I know I promised you guys juicy news last time, but it’s not quite ready to be delivered from the mad scientists I have working on it, so it will wait. One of my classes required me to review a piece of artwork in my field of study. As an Industrial Design major who hopes to move into auto design, I chose to review an old friend, the BMW 3 series.
Specifically, I’d like to discuss the slightly older BMW 3 series. I haven’t been exactly taken aback by BMW’s current styling department, and while they do seem to be fantastic cars on paper, I’m not totally convinced. My mother owns a BMW a few years newer than my father, but hers has all kinds of nitpicky things that bug me. Things like the paint/coatings chipping off interior pieces and the awkward GPS navigation make you wonder why you paid so much extra for that blue and white badge. And many other current models are just too flashy to really be taken seriously in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, my mother’s black on black X3 is, most of the time, a pretty good car. It accomplishes what we ask of it without too much complaint. Even the newest BMWs are toning down their ridiculous styling. But what I really want to talk about is my dad’s 323i.
At first glance the 2000 323i seems to be pretty standard in terms of 11 year old German automobiles. It’s simple, big enough for a small family, economical and rather comfortable inside. All of the things one might expect on a thirty thousand dollar luxury sedan are present: power accessories, a marvelous stereo system and buttons galore to control all the toys within. But that’s not what makes this car great.
One might expect a typical, business-like sedan to be rather neutral to own. Yes it’s reasonably stylish, but it’s not causing all the 8 year olds in the vicinity to stare either. The lines are simple and clean. The whole car looks very solid, very planted. The overall stature of the car is unassuming. It isn’t abundantly flashy, though the fenders flare out just enough to give a hint at what this car is capable. All this visual neutrality belies the real excitement of this car. Because while on the outside the Bavarian machinery is dressed in a very normal looking suit, underneath it’s quite the athlete.
The real beauty of this car is that you can use it every day, commuting to work or school, hauling your family around, and no one ever raises an eyebrow. But the moment you take a detour through the mountains, you start to forget about all that practicality you told yourself you wanted.
As someone who routinely romps around in an American V8 torquemobile, the lower figures of the BMW are at first difficult to get used to. The inline six, while very smooth and refined, doesn’t have quite the same kick as something larger. Despite only having 172 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque, the car still manages to move around briskly. The gearing of the transmission is very well set up to take full advantage of the cars available power. You won’t be breaking any speed records, but you also won’t be bringing up the rear, either. When you do find yourself cruising at higher speeds, the autobahn inspired chassis stays smooth and comfortable, with hardly a twitch when lesser cars might be shaking about. Lack of torque aside, the motor loves to rev and use the entire range. The result is a very positive experience driving around, either at commute speeds or those that are decidedly quicker. While a manual transmission would be preferable, the automatic does a good job of figuring out what you want to do based on throttle position and response. It also offers a tiptronic/sequential style shift mode, where the driver can manually select the gear, but it’s rather sluggish and not worth switching out of automatic. This point is heightened by the fact that it will not hold gear indefinitely; it will shift out of any given gear if the car things the transmission or engine will be damaged.
The steering is solid and confident, and it doesn’t wobble around just because there’s a bump or two. Turn in is quick and crisp and the car has a stability that isn’t just found in any car. This is for good reason, as this era of 3 series had a near 50-50 weight distribution which contributed greatly to the overall balance of the car. It’s true that there is some body roll, but it is, after all, a family sedan, not the sportier and more aggressive M3. In the event that an owner would want to tighten it up, performance accessories are just a click away. The amount of grip the car has is pretty nice as well; you can accelerate out of turns with confidence that you won’t suddenly break loose and slide. This sort of stability pushes the driver to go just that little bit harder, to see just how much he can accomplish.
At the end of the day, it’s not an amazing car. It doesn’t reign supreme in any given venue. What it does provide though, is fun in anonymous business attire. If you’re the sort of person who likes to keep things discreet but still enjoys the occasional blast through a windy road, this is a marvelous example of what to look for. And today these cars have depreciated significantly. A decent conditioned model will run you anywhere from $5-8,000. Not too bad a deal for an economic, comfortable commuter with a wild side no one ever needs to know about.
And just to be fair, here's a sneak peak at whats to come: