2000 BMW 323CI

AutoSource

Three’s Great Company

by Dean Benjamin and Scott Goldenberg

The 2001 BMW 325CI is BMW’s most affordable 2-door coupe.

The BMW 3-series has long been a favorite of auto enthusiasts. Since the late ‘70s, the baby Bimmer has been the most affordable entrée into the menu of the Bavarian bahn burners. Along the way, the 3’s have grown up, and added both 4-doors and convertibles to the original 2-door bodystyles. And recently the first 3-series wagon offered in the U.S. reached our shores. 2001 also sees an all-wheel drive model.

For 2001, BMW offers the 3-series in Coupe, Sedan, Wagon and Convertible models. 2-engine choices, both 6-cylinders, are offered. A more powerful version of the previous 2.5-liter, or a new, 3.0-liter that replaces last year’s 2.8. 2001 also sees an all-wheel drive model, perfect for foul weather, a ski trip, or just that extra composure a good all-wheel drive system adds.

We tested the 325CI — BMW’s most affordable 2-door coupe.

BMW launched the all-new 3-series sedan last year, and added the coupe model for 2001. The family resemblance is strong. The coupes share the taut muscular lines of the sedans, but is more rakish, thanks to a more steeply-angled windshield, special aerodynamic mirrors, a unique front bumper with round fog lamps, and a unique, rear taillight treatment. Thankfully, the aggressive wheel and tire combos offered on the sedan are carried over on the coupes. Our tester had the optional sports package, which includes monstrous 17-inch star spoke wheels. Even if they didn’t add to the handling, (which they do) we’d want them anyway, they look that good.

BMW calls their cars the Ultimate Driving Machine, so they better perform spectacularly, or they’ll be some pretty disappointed enthusiasts. No frowns here, as the new coupes live up to their motto. What’s interesting is that there are some so subtle differences between the 325CI and the more powerful 330Ci, which we had a brief chance to drive, as well.

Both cars are very quick, and typical of BMW products, put out their power smoothly across the rev range. The 325 now puts out 184 horsepower, just short of the 192 in last year’s 328. The larger motor in the 330 now puts out a very healthy 225 horsepower, which does give it a bit more oomph, but if you’d never driven one after the other, you might be hard pressed to notice a difference. We recommend trying both to see which suits your tastes better.

Other than that, the 325 rides like all BMW’s -- taut, controlled, and with a delectable precision that makes it one of the very best cars to toss around a twisty road. The brakes are a perfect match to the strong engine and responsive chassis, very easy to modulate and giving outstanding feel of what’s happening at the wheels.

There’s a lot of technology to help you. Along with standard ABS and traction control, for 2001, BMW also includes the Dynamic Safety Control system as standard equipment on all 3-series models. The DSC helps stabilize the vehicle in severe or critical cornering or avoidance maneuvers — a real boost in slick conditions. Also new for 2001 is Dynamic Brake Control, which reinforces the driver's effort during emergency braking. All this electronic trickery is invisible to the driver, and it is only called into play when you’ve gotten well past the limits of the road conditions. Before it bails you out, there’s still plenty of driving fun to be had up to the coupe’s impressive limits.

The interior is a delight to the enthusiast. A 3-spoke steering wheel is unique to the coupe, and is not only sporty, but has convenient wheel-mounted controls for items like cruise control. Like all BMW’s, the instrumentation is comprehensive, and bathes you in a soft orange glow at night. The seats are well designed for sporty driving, and offer plenty of support in corners. The 325CI features BMW’s "leatherette," which truly is leather like, and has a quality appearance. If you want real hides you’ll have to upgrade to the 330CI. The rear seats are suitable for adults for short trips, but if you do a lot of travelling with four aboard, the sedans are well worth a look.

There’s nothing entry level about this coupe’s standard equipment, though. The 325CI is comprehensively equipped, standards include; front and side airbags, air conditioning, power windows, power heated mirrors and central locking system with keyless remote , trip computer, ABS, alloy wheels, sport suspension, cruise control and dynamic stability control. BMW even covers the scheduled maintenance for the first 3-years/36,000 miles.

There are some intriguing options, including BMW’s 5-speed Steptronic Automatic transmission that lets you manually select the gears, much like Porsche, Audi and Mercedes now offer. We prefer the manual transmission for maximum grins, but the Steptronic makes a nice compromise. Other goodies like power moonroof, power seats, 17-inch alloy wheels and a choice of navigation systems mean you can pretty much tailor your driving experience towards sport, luxury or both.

But the best part is your most basic 325 coupe starts at $28,990 — extremely reasonable for all the standard equipment, the outstanding driving experience, and the fact that BMW picks up the tab for service the first 3 years. Need more room? You can comparably equip a 4-door sedan 3-series as well, and probably save a couple grand in the process. More room? Try the wagon. Convertible? Well, this is Southern California…….

We really enjoyed our time with the new 325 Coupe. Recommended? Definitely. Which one? Er….that’s a little tougher. The coupe is sporty, but the 4-door really is convenient. The wagon would look really cool with a couple surfboards strapped on top. But there’s no better way to get tan than driving a BMW convertible around. Hmmm…. We’ll have to get back to you on that one. ER