2003 325 New Car Test Drive
This is the benchmark. The BMW 3 Series cars are the aspiration for every automaker building a sports sedan or mid-size luxury sedan.
There's a good reason for that. The 3 Series cars are superb. Whether it's the 325i or the M3, these are terrific driver's cars. Each of them is dynamically outstanding, a highly refined machine that corners, accelerates, and stops swiftly. These cars put drivers in touch with the road instead of isolating them. Driving them is a joy. Their blend of luxury and sports and their high levels of quality makes living with them joyful as well. Their interiors are well-equipped and comfortable.
Another reason automakers are envious of the 3 Series is that it exemplifies BMW’s consistency in product character and value. The 3 Series cars have been the benchmark for quite some time now and we do not see this changing in the near future.
2003 brings only minor changes to the line. Among them: The available BMW Onboard Navigation System has been re-engineered. Sedans add a center rear head restraint as standard equipment. BMW's Full Maintenance Program now covers four years or 50,000 miles, up from 3/36,000 previously.
The 3 Series is composed of sedans, coupes, convertibles, and wagons. Ten models are available, varying considerably in price, power, and packaging, plus there two M3 models. All are based on the same chassis and all ride on the same 107.3-inch wheelbase, but the coupes and convertibles share few body panels with the sedans and wagons.
Two engines are available, both inline six-cylinder engines. As the 3 Series nomenclature indicates, 325 models get a 2.5-liter engine, while 330 models get a 3.0-liter engine. Sedan, coupe, and convertible are available with either engine; wagons are only available with the 2.5-liter engine.
The 325i sedan ($27,800); 325i sport wagon ($30,400); 325Ci coupe ($29,600); 325Ci convertible ($36,700) are powered by the 184-horsepower 2.5-liter engine. The higher price of coupes and convertibles includes a slightly higher level of luxury equipment than what comes standard on sedans and wagons.
The 330i sedan ($34,600); 330Ci coupe ($35,600); and 330Ci convertible ($42,900) benefit from the 225-horsepower 3.0-liter engine. In addition to the increased power, 330 models come with more standard equipment and design upgrades. One example: 17-inch wheels with V-rated tires in place of the 325's standard 16-inch wheels with H-rated tires.
All-wheel-drive 325xi ($29,550) and 330xi ($36,350) sedans and the 325xi sport wagon ($32,150) offer much better traction and control in slippery conditions. They come equipped with Hill Descent Control, which could prove helpful when descending a steep, slippery driveway or back road.
All models come standard with a five-speed manual transmission. Automatic transmissions are available: A superb ZF-built five-speed Steptronic ($1275). Dynamic Stability Control comes standard on all models. Run-flat tires are an option on 330 models with an upgraded Tire Pressure Monitor for 2003. Also optional are 18-inch wheels and tires.
Smart front and front side-impact airbags come standard. Also standard (on all but the convertibles) are head-protection airbags that deploy from the headliner along the length of both sides of the cabin. Rear side-impact airbags are optional. Bi-xenon high-intensity discharge headlamps offer much better visibility on stormy nights, but sometimes annoy other drivers. BMW's Park Distance Control ($350) works great, beeping to warn the driver of objects behind the car during parking maneuvers.
Related to the 3 Series are the M3 coupe ($46,500) and M3 convertible ($54,500), which boast much higher levels of performance and handling. Part of that comes via the 3.2-liter engine rated at 333 hp. The optional Sequential Manual Gearbox ($2700) is fantastic if you like it, but try it out to be sure.