Many car companies claim to produce sports sedans. They'll take some lumpy, blobby family boat, strip off the chrome, throw on some sporty tires and a rear deck spoiler, and shout to the multitudes, "OK, we're sporty now!"

The reality: Most of these sedans are frumpy family cars with a spoiler that's as misplaced as Bob Dole in jams. If you really want a sports sedan, this is the one, the modern descendent of the car that defined the genre.

Presenting the 1996 328i.

If you're a follower of all cars Bavarian, you'll note the last digit is three higher than last year. That's because the fine folks at BMW have enlarged the in-line six-cylinder engine to 2.8 liters. The results might not look dramatic -- horsepower is only up by 1 to 190. But torque is up 14 percent, to 207 lb.-ft. It's also available lower in the rev range.

The result? Stoplight Andrettis can get across intersections faster than you can say "yuppie wannabe." There's lots of juicy power across a broad spectrum, making it more friendly to those who like to leave the shifting to others (but get the five speed; tangoing with this engine can be sweet). Zero-60 times are seven seconds with the manual, 7.7 seconds with the four-speed automatic.

What makes a BMW such a blast isn't just the speed, but the sweet feel of the machinery. You'll think this car was designed to carve up corners and deliver all relevant information to the driver.

To employ a much overused phrase, this is a driver's car. It's as sporting as any sports car and every bit as agile. The tactile sensations delivered to the driver are only those that help to drive better and, ahem, faster. Exhaust noise at lower speeds is reduced over last year, thanks in part to a new exhaust system. But it still allows you to hear this engine hum its sweet songs at higher speeds.

Mileage was good, averaging 23 mpg in an equal mix of city and highway driving.

Inside, the driver and passenger are served by very firm bucket seats. They feature prominent side bolsters that keep one well-planted during spirited cornering. But a little more back support would be appreciated, as the seat back felt overly flat.

The high center console and dash give the car a cockpit-like feel; ditto the vast array of buttons for the automatic climate and the awesome, but optional, 32-watt Harman-Kardon audio system. Other luxurious goodies include retained power, eight-way power front seats, multi-function computer, heated front seats and traction control.

In case you lose your sense while driving, safety is well taken care of, too. Anti-lock brakes and dual airbags are standard. All-season traction is a must option for the rear-drive 328i. Passenger seat belts have auto-locking retractors to fit child safety seats. To help prevent the lock being picked, the lock now freewheels when anything other than the correct key is inserted into it. Also, the ignition key and switch have an ever-changing electronic coding to help prevent theft.

On the down side, leather is optional, and you'll find the back seat tight for most grown people. But this is a s-p-o-r-t-s sedan, and driving pleasure is the value here, not space per square foot.

The crisp styling and handling of this true sports sedan outshines its competitors. But then, this car doesn't look like a bloated boat. It doesn't drive like one, either. If you want a sports sedan, don't be fooled by imitations.

1996 BMW 328i Standard: 2.8-liter double overhead cam V-6; five-speed manual transmission; four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes; 15x7 alloy wheels, 205/ 65R15 all-season tires; intermittent wipers; dual power mirrors; illuminated master key; eight-way power front seats; information display; leatherette upholstery; leather-covered steering wheel, shift knob and hand-brake grip; wood trim; front cupholders; power locks; power windows; automatic climate control; powe sunroof; 200-watt AM/FM cassette audio system; tool kit; full-size spare. Optional: Automatic transmission, metallic paint, heated front seats and outside mirrors, premium Harman-Kardon audio system, fold-down rear seat, Premium package (leather upholstery, on-board computer), all-season package. Base price: $32,900 As tested: $39,520