CHICAGO- The new BMW 3-Series sedans will make you feel like you’ve moved up to First Class from Business Class.
At least that was the concept behind the upgrade of the 323i and 328i models for the 1999 model year. This revised duo, which first came to market in 1991, are essentially all-new, sporting better high-performance six-cylinder engines in addition to many other enhanced features. Given the thirst in the U.S. market for performance, the four-cylinder versions of the 3-Series have been discontinued for the American market.
These four-door sedans are an evolutionary step up the ladder and come with all-new sheet metal, but they are still unmistakably BMW. Naturally, there's increased performance and fuel efficiency with the more potent powerplants. On the mechanical side, expect an improved ride and handling, added safety and security features, plus the usual smattering of new luxury and convenience features.
Both new models were shown recently to the U.S. automotive press at Arlington Raceway, a former horse racing track in suburban Chicago. In addition to showing off for the press, BMW also used the raceway to launch "The Ultimate Driving Experience" (UDE), a landmark program designed to increase driving skills for its owner body using the new 3-Series sports sedans. Hands-on performance driving instruction will be available to everyday drivers through BMW’s mobile tour that will stop at nearly a dozen U.S. cities over the next year.
Plant offers performance course
In addition, the German carmaker will build a permanent performance course at its Spartenburg, S.C., assembly plant and U.S. delivery center, as it tries to build a unique bond with its U.S. customers now that several of its models are assembled here.
The course being built at the plant includes four specially designed autocross circuits, developed to build participants’ braking and accident-avoidance skills. The course will also teach drivers firsthand about such features as traction control, as well as improving consumers' understanding of a vehicle’s overall handling dynamics. The program will specifically highlight the importance of safe driving to high school students, who will be encouraged to register for special weekend programs. Parents also will be invited to attend.
Taking a closer look at these new models, both demonstrate that driving pleasure is still a cornerstone of BMW’s corporate philosophy. The latest models in BMW’s long line of lithe performers continue to display driver-oriented innovations, which now include the new double VANOS variable valve timing system. Both engines - the 2.5-liter in the 323i and 2.8-liter in the 328i - have stronger torque at low-to-medium engine speeds as a result, plus increases in horsepower. The 2.5-liter now delivers 170 horsepower, while the 2.8-liter cranks out 193 hp. The snappy 0-to-60 times are 6.6 seconds for the 328i with the manual and 7.2 seconds with the automatic transmission. (Times for the 323i are 7.1 seconds and 8.2 seconds, respectively).
Both models are available with either a five-speed manual or a brand-new five-speed automatic with adaptive transmission control - another performance enhancement. The manual transmission has a new self-adjusting clutch for longer clutch life and more consistent operation, while the new automatic comes with a choice of either Sport or Economy modes. Both transmissions come with lifetime transmission fluid installed.
New cars sport same BMW 'look'
From the outside, the sedans have an all-new body that retains the look and many elements of the traditional 3-Series design. There are even a few subtle touches that hearken back to BMW’s racing heritage with Formula One cars. Styling changes include a longer, more graceful roofline leading to a tightly-nipped rear end. The freshened models are slightly longer, wider and taller. The added dimensions not only translate into more interior rear seating room, the cars' longer and wider stance also help improve driving performance.
Wheel arches stand out and emphasize the plumper, larger "running gear." These new models now come with 16-inch wheels and tires standard on the 328i, optional on the 323i. For those who really want some grip, a 17-inch package can be obtained by ordering the 328i Sport Package.
There are a variety of trim and detail differences between the two models. The 328i is differentiated on the outside by its chrome grille (black on the 323i), lower air intake in the front spoiler and its body-color cowl grille (also black on the 323i). The 328i also features chrome trim around side windows (it's black on 323i) and chrome trim on the door sills, roof seams and trunk grip. Interior distinctions include individual front and rear reading lights, an interior rear trunk release and all premium features as standard amenities.
New headlamps for the 1999 3-Series are not only attractive but 30 percent more effective than before, with fog lamps coming standard on the 328i and optional on the 323i. Windshield wipers are more efficient, and door handles are improved for opening in a post-crash emergency. Brakes show a 10 percent improvement in stopping distance.
3-Series enhances ergonomics
The all-new interior design is ergonomically pleasing, highlighted by a new instrument panel with large analog gauges. It’s similar in design to the 5-Series models and comes standard with a tilt/telescopic steering wheel; new audio systems; memory key system; plus many other electronic comfort, convenience and security features
The range of available options also is considerably increased and now includes a navigation system with TV, phone and radio connection. Six-way manual front seats are standard on the 323i, with six-way power seats standard on the 328i. The interior also benefits from reduced interior sound levels as a result of many noise-reduction measures.
BMW, heralded for its safety features and crash survivability statistics, now has head protection in all its sedans. Today, 20 percent of all accidents are side-impact collisions, which account for fully 40 percent of all fatalities. BMW’s unique system deploys an airbag out of the roofline above both the front driver- and passenger-side doors. The system, first introduced in the 7-Series, is now standard in all new 3-Series cars. Rear side airbags are available as an option. In addition to all other standard safety technology, BMW has improved the stiffness of the body structure on its 3-Series cars by 50 percent, while energy absorption has been improved by 80 percent. Both benefit occupants by giving added protection in the event of a collis