A face-lift of BMWs smallest coupe and sedan series for 2002 includes cleaner-looking front bumpers and round, integrated fog lights. The optional Steptronic transmissions manual mode has been revised, headrests are new, and an in-dash CD player is now standard. Bi-xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights, which use xenon for both the low and high beams, are a new option. The coupe and convertible can be equipped with rear side-impact airbags as a special-order option.
BMW offers a far broader selection of body styles than most midsize automakers. In addition to the four-door sedan, coupe and convertible, the lineup includes a 3 Series wagon, which the company calls the 325i.
Because of the companys sporty image and its reputation for quality, 3 Series models have been popular among first-time luxury-car buyers. BMWs most popular line competes against the all-new Jaguar X-TYPE, Lexus IS 300 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. A 225-horsepower, 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine goes into the 330i models, and a 184-hp, 2.5-liter inline-six powers the 325i wagon.
Like other BMWs, the 3 Series is rear-wheel drive. All-wheel drive became optional during 2001 on the 325xi and 330xi. AWD models include Dynamic Stability Control to help prevent skids.
A high-performance M3 coupe and convertible with a 333-hp, 3.2-liter inline-six-cylinder engine and a six-speed-manual transmission went on sale in spring 2001. Other extras include 18-inch tires, a sport suspension and aerodynamic body trim. Later in the 2002 model year, a sequentially shifting manual transmission is scheduled to become available.
Except for the number of doors, the 3 Series sedans and coupes look alike at a glance; but the two body styles actually share no body panels. Coupe styling also serves the convertible model. All exhibit BMWs familiar look, with four round headlamps and a twin-kidney grille, but the sedans front end is different.
The coupe and convertible are 176.7 inches long, while the sedan measures only 176 inches long. All 3 Series models have a 107.3-inch wheelbase, and two-door models are wider and lower than the sedan. The windshield on the coupe and convertible is slanted 2 degrees more than the sedan, and the 323Ci convertible has a standard manual folding top, but a power top is optional (standard on the 330Ci model).
Sedans are designed to hold five passengers, while the coupe and convertible are four-seaters. Space is ample up front with twin bucket seats, but there really isnt enough room for passengers to stretch their legs in the back, where the accommodations are on the austere side.
The driver faces a typical BMW dashboard, similar to that on other models, with large, clearly marked easy-to-read gauges. Simple stereo and climate control push-buttons are in easy reach. All 3 Series models have dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, remote keyless entry, and power windows, locks and mirrors.
Under the Hood
Two inline-six-cylinder engines are used in 3 Series models: a 184-hp 2.5-liter and a 225-hp 3.0-liter. According to their engine size, the sedans are designated 325i and 330i; coupes and convertibles are named 325Ci and 330Ci; and all-wheel-drive sedans are called 325xi and 330xi. Both a five-speed-manual and five-speed-automatic transmission are available, and the automatic gearbox permits manual gear changing when desired.
Beneath the M3s hood is a larger 3.2-liter inline-six that is rated at 333 hp. It teams with a six-speed-manual transmission.
Side-impact and curtain-type airbags for the front seats are standard, and rear-seat side-impact airbags are optional in the sedan. Front airbags deploy with less force in low-speed impacts and with full force in severe collisions. If the front passenger seat is unoccupied, its airbag will not deploy. Antilock brakes and traction control are standard. BMWs electronic stability system, called Dynamic Stability Control, reduces engine power and applies the brakes to prevent skids.
For many enthusiast drivers, BMW is the standard by which other makes are judged. More than most automakers, thats partly because BMW sticks to its roots in the performance-oriented arena and stresses the dynamic handling qualities of its products rather than their luxury amenities. Lexus and Mercedes-Benz, among others, also are trying to lure young buyers with a performance-oriented image.
Spirited performance and crisp handling are the bywords for all BMW models. Most drivers will be quite content with the performance offered by the 325i group, but those who savor extra power can move up to the more potent 330i models. The 325i can be at least as much fun to drive. The 3.0-liter engine feels so strong that it almost has to be restrained a bit.
BMWs manual gearshift is an absolute joy to operate, which is one reason that BMW sells far more cars with the manual transmission than most manufacturers. Clutch action is performance-oriented, so getting truly smooth takeoffs takes some practice.
Athletic maneuvers are the norm in both ordinary and demanding driving. The availability of all-wheel-drive models is a bonus for buyers in the Snowbelt, because a rear-drive BMW can get tricky when ice and snow fill the roads. Seats are firm and driver-oriented, but getting in and out of the 3 Series isnt quite as easy as it is in some cars. As an additional bonus, BMW prices are competitive with those of other near-luxury automobiles, some of which lack the German automakers performance and handling credentials.