2003 BMW 3-Series

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2000 BMW 3-Series Coupe

This 2000 review is representative of model years 1999 to 2005.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 8
Pros:
  • More refined than you'd expect in an entry-level 2-door
  • Six-cylinder power
  • A bit roomier than its predecessor
Cons:
  • Looks a lot like the 3-Series sedan
  • Stiff clutch pedal can be tiring in congested traffic
  • Some road noise

In 2000, BMW brings its 3-Series coupes onto the same platform as the already re-engineered 3-Series sedans. The move brings unexpected refinement to BMW's entry-level 2-door models.

The "C" in BMW's 2000 323Ci and 328Ci stands for coupe. But it could also stand for confidence-inspiring, composed, capable and classy.

Now re-engineered to ride on the same platform as the already-updated 3-Series sedans, these entry-level 3-Series coupes simply do not feel like low-end models.

Who could sniff at the sporty handling and performance? Even the 323Ci, the less expensive model with a starting price under $30,000, zips from 0 to 60 miles an hour in 7.1 seconds.

In fact, during the test drive, the 323Ci with manual transmission almost seemed to rear up on its back wheels when I floored the accelerator at standstill. This new coupe has the same 2.5-liter 170-horsepower 6-cylinder engine that's in the 323i sedan.

You get even more power in the upper level 328Ci, which comes with a 2.8-liter 193-horsepower 6-cylinder. It's the same engine that's in the 328i sedan.

Usable power, not raw power
It was difficult not to be impressed by the strong, quick power. It's noticeable in the low-to-mid rpm range, where drivers need it every single day. Note that torque in the 323Ci is a maximum 181 lb-ft at just 3500 rpm. In the upper level 328Ci, maximum torque is 206 lb-ft at 3500 rpm.

Moving through the gears of the standard 5-speed manual transmission, I found ready power—and engine braking—for all the twists and curves of a challenging mountain road. These coupes are eager for each new turn, each new hill.

Road handling suspension
These cars' ability to remain composed, even when deep into some twisties, comes from the fine working of the sport-tuned strut front and multi-link rear suspension and a stability control system.

Ever mindful of weight and, more importantly, weight distribution, BMW has a near-perfect 51/49 front/rear weight distribution in these models.

And the new platform under these cars—codenamed E46 and first used in the upgraded 3-Series sedans that debuted in the 1999 model year—adds a solid, stiff foundation.

So, as I swung through the slalom, the weight of the 3-Series coupes would shift predictably from side to side, in what felt like one fluid, stable movement. There was no flutter or unsettling as I took long sweepers fast and hard. These are the characteristics that endear BMWs to their owners, and these subcompact, rear-wheel-drive 2-doors have them, too.

In the city, the coupes surprised with their tight, Volvo-like turning circle of just 34.4 feet. Talk about easy parking at the shopping mall!

Stiff clutch pedal
The clutch pedal here has a firm feel, so I'll note that sporty driving enjoyment can turn to tedium when you're stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

A 5-speed automatic, which includes a shift-sans-clutch-pedal mode called Steptronic, is available, but it's priced at more than $1,000.

Gas economy is less than what you'd expect in a car this size, with city driving rated at just 20 miles per gallon for a manual transmission model and 19 mpg with an automatic. BMW recommends premium fuel, too.

And there's a good amount of road noise inside these coupes.

Typical BMW look
Some might quibble that these 2-door models look a whole lot like the 3-Series sedans. But BMW officials insist every piece of sheet metal is different between the 2- and 4-door models.

In addition, you'll notice that the coupes have a more steeply raked windshield and ride lower to the pavement. There's also no pillar between the front and rear side windows in the coupes as there is in the sedans.

Slightly larger cars
These new 3-Series coupes are bigger than their predecessors, providing a bit more interior room. For example, wheelbase is stretched to 107.3 inches from last year's 106.3, overall length is up to 176.7 inches from 174.5 inches, and the car is 69.2 inches wide now vs. 67.3 inches before.

This helps explain how rear-seat legroom grew by a half inch in the new models. It's not expansive, but it's more than you might expect, especially if the front seats are up a ways on their tracks. Still, three adults in the back seat are squeezed.

Increased stowage space
The trunks have a commendable amount of space for small coupes—9.5 cubic feet, up just a bit from last year's 9.2 cubic feet. There's more trunk room if you flop the rear seatbacks forward onto the seat cushions.

I like the fact that as you do this, the rear-seat head restraints stay perched up on the back window shelf, instead of getting in the way.

Too bad the middle rider in back gets only a lap seatbelt, though, and the cigarette lighter/power point was tightly wedged into its holder and difficult to get at in the test car.

Airbag devices galore
BMW continues to be the only automaker with its own kind of side crash protection, which is a tubular airbag-type device that deploys from the ceiling. It's designed to help prevent head injuries for both front and rear passengers.

It's standard on the new 3-Series coupes and brings the number of inflatable safety devices in the car to six. The others are the two frontal and two side airbags for front-seat riders.

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BB05 - 4/19/2014 8:31:05 PM