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Kelley Blue Book ® - 2004 BMW 3 Series Overview

Vehicle Overview from Kelley Blue Book

KBB.com 2004 BMW 3 Series Overview

The 3 Series coupes are still two of the hottest commodities in the automotive world; they are without equal when it comes to power, price, handling and style. As you might suspect, when a manufacturer has a best-seller this good, they'll take every precaution not to upset the apple cart when it comes time to update the model; so it is with the 2004 3 Series, a better car than last year's but not radically so. Changes for both the 325Ci and 330Ci are mostly cosmetic with a sprinkling of mechanical upgrades thrown in for good measure.

For the 3 Series cars, change begins at the front end; here you'll find a new headlight and grille design that falls lockstep in line with the new 7 and 5 Series cars. The cat-eye look of the front lenses is not as dramatic as appears on other BMW cars and when combined with the revised front bumper and lower air dam, they actually improve upon the 3 Series aggressive good looks. The wheel arches have been widened and there is a new side-character line and lower side-skirt design. Around back, a new rear bumper fascia gets a black rub strip with integrated reflector lenses and the taillights now feature BMW's Adaptive Brake Light technology. Simply put, the Adaptive Brake Light system uses a two-stage LED lighting pattern that glows brighter under hard braking or whenever the ABS is activated. The idea is that the driver behind you is alerted more quickly to the speed at which your vehicle is slowing and thus may avoid rear-ending you.

You'll find that BMW has upgraded the standard equipment list of both models with such features as rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlights. The 2004 3 Series gets a redesigned climate control panel, new wheel designs and two new exterior colors: Mystic Blue and Silver Gray. BMW is also offering Xenon headlight and its Adaptive Headlight Control system that actually swivels the projector beams in the direction of the turns for better visibility on dark, twisty roads.

One major mechanical improvement is the addition of new ZF six-speed manual transmission to the 330Ci. This new manual promises quicker shift action with shorter throws than those offered by the previous five-speed. The gear ratios remain pretty much the same until you reach sixth gear, which lowers the engine's rpm and allows you to cruise comfortably at high speeds using less fuel.

On the road, you'll find that the two models have very different personalities. Both cars handle marvelously and are a blast to push through turns. Their rear-wheel drive setup allows you to test the limits of your playful side, and you can even get into some good-old-fashioned fishtailing fun if you switch off the standard Dynamic Traction Control. The steering, unfettered by any front-wheel-drive hardware, is direct and true, with almost instantaneous turn-in.

The difference we speak of comes not from the way that the 325 and 330 handle, but how quickly they accelerate. The 325Ci is powered by a 184-horsepower inline six that requires you to run the revs high before it delivers its power. Though not slow, the driving experience in the 325Ci is more akin to fun than furious. The real power comes from the 330Ci's larger 3.0-liter six that produces a healthy 225 horsepower. This engine has a much flatter torque curve and pulls strongly at just about any speed; you may have to row the gears a bit to maximize the engine's power, but that's half the fun of driving a BMW.

The 3 Series is a marvelous driver's car; everything inside the cockpit is designed to enhance both passenger comfort and the driving experience. The optional Sport package is a must as it adds the best set of sport seats ever to grace a 3 Series coupe. The package also includes larger wheels and tires and a stiffer suspension. The 3 Series offers a long list of optional equipment that can seriously push the cost of the car well above its attractive base price, so be sure to check out the various package that bundle popular features together at a lower cost than if you were to add them individually.

Optional equipment includes a Harman Kardon audio system, DVD-based on-board navigation, STEPTRONIC automatic transmission, heated seats, power glass moonroof, rear sonar parking assist, 18-inch wheels with run-flat tires and retractable headlight washers.

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