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Kelley Blue Book ® - 2003 BMW 3 Series Overview

Vehicle Overview from Kelley Blue Book

KBB.com 2003 BMW 3 Series Overview

BMW's are built for those who love to drive, and by drive we mean more than just sit and steer. The rear-wheel drive 3 Series has long been the favorite of hard-core driving enthusiasts thanks to its combination of aggressive road manners, powerful engines and sophisticated good looks; with a base price starting just over $28K, the 3 Series also represents the best bargain in the BMW stable. The 3 Series line up is comprised of a number of models and variations that include a coupe, convertible, sedan and wagon. On two of these models-the sedan and wagon-BMW offers the option of all-wheel drive, providing added traction in snow and rain and answering the long-time challenge from rival Audi's Quattro system. In this review, we will be looking only at the sedan, coupe and wagon. Though much of what we write can also be applied to the convertible, there are enough significant differences in both structure and features that the drop-top warrants a review all its own.

If you don't know BMW cars very well, you should understand that to the BMW enthusiast, performance is everything. Traditional luxury car features—such as lavish interiors and super soft seats—have no place in BMW's world. Luxury does exist in these cars, but it now conforms to a different edict; instead of separating you from the road, it now functions to pull you further into the ultimate driving experience. Take for example the sport seats; covered in taut leather, they are comfortable but by no means plush. The ergonomic seating is designed to hold you firmly in place, grasping you by the ribs as you throw the car into turn after turn. On long drives, the built in lumbar support and optional extendable lower-seat thigh support help fight off the fatigue and numbness that can settle into a driver's legs.

This same theory applies to a dash design that is both functional and handsome. All the controls are within easy reach of the driver, with simplified faces devoid of an overly complicated multitude of buttons and switches—unless you order the optional navigation system, in which case we retract that last statement. The basic instrument pod contains a speedometer, tachometer, temperature and fuel gauge and an onboard computer that monitors fuel use, distance traveled and outside temperature. At night, the dash is seeped in a deep orange light that is both attractive and easy on the eyes. Little touches like the two pinpoint spotlights that shine down onto the gearshift knob are more proof that the 3 Series is all about the driving experience.

The 3 Series line is comprised of the 325i and 330i sedan and the 325Ci and 330Ci coupes; the sedans are available with all-wheel drive and are designated as 325xi and 330xi. A 2.5-liter, inline six-cylinder engine that produces 184 horsepower and 175 lb-ft. of torque powers the 325 models; 330 models get an impressive bump in power with an output of 225 horsepower and 215 lb-ft. of torque.

It's fair to say that once you get the tachometer up over the 3000-rpm mark, the 325 can be called a quick car; the overall the driving experience is fun, but not exhilarating. The later accolade clearly belongs to the 330, which turns every shift into a neck-whipping thrill ride and begs to be pushed far beyond the limits of prudent speeds. Though we think the 5-speed manual transmission is as close to perfection as you'll find, BMW does offer an equally impressive 5-speed Steptronic automatic transmission with manual shift mode. The Steptronic system does not shift as quickly as the manual, but it is a viable alternative for those who must endure the horrors driving in rush hour traffic.

As we mentioned before, the 3 Series is all about the drive. You'll feel it in the aggressive suspension settings, in the quick throw of the shifter and in the precise throttle response. In a 3 Series, you feel as though you, the car and the road are all one; terribly Zen for a German car, but it's true. On a few occasions we did find that the rear end could be made to step out, prompting the traction control to activate. So of course we promptly shut it off and retraced our tracks. There is nothing more enjoyable than a good controlled slide to test your driving skills. Great handling cars usually penalize their passengers with a harsh ride, but not the 3 Series. Even when riding on the optional 17-inch wheels and tires, the 3 Series remains composed and civilized.

In all, the 3 Series offers you all the sophistication and quality of a premium European automobile without the exorbitant price tag. The great handling, terrific acceleration and first-rate braking are just icing on the cake.

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