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2003 Entry Level Luxury Buyer's Guide
by Steve Siler

BMW 3-Series
2003 BMW 3-Series

BMW's archetypal sport sedan returns for 2003 with few changes…and that's not a bad thing, given that it's been near-perfect for so long. Truly, we've had a long-term infatuation with the 3-Series for as long as we have been writing about cars, and we're only too happy to not be getting over it.

The 3 is not the roomiest, nor the most powerful, and certainly not the cheapest car in this group. But it does come in the most configurations: a sedan, wagon, coupe and convertible. Every Three is sleek and tight, with short front and rear overhangs, sculpted bodysides and of course, the trademark twin-kidney grille (coupe and convertible models get minor changes to the nose and tail this year).

Restrained elegance describes the interior of the 3-Series. The dash features BMW's traditional, uncluttered gauge cluster and a center stack that's canted slightly toward the driver for ease of reach. A strip of beautifully polished wood or trendy brushed metal trims the instrument panel and continues onto the door panels. Seats are firm and well supported, and the optional leather is worth the upgrade. Our only two complaints are that the radio and climate control buttons are small and somewhat hard to decipher, and the rear seat is kinda snug.

But BMW's aren't about max headroom. What you're really paying for in any BMW is a superb driving experience. The Three offers a range of sinewy engines, each seeming more powerful than their numbers suggest, including a sweet 2.5-liter inline-six-cylinder (184 hp), an even sweeter 3.0-liter (225 hp) and for real performance enthusiasts (who also have a bit of cash), 333-hp 3.2-liter in the high-performance M3 Coupe and Convertible. All-wheel drive is available on the 325i sedan/wagon models, as well as the 330i sedan. Steering, brakes and suspension all work so intuitively that you'll swear someone has installed brainwave scanners in the driver's seat. Once again, it seems, the 3-Series continues to define the sport sedan class.