension components have been altered for the 4WD model. A new cast aluminium front sub- frame was needed, with the steering rack relocated ahead of the front axle centre line. Altered pick-up points create a negative, scrub radius for the first time on a BMW, while the front track is 13 mm/0.5 in wider.
Compared with the rear-drive 325i, the 325iX incurs a weight penalty of 90 kg but, according to Motor’s fifth wheel, ‘the performance loss is minimal. Flat out, the 325iX manages 129.3 mph, and takes 7.8 and 22.2 sec to reach 60 and 100 mph respectively from rest. We have yet to verify BMW’s 135 mph maximum speed for the 325i, but corresponding acceleration times for that car are 7.4 and 21.3sec.
The 325iX is faster and more accelerative than the obvious 4WD rivals, and close indeed on top speed to the much more expensive Audi Quattro (131.7 mph). But both the latter and the Mazda 323 4×4 Turbo outsprint the Bavarian, covering the 0 to 60 mph yardstick in 6.5 and 7.1 sec respectively.
Subjectively, there’s a notice-able surge in power once the tachometer needle passes the 4000 rpm mark, where maximum torque is developed. Yet the fourth and fifth gear figures show that the BMW is not short of low-down lugging power, even though it can’t quite match the figures of the Sierra 4×4 and Mazda. From 30 to 80 mph in fourth gear, all the 20 mph increments are covered in 8 seconds or less – a feat not possible with the Audi or Subaru.
Not that there’s any cause to be lazy with the gearshift: like that of just about every other contemporary BMW, it is a model of lightness and precision. But, as the change up points show (32, 55, 87 and 121 mph, at 6500 rpm), the ratios are quite Widely spaced.
Unfortunately, the BMW’s spirited performance has to be paid for at the pumps, but our 22.3mpg overall fuel consumption figure is practically identical to that of the ordinary 325i or Ford Sierra XR4x4 – both of which returned 22.4 mpg. With a touring consumption of 29.5 mpg, the 4WD BMW is six per cent worse than the standard car, giving a rather limited 357-mile range on the 55-litre tank.
Of more interest is how the permanent 4WD transmission affects the handling. Essentially, the 325iX feels no different to the rear-drive car: the negative offset geometry has no notice-able effect on the steering, which now has 3.9 turns lock-to- lock for a slightly poorer 10.6 m turning circle.
Cornering grip is good (the test car was fitted with optional alloy wheels and Michelin 200/ 60 VR365 TDX tyres), but the enthusiast may well be dis-appointed by the large roll angles as a result of the raised suspension, and no reduction of understeer as the limit is approached; furthermore, the 325iX displays no better high-speed stability than does the rear-drive car.
But there are some gains. With the four-wheel-drive car, full power can be safely deployed in tight first or second gear turns without pushing the tail out of line, while cutting the throttle in mid-bend merely helps the nose tuck-in, without causing oversteer.
Really though, you need to drive the 325iX on wet roads to appreciate its virtues. With four- wheel drive, the previously tricky handling is tamed. No longer will an insensitive bootful of power precipitate a lurid tail slide. Instead, if the car slides at all; it will do so safely, all-of-a-piece.
Like all BMW 325s except the Sport’ (fitted with “M Technic’’ suspension), the 325iX has “Sports” suspension with gas- filled dampers. The result is a firm low-speed ride that gives way to more supple behaviour the harder the car is driven and the bumpier the road becomes.
Disguised from the outside by close-fitting wheel arch extensions, the taller ride height is not obvious from inside the car. But the extra ground clearance does endow the 4WD car with surprising off-road potential.
From past experience, we know the BMW six-cylinder engine to be one of the quietest and smoothest operators around. But installed in the 325iX there’s uncharacteristic harshness transmitted through the bulkhead, while the muted engine only serves to emphasise gear whine from the more complex transmission.
The finish is of a very high standard, the quality and fit of the external mouldings being especially good. Inside, the fit-tings appear durable, and the test car’s beige leather trim makes a welcome change from the usual sombre black.
In just about every other respect, the 325iX mirrors the rest of the 3-Series range. It pampers the driver with comfortable multi-adjustable seating, faultless controls and superb instruments but the compact body is not the roomiest for rear-seat passengers.
Equipment is fairly comprehensive, but it’s worth noting that our car’s headlamp wash/wipe, electric sunroof, sports steering wheel, alloy wheels and TDX tyres, metallic paint and leather trim etc are all costly extras that collectively bump up ‘ the price to more than £23,000.
Even at the £18,345 list price, the BMW costs more than obvious alternatives such as the Ford Sierra XR4x4 (£13,676) and Audi 80 Quattro (£14,100) — though the soon-to-be-released Audi 90 quattro is likely to be a closer price match.
BMW have done a thorough and professional job in adapting the 325i to accept permanent 4WD transmission. The handling is safer under all conditions while the potential benefits on snow and ice are obvious. Ultimately though, this car is a little slower, less efficient and not as quiet as the rear-drive 325i. And we feel sure the disadvantage of left-hand drive will seriously limit the appeal the BMW 325Ix E30 to UK buyers.
