Pros: Solid, peppy 2.8 liter engine, precise handling, bright headlights, comfortable seats.
Cons: Needs occasional tuning/maintenance, all your friends want to drive it.
WHY A 3-SERIES BIMMER?
My 99 VW Passat was on its last leg and I was desperately seeking a new car. With VWs bolded on my black list, I was ready to venture on to newer and better things. My wife has a 2002 Honda Accord, and to this day, its been running trouble-free since we drove it off the lot in the summer of 2001. I was looking into the Acura TL or the Lexus ES330. Both of these are very reliable cars and are backed by countless testimonies from satisfied owners.
I really never thought about a BMW; especially a 3-series. I always saw them as compact and too small for my needs. The only 3-series I thought I would ever consider purchasing (way in the future) was the M3. A coworker of mine is into BMWs and brought one into work one day. It was a titanium silver 2000 BMW 328i with premium and cold-weather package. It was fitted with 16 BBS BMW alloy wheels which really made the car stand out. The 328i was a 1999 and 2000 model fitted with a 2.8 liter engine. The 330i replaced the 328i in 2001, as it boasted a 3.0 liter engine with a little more horsepower.
WHAT SOLD ME ON THE 328i?
First off, it was the handling. Boy did it make my Passat feel like I was driving an '80s Cadillac. Even without the sports package (which adds to it a set of 17 alloys, sport-bucket seats, and stiffer suspension), it handled like a charm around all sorts of corners at various speeds. Secondly, it was the combination of the high-torque, 193 horsepower inline-six engine and rear-wheel drive. What makes this car fit into the luxury class? For starters, the premium package adds to it power everything, a CD/AM/FM stereo with 10-speakers. A very functional moonroof, climate control with air filtration system and auto-recirculation, a trip computer (outside temperature, fuel consumption, fuel remaining, average miles per hour, and time), DSC (dynamic stability control, which is BMW's traction control), and 3 driver seat memory functions are a few things that make driving this BMW very enjoyable. I ended up purchasing this puppy from my coworker, as it was configured just the way I wanted it. It also had some other options such as the steptronic 5-speed automatic transmission, heated seats, heated mirrors, heated washer nozzles, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming rearview mirrors, and auto-tilting side mirror when put into reverse. The car was in immaculate condition with remaining factory warranty.
Okay not quite, but its not as small as you think. I have a family of three with another on the way. My wife and are quite comfortable in the front with ample head, shoulder, hip, and leg room. My 3 year old daughter is pretty happy in the rear seat, too. Ive had many friends sit in the back on long trips and didnt hear any complaints. They actually said the seats were very comfortable and the ride was smooth for a small car. Since I use this car mainly for commuting, its perfect.
The construction of this vehicle, along with its fit and finish is top rate. The materials used for the interior, especially the dash and door paneling, are of high quality. My 328i came with the wood trim, which makes it look even more classy than it already is. In my opinion, the leather seats on the non-sports package edition seems to wear better. With the sports package, you get sports seats with leather bolsters that wear very quickly over a short period of time, making it look very old. Overall, I'm very impressed with the workmanship of the 328i.
BMW's STEPTRONIC TRANSMISSION:
The Steptronic transmission is an option that came with my car. It can be a very useful feature. First off, the 5-speed automatic transmission shifts very smoothly in normal operating conditions. When you want to push the engine a little bit, tilting the shifter to the left from 'D' or Drive will engage the car into 'S' or sport mode. This allows the car to rev a little higher before shifting into a higher gear. If you want more control over the shifting, you can tap the shifter forward (+) to shift up and backward (-) to shift down. In newer models, this is reversed (tapping down shifts up and tapping up shifts down). There's a slight lag in response, but it's tolerable for my taste, as I'd much rather sacrifice the manual transmission for the automatic in stop-n-go traffic.
With about a year of factory warranty remaining on my car, I decided to list things that needed to be fixed. Before purchasing, I put the car through a BMW pre-purchase inspection. This proved to be vital, as BMW techs found a flawed power steering column, burnt out regulator for one of the rear windows, a burnt out interior xenon light, and a loose ball joint. All were replaced and repaired within a week. Since then, I had to visit the local dealership again for a few more repairs (stereo unit didnt want to fully eject my CD, another interior bulb burnt out, and a few of my door handles needed to be greased). All were handled professionally. While my car was in the shop, I was given a 2004 BMW 525i loaner car. I wasnt used to this kind of service. They also washed and vacuumed it just before I came to pick it up. All in all, the BMW service was excellent. Just a quick note: the car requires servicing every 15K miles or 12 months. The service is basically an oil change combined with a vital systems check. The car alerts you of miles remaining until the service is needed. BMW uses synthetic oil which explains the long interval between oil changes. The service is included until you reach 36K miles. After that, it will cost anywhere from $65 to $95 depending on the dealership. Thats not bad at all, as my wifes Accord requires an oil change every 3 months or 3K miles at around $25 a shot.
A DRIVERS CAR:
I now understand why BMW touts their cars to be the ultimate driving machine. Like any precise equipment, it requires occasional tuning and maintenance after use. Im at 44K miles and my warranty expires once I reach 50K. Ive heard horror stories from a couple of BMW owners that it requires quite a bit of money to maintain the ultimate driving machine. People who want a reliable car that costs hardly anything to maintain, should stick with a Honda or Toyota. People looking for a little more precise handling capabilities, generous power, and luxury features should look at a 328i or 330i BMW.
There are tons of cars on the market today. New or used, you can probably find one that suits your needs. If youre looking for a used premium luxury sports sedan for around $24K, check out the BMW 328i. Take it out for a spin to find out why Car & Driver named it one of the Most Wanted in 1999. Im extremely happy with mine.