The BMW 323i sits in a unique position among the 3 Series marquee here in Malaysia. It is not a common sight on the road unlike the more popular 320i and the 325i models, but it offers the 3 Series enthusiast a competitive price point to enter into the 6 cylinder engine range which the German car maker is famous for.
I had a quick check with the latest available price list and noted that the 323i carry a 17% price premium over the entry level 320i. Interestingly, the 323i still costs less than the 320i Coupe´. On paper, the car appears to be the better deal with a larger engine, more power and torque, and better specs than any of these 320i models available here.
Apart from the usual comprehensive list of safety features which is now more or less standard in every BMW cars, the 323i comes with the iDrive which is not available in the entry level 320i or the 320i Coupe´ (see update below). Although the iDrive has both its fans and detractors, I have found it to be a useful feature that given a choice I would rather have a BMW car with it.
The sample model has an 8.8 inch LCD display located at the centre of the console. The navigation system is the Navigation System Professional which is the latest version available here. Both the LCD screen size and the iDrive system is even better than the basic iDrive version that is available on the entry level E60 523i which I tried out last year.
Internally the car gives a pleasant and inviting ambiance. The brown coloured full leather seats matched well to the dark walnut trim of the car. The front row seats are electronically adjustable and are comfortable with good lateral support. It is not difficult to get into a good driving position and you have good views of the front, side and rear.
The sampled car comes with the three spoke sports leather steering wheel with gearshift paddles and multifunction buttons. The rim is thinner than my preferred size but sill provided an adequate grip and control of the vehicle. Steering is a bit on the heavy side and this would appeal to those who yearn for plentiful feedback and a direct response of the car.
The powerplant is the famed N52 engine block which is standard in a number of popular models such as the 325i, 523i, 525i and the Z4 sDrive23i. I had high expectations of the car when I first inspected the engine visually due to my past favourable experiences with BMW cars powered by the N52 engine. Max power is 190 bhp @ 5,900 rpm and max torque is 230 nm @ 3,250 rpm. Acceleration from 0-100km/h is achievable at 8.7 seconds. The engine idles at around 600 rpm.
Upon ignition, I was a bit surprised at the relatively loud engine note and fan noise. I think the first rate insulation in the E60 models had probably ‘spoiled’ me, so for the first few moments of driving this vehicle I had to acclimatise myself to the prominent engine ‘noise’. In terms of insulation, the car is still a lot better than many other vehicles and perhaps my initial expectations may have been too high. Ignition of the car can be performed keyless.
During my first drive with the car, the car had only logged about 200km+. I deduced that the engine would still require some running in. Cold starts were a bit sluggish and at this point the engine did not sound refined unlike the other N52 engine blocks which I had tired out (with the exception of the Z4 which has a unique exhaust and engine note). Prior to this I was driving the 320d Sports and I felt little difference in engine noise (from the cabin) as I was expecting a more silent ride in the 323i.
In terms of acceleration, the car did not disappoint and the response is up a notch compared to the entry level 320i model. Engine response was fluid and there is no discernible power lag. Transmission is 6 Speed Automatic with Steptronic. There are gearshift paddles on the steering wheel if one wishes to engage the gears manually. Gearshifts are generally smoothly but felt quite widely spaced especially for the lower gears.
Car handling is good. I did not mind the relatively heavy steering feel. If I can still recall correctly, this car’s steering feel slightly lighter than the entry level 320i and the 320d Sports. There was plenty of feedback which is a plus point as you can feel every inch of the tarmac to know exactly how much input you should put towards every turn. The car steered precisely and at normal driving speeds I did not notice any understeer.
The average fuel consumption was on the high side. I had expected a better set of numbers since this vehicle is smaller and lighter than the 523i SE which has the same engine and performance. However, the on board computer (OBC) initially stated an average fuel consumption of around 12.3 litres per 100 km in a mix of town and urban highway driving.
Three weeks later, and logging another 900km+, the average fuel consumption declined to around 11.4 litres per 100 km but it is still far off from the official figure of 8.8 litres per 100 km. The car’s fuel gauge concurred with the OBC as the rate of decrease in the fuel tank was quite rapid. It was a surprise as I had expected better figures than the 523i SE. The 523i SE remain in my test list as the fuel champion (for petrol) in a BMW car with the N52 engine block.
Tyres are 17 inch Continental run flat tyres (225/45 R17) for both the front and rear. The tyres provided good levels of grip and there was not much road noise. Provided the road conditions are satisfactory, driving at the usual urban speed limits (60km/h – 80km/h) yielded a silent ride with the occasional light roar of the engine when you floor the throttle.
The car’s five-link rear suspension set up is on the firm side but is well balanced between comfort and sportiness. Ride height is suitable for Malaysian roads and the car took humps on the road in its stride without causing any discomfort to the passengers. However, uneven and damaged roads with large potholes can be clearly felt in the cabin.
The car is right at home driving around town roads where there is a lot of stop – start movements. The brakes grip well and the car accelerates from the traffic lights with authority. There was always this feeling that the car has plenty of reserve to call upon. Driving with the DTC deactivated, provided a bit more edge and improved your connection with the car.
The in car entertainment system comprised the BMW Professional CD radio which includes MP3 decoder and USB/audio interface. The iDrive system provided the audio controls in a more user friendly environment with graphical images on the LCD screen. The overall sound is generally satisfactory but a bit bass heavy for my liking. Some of the intricate parts of the music are sometimes drowned by the bass heavy sound. Radio tracking and reception is good. The sound reproduction from the radio compared favorably with music from CD.
Xenon headlights plus foglights are standard with this car and there are plentiful internal reading lights for both the front and back seat passengers. Brightness is adequate for night reading. To keep the afternoon sun and heat away, there is an electric sunblind for the rear window. The car’s air conditioning system is able to cool the entire car quickly and there are separate air vents for rear passengers.
The 323i provided a lot of bang for the buck. The feature set that comes along with this car is noteworthy as some of these features are only available in the higher range models. The car’s performance is up a notch compared with the entry level 320i. I am still stumped by the higher than expected fuel consumption. Perhaps it will improve over time or it could be a sample specific issue. Since we are still keeping this car over the next few weeks, any notable updates will be forthcoming.
I just found out that BMW has launched another 5 new variants in Malaysia and among these is a newly specified 320i Coupe´ which is bundled with the ‘Innovation Package’. The 320i Coupe´ now includes an 8.8 inch LCD display with iDrive and a navigation system. Nevertheless, initial indications are that the pricing of the 320i Coupe´ remains higher than the 323i.
The car has now logged about 1,500km. The average fuel consumption has improved to around 10.8 litres per 100 km. We recently took a drive from Kuala Lumpur to Seremban, and back within a span of about 2 hours. The best reading was around 10.5 litres per 100 km. These are encouraging signs that perhaps fuel consumption will improve with further running of the car.
|6-cylinder in-line petrol engine with Valvetronic
|190 bhp / 5,900 rpm
|230 nm / 3,250 rpm
Source: BMW Brochure
Note: Please reconfirm the above specifications with an authorized BMW dealer
Click on these to sample sounds from the car!