2004 330 New Car Test Drive
This is the benchmark. The BMW 3 Series cars are the aspiration for every automaker building a sports sedan or smaller luxury sedan.
There's a good reason for that. The 3 Series is superb. Whether it's the standard 325i or the high-performance M3, they are driver's cars. Dynamically, each is outstanding: a highly refined machine that corners, accelerates, and stops swiftly. The 3 Series puts drivers in touch with the road instead of isolating them. Driving the sedan, coupe, convertible or sport wagon is a joy. They blend luxury and sport with high levels of quality, making living with them joyful as well. Their interiors are well equipped and comfortable.
Other automakers are envious of the 3 Series for another reason: It exemplifies consistency in product character and values. BMW's 3 Series cars have been the benchmark for entry luxury cars for some time, and we do not see this changing soon.
The competition may be gaining, but BMW is hardly sitting still. For 2004, the 3 Series gets an extensive array of updates. The coupe and convertible are mildy restyled, front and rear, and there's more of just about everything: More technology, more standard equipment, more wheel design choices. 330 models now come standard with a 6-speed manual transmission, and BMW's trick Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG) is offered on all rear-drive models. There's a new Performance Package for the 330i sedan that makes it a virtual four-door M3. All 3 Series are offered with a BMW Assist telematics package that no longer requires the optional navigation system.
The coupe and convertible prices increase several hundred dollars, but all 3 Series cars come with the same full-maintenance included for the duration of the four- year, 50,000-mile warranty. For entry luxury market shoppers who put a premium on driving satisfaction, the BMW 3 Series remains the place to start.
The popularity of the 3 Series has produced a wide, sometimes confusing range of sedans, coupes, convertibles, and wagons. Ten models are available, varying considerably in price, power, and packaging, not to mention two versions from BMW's high-performance M division. The price spread from the bottom of the 3 Series line to the top exceeds $30,000. All are based on the same chassis and all ride on the same 107.3-inch wheelbase, but the coupes and convertibles do not share many body panels with the sedans and wagons.
Two engines are available in the standard 3 Series line, with a new variant of one of them for 2004. Both are 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. The 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 ($30,100) and 325Ci convertible ($37,300) are powered by the 184-horsepower 2.5-liter engine. The higher price of coupes and convertibles includes a slightly higher level of standard luxury equipment than the 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 mechanical upgrades. Two examples: V-rated tires in place of the 325's standard H-rated tires, and larger brakes. A new Performance Package ($3,900) for the 330i sedan increases horsepower by 10 and adds a host of performance upgrades, including a short-throw shifter, M sport suspension tuning, Z-rated tires and appearance tweaks inside and out.
The four-door and wagon are also available with all-wheel-drive. The 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 descending a steep, slippery driveway or back road.
The 3 Series variants powered by the 2.5-liter engine come standard with a 5-speed manual transmission; those powered by the 3.0-liter engine are upgraded to a 6-speed manual for 2004. A superb ZF-built 5-speed Steptronic automatic ($1,275) is optional on all models, while the 6-speed Sequential Manual Gearbox ($1,500) developed for and launched in the M3, is offered on all rear-drive 3 Series models. Run-flat tires with tire pressure monitoring ($300) are an option on 330 models.
Most 3 Series models come with a Premium Package ($1,200-$3,300, depending on the model), which includes an auto dimming rearview mirror, a moonroof, Myrtle wood trim, front seat memory and drivers lumbar support, leather upholstery, a multi-function trip computer, and the BMW Assist system. BMW Assist provides telematic collision notification, an SOS button, roadside assistance, locator and concierge services. After the first year, you'll pay for the subscription ($240 annually).
Stand-alone options include the moonroof ($1,050), 18-inch wheels ($925) and a GPS navigation system ($1,800). In short, the 3 Series is available with nearly all the convenience features offered on BMW's larger sedans, which is one reason prices can approach $60,000 for the M cars.
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 ($385). Bi-xenon high-intensity discharge headlamps ($700) offer much better visibility on stormy nights and now aim around corners, but they sometimes annoy other drivers. BMW's Park Distance Control ($350) works great, beeping to warn the driver of objects behind the car during parking maneuvers.
Closely related to the standard 3 Series are the M3 coupe ($.