Used 1998 BMW 3 Series Convertible
Edmunds' Expert Review
People buy BMWs for a variety of reasons. BMWs carry an obvious panache that tells the world that you have, indeed, arrived. Driving a BMW also tells the world that you are a person who is young at heart, someone who may want to change their own gears from time to time; unlike, say, a stuffy owner of a Mercedes-Benz, Lexus or Cadillac. Lastly, BMWs politely tell people that you like to drive, and to please move out of that left lane so you can pass, thank you.
The BMW 3-Series is now in its seventh year of production. Despite this, the car is still fresh and exciting; evoking powerful feelings of desire and jealousy every time we see one cruising down the street. This year, the big news is the addition of a zippy little six-pot engine for the entry-level coupe and convertible. At 2.5-liters, the new engine makes 28 more horsepower and a whopping 48 more foot-pounds of torque than the four-cylinder engine that is still standard on the entry-level hatchback and sedan. Safety is another concern that BMW addressed in 1998, adding standard side-impact airbags to all of the 3-Series coupes, sedans and convertibles.
The 3-Series is BMW's most popular line of cars because it spans such a broad price range. Starting at just under $22,000 for the fun and cheap 318ti hatchback, the 3-Series reaches its pinnacle at more than $40,000 with the outstanding, high-performance M3 coupe, convertible and sedan. Despite the disparity in prices, the 3-Series models are uniformly fun to drive due to their wonderful chassis, excellent steering and top-notch suspensions.
We believe that the purchase of a 3-Series car is one of the best ways to get know that twisty stretch of road that you were always afraid to introduce to your Buick Century. However, this is definitely not the car for all people, since back seat room is cramped and limited cargo space makes it impractical for large families. But, if you are a person who enjoys driving, the 3-Series is a nice alternative to muscle car machismo. We are thrilled that BMW has exercised restraint in these times of overblown excess. By keeping their revisions to those things that need revising, leaving the core of the vehicle untainted, the 3-Series is able to improve itself, rather than replace itself, every few years.
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We like em, but we know they arent cool. Were talking about the 4-cylinder Bimmers that used to populate the lowest levels of the 3-Series ranks. With the exception of the 318ti (hatchbacks are allowed to have 4-pot engines) the 318 lineup seemed like some sort of internal combustion rip-off. The cars looked like BMWs. They smelled like BMWs. They even shifted and steered like BMWs. They just didnt go like BMWs.
People buy BMWs because they like to drive. Sure, BMWs are also safe and luxurious, but lets face it, Volvo is the maker that we think of when safety issues come to mind, and Mercedes-Benz is the maker for buyers who value luxury over performance. This brings us back to BMWs target audience: drivers. One thing that drivers like to do is go fast. The previous 318is coupe isnt up to snuff in that department. Equipped with a 1.9-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 138 horsepower and 133 lb./ft. of torque, the 1997 318is is fair game for any high school punk in a Dodge Neon. Equally embarrassing is the fact that the Neon, priced nearly $15,000 less than the 318is, is a match for the BMW in the stoplight drags. If you own last years entry-level BMW coupe dont even think about what that kid in a Camaro could do to your pride.
BMW solved that problem this year by dropping a 2.5-liter inline 6-cylinder motor into the engine bay of the bottom-rung 3-Series coupe and convertible. The sedan and hatchback still make do with the same 1.9-liter engine as last year. The two extra cylinders and added displacement make all the difference in the world for this car. Infused with 30 more horsepower and 48 more lb./ft. of torque than the 4-cylinder engine, the new 323is has earned the right to wear BMWs prominent propeller badge on its hood. BMW claims that acceleration times have improved by 1.5 seconds over last years car. That means it takes 5-speed models 7.1 seconds to reach 60 mph. An important note is that this engine is not the one previously used in BMWs such as the 325is coupe and 525i sedan. This engine differs from the earlier 2.5-liter engine of 1995. It uses the same bore as the 328i (84 mm) but a different stroke (75 mm). BMW departed from their usual scheme of using the engines displacement numbers to denote the cars trim level to keep customers from confusing this car with the earlier model.
The 323is got more than a new engine this year; door-mounted side-impact airbags and rear passenger adjustable headrests were also added. Additional standard equipment features include leatherette upholstery, split-folding rear seats, multi-information display with outside temperature gauge and freeze warning, cruise control, AM/FM stereo with cassette and 10 speakers, dual zone climate controls, central door and trunk locking, powerful 4-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock, and all season traction control. The only option on our comfortable 323is tester was the Sport Package which includes 16x7-inch alloy wheels shod with 225/50ZR-16 performance tires, a sport suspension, and fog lights.
Fun to drive does not begin to describe how each of our staff members felt about this car after spending just a few hours behind the wheel of BMWs cheapest 6-cylinder model. Greg Anderson, Edmunds newest automotive editor, liked the 323iss power delivery and clutch take-up, thinking that they were smooth as silk. He cites an occasion when he crested a ridge just outside of metro Denver and passed a Douglas County Sheriffs car headed in the opposite direction. As he sped past the peace officer, he looked down at the speedo to see how fast he was going. His eyes nearly popped out of his head when he noticed that the dial was registering triple digits. Fortunately the police officer had other intentions and did not turn around to ticket Anderson. Afterward, Anderson claimed that he had no idea how fast he was travelling and that the 323is felt as solid at 100 mph as most cars do at 50. Having been awhile since last driving a BMW, this writer had forgotten how easy it is to tackle winding roads at high speeds. With the traction control turned off the 323is hangs its tail out gently and easily, never threatening to send the car down the road arse-end forward. A magnificent strut-type front suspension and central link rear suspension combine to give the 323is one of the best rides on the road. Every dip and undulation of the road is felt in a manner that lets the driver know exactly what is happening to the car without causing any discomfort to the occupants. Perfectly weighted rack-and-pinion steering works well with the 323iss nearly ideal 50.2 front/49.8 rear weight bias to ensure effortless direction changes.
Our only gripes about the 323is concern its busy dashboard, cheap interior materials, and the contortions required of passengers trying to access the rear seat. The myriad climate and audio controls are piled on top of each other and create a cluttered center stack. Interior materials are also a bit lean in a car that pushes through the $30,000 price barrier. If Audi can fill their $23,000 1.8T with sumptuous faux-leather upholstery and nicely grained dashboard plastic why cant BMW do the same with their entry-level cars? Our final complaint is about the 323iss small rear seat further exacerbated by the difficulty that passengers have accessing it. Requiring a step-twist-plop sort of motion for entry, the back seat of this coupe is going to win few fans. BMW could address this concern for us by dropping the new engine into the 318i sedan. This wouldnt increase rear passenger space, the coupe and sedan have the same interior dimensions, but the extra doors would make it easier for rear seat passengers to get in and out of the car.
Nearing the end of its life in this iteration, the entry-level BMW coupe has become the perfect example of what a sports coupe should be. It is compact, powerful, fun, and well mannered. It does not pick buyers pockets at the dealership or at the gas pump. There are plenty of sports coupes on the market that offer a good ride at a reasonable price. We think, however, that this particular car is the one to purchase if you place more emphasis on fun than on luxury.
Used 1998 BMW 3 Series Convertible Overview
The Used 1998 BMW 3 Series Convertible is offered in the following styles: 328i 2dr Convertible, and 323i 2dr Convertible.
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Should I lease or buy a 1998 BMW 3 Series?
Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.