When you test nearly 150 new cars and trucks every year, you naturally find a few that really stand out from the crowd. Here at MotorWeek, BMW 3-Series cars, especially the coupes, have always been among our favorites. So naturally, we looked forward to the arrival of the all new 3-Series coupe for some time. Well, now that it’s here, will it retain our most favorite car status?
Well, let’s put it this way. If it didn’t, it would be a serious indication of something gone horribly awry at BMW AG. But happily, all is right in Bavaria, and the new 2000 323Ci is proof positive of that.
And although it shares its drive train and suspension components with the 3-Series sedans introduced last year, the coupe has its own very distinctive character.
That can be seen instantly in its styling where it shares only logos, door handles, and side blinkers with the 4-door.
Ci coupe body proportions are slightly longer, with a more sharply raked windshield, and it’s wider. The coupe also has a 1.8 inch lower ride height, underscored by a far more aggressive lower front fascia complete with bullet fog lamps.
While at the rear, the taillights are uniquely styled, and the coupe can be had with 17 inch wheels, which are not yet available on the 3-Series sedan.
Inside the Ci’s cabin, while still business like, there’s brighter trim on the dash and doors than the sedan for a sportier feel.
Our car had a pair of optional 10-way adjustable sport leather buckets. While the driver faces a leather-wrapped, multi-function 3-spoke sport steering wheel attached to a standard tilt/telescoping column.
Beyond the wheel is a gauge cluster we’d still like to see be a bit more comprehensive, while to the right, the well-placed stereo, with AM/FM/Cassette and available CD player, does an uplifting job driving the 10 well-placed speakers.
Just below, the single-zone climate controls now come with an Automatic Circulation Control mode which recirculates the inside air when a high level of pollution is detected outside.
Access to the rear seats is made easy with a tilt and glide mechanism that moves the front seats forward 3.5 inches when the seatback is tilted forward. Once there, you’ll find acceptable space for two average sized adults. And when adults are absent, you can fold either or both seatbacks to expand upon the modest 9.5 cubic feet of trunk space.
Expanding the fun factor in our tester is the surprisingly peppy 2.5 liter, DOHC, 24-valve, in-line six cylinder found under the hood. The double VANOS variable valve timing, dual resonance intake system, and the lightweight aluminum block and heads, combine to give our Ci tester 170 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque.
And that’s enough boost to get this 5-speed manual equipped, subcompact coupe to 60 in a quick 6.5 seconds, and on past the quarter mile stripe in 15 seconds at 93 mph. That’s actually 2/10ths quicker to 60 than the more powerful, but slightly heavier, 328i sedan we tested last year.
Deceleration is pretty rapid, too. The 323’s 11.3 inch front, 10.9 inch rear ventilated discs with ABS, grabbed and held until we came to a stop in a short 105-foot average. Our drivers loved the excellent pedal feel and stability.
We also admire the Ci’s taut and superbly balanced handling. The standard suspension on the coupe is the sport package on the sedans, which is a finely tuned strut-type front and multi-link rear set up with lightweight aluminum components. Steering inputs are honed to a fine edge and the engine-speed-sensitive steering feels grafted to your hands.
Lateral transitions are effortlessly managed, allowing the driver to toss the car at will without threatening control. Of course it doesn’t hurt to have the standard Dynamic Stability Control system as your safety net.
And a base price of $29,560 isn’t too much to pay for a car with a first rate safety net and a great personality. Our tester came with a few other goodies and shot out the door for $34,630.
Our friends at Automobile Magazine stated, “The 323Ci distinguishes itself as a car that has been honed by drivers for drivers.”
And we couldn’t agree more. In fact, that’s how the 3-Series Coupe gained its most favorite car status with us in the first place.
Engine: 2.5-Liter, Dohc, 24-valve, In-line 6 Cylinder
Torque: 181 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 6.5 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 15 Seconds @ 93 MPH
60-0 MPH: 105 Feet
EPA Mileage: 19 MPG City 28 MPG Highway