Unnecessary Car Shopping With E90s, Without M3s, Without E90M3

’It’s a poorly-kept secret that I’m considering the E90 3-series as my next car. With all the hyperbole and benchmarking surrounding the E90 it has to be the entry level sports sedan to end all entry level sports sedans, so I took a variant deemed too slow for America out for a spin to see if the brilliance trickles down.

The test vehicle in this case was a 2008 323i...automatic. While Americans only got the three-litre N52, BMW Canada figured that anybody considering a gussied up Mazda 6 could dig a little deeper into their couch cushions to get their hands on a decontented E90 with a 2.5-litre N52.

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So how does it drive? In a word, brilliantly. The structure is admirably tight (despite the dubious history of this example), ride control is excellent with particularly well-controlled secondary body motions over rough tarmac. The steering was another high point which, although hefty at parking lot speeds, feels natural and communicative without being busy when underway. The 2.5-litre engine feels underpowered but has that classic straight-six creaminess and the seats and driving position are spot-on. Lastly, the heated seats and stereo are shockingly good for a base model. Gripes? Aside from the aforementioned slowness and low-speed steering heft, the halogen headlamps aren’t very good, the cupholders aren’t worth a damn, the centre armrest is too small and both the wiper and indicator controls are an adjustment to say the least. Still, most of those issues are fixable just by going to a higher-spec 328i and swapping in the sliding euro armrest. Could a carefully chosen slice of Bavarian goodness be not just affordable to buy but affordable to run on an adult budget? Survey says...

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