First Glance: Coupe style
BMW always faces a daunting task when redesigning its products. The designs are timeless to begin with; just take a look at the 1968 BMW 2002, the precursor to the 3 Series, or the 320i, which a co-worker owned and I coveted big time. The 2002 created the sport sedan segment, and even today, BMWs 3-Series, in sedan, coupe, convertible, or M iterations, still remains an aspirational car for todays youth. Its also BMWs best-selling product, and has been since BMW came to the States 30 years ago.
The Coupe, because it has a more sporty stance than the Sedan, is much more appealing to true sports-car enthusiasts. The hood contours, the stretched body, and the slant of the A-pillar all contribute to a more muscular, athletic posture than the Sedan offers. Understandably, the Sedan needs to provide more room for the rear doors and rear-seat head room, where the Coupe can elongate its two-door body for a sleeker appearance. It just works, and looks as crisp and timeless as the original models do, and the future models will continue to be. While all three trim levels come standard with 17-inch wheels and tires, its a sin not to step up to the 18s (link goes to photo), especially on the 335i model, for that wheelwell look that screams performance.
In the Drivers Seat: It's all about the driving experience
I find something comforting about BMW interiors, mostly because I know exactly what to expect. Fit and finish will be outstanding, the quality of materials will be without reproach, and form will absolutely follow function. As a highly organized person, I appreciate the practical nature of this vehicles cabin.
Above all, the BMWs interior must be true to the ultimate driving machine principle first, and a passenger transport second. Thats not to say the vehicle is devoid of features. On the contrary, everything you need is there, including clear gauges, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, automatic climate control, and rain-sensing wipers, to name a few. Theres a long list of optional creature comforts as well. One feature that must be discussed is the automatic safety-belt assistant, which brings the seat belt feeder arm up to the driver and passenger so theres no awkward reaching around and contorting the body to reach the belts. Mercedes-Benz used this feature many years ago, and I remember it was noisy and always startled me because it would come close enough to tap me on the shoulder, as if someone was in the vehicle in the rear seats. The BMW system is quiet, unobtrusive, and wont give you a heart attack if you forget its there.
On the Road: Power and balance
The 3's steering is perfectly weighted: Linear, responsive and an excellent complement to the engine power and the suspension setup. 3-series buyers should definitely choose the active steering option; its worth the $1,250 price. If I had to sum up the Coupes overall driving feel, theres one word that comes to mind: balanced.
Journeys End: Decisions, decisions
The 3 does offer a variety of configurations: Rear-drive 325i and 330i as well as the 325ix all-wheel-drive variant, all available as a sedan or a coupe. Coming soon will be the Convertible, and then the M3 serious sport edition sometime next year. The 3s newest competitor is the Infiniti G35 Coupe, redesigned for 2007, with a bigger engine but slightly less power than the 335i.
For an interesting history lesson, visit the 3-series Heritage section of BMW USA's website. Theres a well-produced video from BMW that covers the history from the 2002s introduction to the 3s involvement with motorsports to the current vehicle.