|Temperature||62 deg F/16 deg C|
|Barometer||29.2 in Hg/989 mbar|
|At 1/4 mile||87||140|
|At 1 km||110||177|
|Speeds in gears (at 6500 rpm):|
|ACCELERATION FROM REST|
|Standig 1/4 mile||15.7||Standig 1 km||28.8|
|ACCELERATION IN TOP|
|acceleration in 4th|
|12.6 litres/100 km|
|9.0 litres/100 km|
|Govt tests||23 mod (urban)|
|44 mpg (56 mph)|
|35 mpg (75 mph)|
|Fuel grade||97 octane|
|4 star rating|
|Tank capacity||55 litres 12.1 galls|
|Max range*||377 miles 607 km|
|Test distance||722 miles 1162 km|
|*Based on official fuel economy figures 50 per cent of urban cycle, plus 25 per cent of each of 56/75 mph consumptions|
|STEERING Turning circle Lock to lock||10.5 m, 34.4 ft 4.0 turns|
|*Peak noise level under full-throttle acceleration in 2nd|
|Distance recorder: 0.9 per cent fast|
|Weight as tested||1385||27.3|
|Performance tests carried out by Motor’s staff at the Motor Industry Research Association proving ground, Lindley, and Millbrook proving ground, near Ampthill.|
|Test Data: World Copyright Drive-MY reserved. No reproduction in whole or part without written permission.|
Make: BMW Model: 325iX Country of Origin: West Germany Maker: Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, Munich UK Concessionaire: BMW (GB) Ltd, Ellesfield Avenue, Bracknell, Berkshire RG12 4TA Tel: (0344) 426565
Total Price: £18,345
Extras fitted to test car: green tinted glass £166, sports seats £423, headlamp wash/wipe £277, dechroming £284, electric sunroof £665, electric windows £682, M Technic steering wheel £136; alloy wheels and TDX tyres £725, metallic paint £336, leather trim £805, trip computer £324
Other options: automatic transmission £1060, cruise control £312, heated seats £217, Air conditioning £1363, and more.
Price as tested (1987): £23,168
Other possible rivals include: Audi 100 and 80 Quattro £18,945 and Mercedes 190E 2.6 W201 £18,000
1987 BMW 325iX E30
Long awaited 4WD version of BMW 325i available in left-hand-drive form to special order. Performance and economy are scarcely diminished, but refinement compromised by extra transmission hardware. Dry road handling little affected, but wet road traction and safety benefit considerably. Comfortable driving position, slick controls, clear instruments and other E30 3-Series virtues remain intact, but high cost and LHD seating will limit this car’s UK potential.
1987 Audi 80 Quattro
The previous Audi 80 quattro was a capable car but Audi’s latest is better with its Torsen centre differential. Handling is superbly balanced, the old car’s tendency to understeer strongly when pushed, hard has been eliminated; grip is good in all conditions. Ride is only average and performance of the 1.8 engine comfortable rather than spirited. Attractive, sleek shape, fair packaging and good ergonomics, well finished too.
Top six-cylinder M20B25 rear-drive version of BMW’s popular 3-Series E30, the 325i is fast, smooth and well equipped. Performance is good, engine refinement ranks with the best. Excellent dry road handling, but needs watching in the wet. Gearchange, instruments and ergonomics are excellent, accommodation poor for the price. All 325is now have ABS brakes and “Sports” suspension, but the SE pack adds power steering, sunroof, electric windows and alloy wheels.
1987 Ford Sierra XR4i
Ford’s Sierra XR4i gains viscous-coupling four-wheel drive with a rear-ward torque bias, a five-door body and a more subtle suit of clothes to go Audi quattro-chasing. The Ford Sierra XR4x4 succeeds, too, with strong performance, terrific grip and traction out of corners, wieldy handling and a basically good ride. Gearchange is better than the old XR4i’s; driving position, seat comfort, heating and ventilation are good, refinement less so. Well finished, good value.
1987 Mazda 323 4×4 Turbo Lux £11,750
Japan’s pint-sized quattro appears to have it all: a turbocharged 16-valve engine delivering 148 bhp, permanent 4wd and disc brakes all round. Against the clock it is very rapid though it does need to be worked hard. Handling is entertaining but power steering lacks real feel and cornering grip is average. The ride is good for a sporting car, but for all its tempting specification, the Mazda lacks the image and appeal to justify its price.
1987 Subaru XT Coupe £14,499
Now vastly improved with a more sophisticated, permanent four-wheel-drive system which provides fine traction, grip and balance. Refinement was always there; excellent air suspension ride, negligible wind and road roar, smooth and powerful flat-four turbo engine. Razor edge coupe styling – love it or loathe it – is distinctive, latest interior trim is less gaudy. A much more evenly balanced package.
|GENERAL SPECIFICATION 1987 BMW 325iX E30|
|Cylinders||Six in-line, BMW M20B25|
|Max power||171 bhp 126 kW at 5800 rpm (DIN)|
|Max torque||167 lb ft 226 Nm at 4000 rpm (DIN)|
|Fuel system||Bosch ME-Motronic fuel injection|
|Ignition||Fully programmed electronic|
|Drive||To all wheels permanent|
|Type||5-speed, manual Getrag|
|Internal ratios:and mph/1000 rpm|
|Coef Cd (Cx)||0.38|
|Front||Independent by Macpherson struts and Sower wishbones; coil springs; anti-roll bar|
|Rear||Independent by semi-trailing arms; coil springs; anti-roll bar|
|Type||Rack and pinion|
|Front||Discs, vent., 26 cm dia|
|Rear||Discs 26 cm dia|
|Circuit||Dual split front/rear|
|Rear valve||No, Bosch ABS fitted|
|Type||5 1/2 J alloy 14 in dia|
|Pressures F/R (normal)||34 psi 2.4 bar|
|(full load/high speed)||36/40 psi 2.5/2.8 bar|
|Battery||12V, 66 Ah|
|Alternator||80 Amp, 1120 W|
|dip||110 W total|
|main||220 W total|
12 months unlimited mileage
|Rust warranty||Six years|
First service at services 1200 miles; other indicator