2000 BMW 323i Sport Wagon new car reviews

The Sport Wagon is an excellent blend of utility, performance and affordability. Based on the 323i Sedan, the Sport Wagon offers 2.5 times the storage space of the Sedan with the rear seats up (26 cubic feet); this nearly doubles, to 48 cubic feet, with the seats folded down.

While merely describing the storage space does most station wagons justice, the Sport Wagon is more than just a sedan with an extended roof line. BMW has decided that the Sport Wagon will be marketed with the smaller 2.5-liter, 170-horsepower engine only. This powerplant, coupled with the five-speed transmission, will turn 7.6-second zero-to-60 times. This compares similarly to the car's main competition, slotting it between the small-engined (1.8T) Audi A4 Avant and the 2.8-powered Audi.

The little engine has about 200 pounds more to pull around than a comparable sedan, and you can feel that it has to work harder to get its job done, but it's a very willing and smooth worker, readily spinning to redline more easily and quickly than expected.

Handling and braking are the 323i Sport Wagon's strong points. The BMW engineers realized that the Sport Wagon will have larger loads to contend with, and in typical fashion decided that "good enough" was not good enough for a BMW. Instead of the standard 323i Sedan's suspension, brakes, and wheel/tire combinations, the 323i Sport Wagon is equipped with stiffer suspensions in both normal and Sport packages (which includes a sport suspension, sport seats, performance wheels and tires), larger brakes from the 328i and larger standard and optional wheels.

The additional rear sheet metal and glass moves the weight bias slightly toward the rear (47.6F/52.4R), making this car feel very light and nimble on its feet, especially when equipped with the Sport Package. With an empty cargo hold, and a curvy road ahead, there's no reason that the 323i Sport Wagon couldn't keep up with its more "sporting" companions.

The Sport Wagon offers a good alternative for those who aren't quite ready for minivans, yet aren't enamored of the SUV fad. In the fall, BMW will be introducing an all-wheel-drive system for the E46 chassis, further enhancing the Wagon's utility and allowing the 3 Series to compete against the Audi Quattro and Volvo AWD in the frozen-north sections of the country.

Starting at just under $30,000, the Sport Wagon is a good alternative to the other station wagons on the market from Audi and Volvo. Performing better than both, and with a stronger enthusiast following, this first small BMW station wagon to be imported to the U.S. should be a hit. In fact, we're wondering when we'll see one at a BMW CCA event--and not just carrying 2002 spares, but out on the track.

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