2003 All-Star: Luxury Car Under $40,000

2003 All-Star Luxury Car Under $40,000: BMW 3-series

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If the 3-series BMW were an athlete - or a stock - we'd say it had good fundamentals. No flash. No trash. The sedan is so old school, in fact, that it seems underwhelming at first. Of course, after just a few minutes, it already seems like an old friend. BMW has sweated every detail to perfect the driving experience. The brake pedal is not only hard and progressive but also optimally sited for heel-and-toe downshifts. The chassis not only forms a rigid platform for knife-edged handling but also allows for the damping required to soak up road irregularities. Oh, and those superb in-line sixes! The 184-horsepower, 2.5-liter engine in the 325i and the 225-horsepower, 3.0-liter engine in the considerably more impressive 330i offer a remarkable combination of seamless low-end torque and seemingly endless revability. On the downside, rear-seat legroom is as parsimonious as the prices are profligate. Indeed, we thought long and hard about the Infiniti G35 sedan, which offers more power for less money. But the BMW's ideally weighted steering, slick-shifting gearbox, sports car handling, and oh-so-willing engines make it the sedan of choice for those who consider driving a pleasure rather than a burden.

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