- The Washington Times - Friday, November 24, 2000

The competition is getting tougher, but BMW has managed to one-up the opposition once again. Mercedes-Benz's new C-Class, Audi's A4 and the Lexus IS 300 are all attempting to muscle in on BMW's territory, the compact sports sedan.
BMW invented the market niche when it introduced the venerable 2002 sedan and followed it up with the enormously popular 3-Series in 1975. The rest is history. The present series began with 323i and 328i four-door sedans in 1999. A year later the sedans were joined by the 323Ci and 328Ci coupes. Soon afterward came a sport wagon, the 323i and the 323Ci convertible.
For 2001 BMW leapfrogs the competition again. The new models feature a newly tuned 2.5-liter engine that boosts performance in four 325 models; an enlarged, more powerful 3-liter engine that advances BMW's leadership in the small sport sedan/coupe segment.
All-wheel drive has been added as an option on the sedans and sport wagon models to provide a demand for added traction. Only the Audi A4 offers AWD among the competition. New coupes and convertible models have been added to the lineup.
The above is a prologue to the 330Ci. It is a car that lives up to the Bimmer tradition. It rides and handles like a dream, it offers more than adequate power plus an identifiable status symbol. The 3-liter, DOHC, 24-valve, inline 6-cylinder engine features Double VANOS steplessly variable intake- and exhaust-valve timing along with an aluminum block and cylinder head and dual-resonance intake system with third (turbulence) intake passages. This engine provides 225 horsepower at 5,900 rpm and 214 foot-pounds of torque at 3,500 rpm.
It is an extremely quick engine and I enjoyed playing street warrior around town. BMW claims it is capable of going from 0 to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds with the manual transmission and 7 seconds with the automatic and I have no reason to doubt its claims. Top speed is reportedly 128 mph. Despite its added power the engine is thrifty. The Environmental Protection Agency rates it at 21 miles per gallon city and 30 mpg highway with the manual transmission. Automatic models average 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway.
The test car averaged 23.8 mpg in combined city/highway driving. The test car was equipped with BMW's extremely smooth five-speed manual transmission. Most manufacturers concede to about selling 5 percent of their cars with manual units. BMW's figure comes in around 40 percent because of the high number of enthusiasts who purchase Bimmers.
For those who prefer the car to do the shifting, BMW offers a five-speed Steptronic automatic with Adaptive Transmission Control and Selectable Sport Mode. Driving the 330Ci is pure pleasure. It is a car, like all Bimmers, meant to be driven hard. It takes to twisty mountain roads like it was on a rail and its rack and pinion steering with speed-sensitive power assist is crisp and precise and reflects your every command.
This top-of-the-line coupe comes standard with the sport suspension and it makes a difference. The new Bimmer whips through curves with an agility and crispness usually reserved for sports cars. All 3-Series models feature an updated version of BMW's Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system plus Dynamic Brake Control that reinforces driver's pedal effort in emergency braking.
The large ventilated disc brakes at all corners are augmented by an anti-lock braking system and electronic brake proportioning. A quick glance at the 330Ci tells you it is a BMW. The lines are familiar but more stylish than previous coupes and sedans. It also features the famous kidney-shaped grille that immediately identifies its heritage.
The front bucket seats hold their occupants firmly in place during hard-driving maneuvers and at the same time delivers them to their destination in comfort.
Unlike the sedans that are rated in the United States as compact models, the coupes get a subcompact rating and it is the rear-seat passengers who pay the price. Two small adults will fit but I don't recommend trying the back seat for long drives. The interior is without a doubt the best-looking I've ever encountered in a 3-Series model. It is handsome and bright without being glitzy.
The competition is coming on strong but BMW is still in the lead.

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