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New Car Review

1998 BMW 323is COUPE

by Tom Hagin


SEE ALSO: BMW Buyer's Guide


Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 28,700
Price As Tested                                    $ 31,895
Engine Type               DOHC 24-valve 2.5 Liter I6 w/EFI*
Engine Size                                 152 cid/2494 cc
Horsepower                                   168 @ 5500 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               181 @ 3950 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  106.3"/67.3"/174.5"
Transmission                              Five-speed manual
Curb Weight                                     2510 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  16.4 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                      205/60R15
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                   Front-engine/rear-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                        Five-passenger/two-door
Domestic Content                               Five-percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.30


EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            20/30/23
0-60 MPH                                       10.2 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       17.2 seconds @ 79 mph
Top speed                                           120 mph
     * Electronic fuel injection

The BMW 3-Series has been and continues to be a very diverse line of sedans, coupes and convertibles and for 1998, the German company has shuffled the model line a bit.

There are still two 318 models, a sedan and the bobbed-tail 318ti sports coupe, and both use four cylinder engines. The 323is as well as the 323i are upscale versions that utilize in-line six cylinder engines and this week we evaluate the 323is coupe.

OUTSIDE - The 323is looks nearly identical to the vehicles above it in the 3-Series line, but different hardware under the skin make it more affordable. Its body design changed radically a few years ago into a sleek, pointed shape with a long hood/short trunk theme. The trademark BMW grille has been modified over the years, and now appears in a flush, understated style. And since our tester came equipped with BMW's Sport package, (16-inch cross-lace alloy wheels, P225/50ZR16 tires, stiffer suspension, fog lights), aside from the model numbers on the trunk, it's hard to differentiate between the 323is and the more expensive 328i.

INSIDE - Its front bucket seats are firm and supportive, and, in the case of our test vehicle, covered with optional leather upholstery. Packaged with the leather are a power sunroof with one-touch opening, a fold-down armrest and a keyless entry system. Heated front seats are also optional, and with them come heated door locks and heated headlight washer jets. Room is plentiful for those sitting in the front seats, but there is a lack of rear seat leg room. Two average-sized adults fit in back, but those up front will have to slide the seat forward a bit. Fortunately, the front passenger seat features an easy-entry device, which automatically slides the seat forward on its tracks when the seatback is released. Also handy is the system that allows the closing of all windows and the sunroof via the exterior door lock mechanism. For increased trunk space, the rear seat-back folds forward. Air conditioning, power windows and a 10-speaker stereo are standard, but curiously absent are power front seats and a limited slip differential.

ON THE ROAD - The 323 cars now occupy the slot left vacant by the 325, which became the 328 when its engine was made more powerful. The 323 models are powered by a 2.5 liter inline six-cylinder engine that produces 168 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque. A resized version of the current 328 powerplant, it features dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing. It delivers smooth, balanced power across a wide rpm range and as an added bonus, it gives an EPA estimated 20 mpg city and 30 mpg highway, which is very good for a performance-bred sports sedan. The standard gearbox is a five-speed manual, which serves to enhance its sporty character, though a very smooth-shifting five-speed automatic transmission is optionally available.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Our 323is uses front MacPherson struts and a multi-link rear axle. This layout is very basic in is design, but with sophisticated items such as double-pivot lower control arms, firm coil springs, anti-roll bars and gas-pressurized shock absorbers, its handling is spectacular. With our car's optional Sport Package, the ride is rough and bouncy across broken pavement but on long, winding roads that aren't too rough, the handling of the 323is is virtually unmatched by the competition. The car is more than willing to slip through short, tight turns, or to speed through long, off-camber sweepers, giving its driver the utmost confidence. It also comes standard with what BMW calls All Season Traction, which controls wheelspin and skidding through the car's central computer. Four-wheel disc brakes are standard as well, and utilizes an anti-lock braking system (ABS). Stopping power is outstanding, despite the fact that the rear discs on the 323is are not vented like those of the heavier 323i.

SAFETY - Dual dashboard airbags, side-impact airbags, All Season Traction and ABS are standard.

OPTIONS - The Premium Package adds $2,125, while the Sport Package is $990. Heated seats are $500 and the destination charge is $570.