Here's what Dan Strong writing in AutoExpress magazine (from the UK where 1-in-3 coupes sold is a BMW) had to say after road testing both automobiles:
"Switching between the drivers' seats of the 323Ci and 328Ci we drove revealed few substantial differences. With essentially the same bodyshell, suspension and steering system, the two cars feel very similar on the road.
When unladen, only 25kg separates the pair in terms of weight, although the 328Ci does feel slightly more substantial. It's no less agile, but BMW's trademark build quality seems a little more evident in the 328Ci than the 323Ci.
There's a creamy note from the two straight-six engines, and power delivery is nearly seamless, both cars producing their peak output and torque at exactly the same revs. In fact, below 50mph there's no discernible wind or road noise, and the gearbox fitted to the engines is both slick and filled with ratios that are on the more relaxed side of sporting. The suspension of both feels comfortably supple and will absorb all except the largest bumps in imperfect road surfaces.
Steering in both models is precise and well weighted, and though it might feel a touch less direct than in its predecessor, as familiarity with the new car increases, it's obvious the steering offers plenty of feedback. The chassis displays a similar character which takes time to get to know. At first, it feels rather numb, but if driven hard over demanding roads it
displays a finesse that the old model simply couldn't hope to match; and nor could any of today's rivals. Stability in poorly surfaced, off-camber corners is greatly improved, and a new traction control system, called DSC III, is much more effective at keeping the rear-wheel-drive chassis in check.
Yet while the handling balance is superb, there's a touch more understeer on the limit, dialled into the car by engineers for added safety. Overall grip levels are much higher, though, and oversteer will only be provoked if the driver is very determined. In addition, the brakes feel stronger in the 328Ci, thanks to front and rear discs that are bigger than those fitted to
the 323. Even after they have been used repeatedly hard, they maintain their precision and show little sign of fade.
Boasting 193bhp and 280Nm of torque, the new 328Ci is fast enough to hurl itself to 60mph from rest in a claimed 7.0 seconds. Figures alone, however, do not tell the complete story. The bigger unit's extra torque ensures that response to the throttle is instantaneous and superbly smooth. Power delivery is strong right the way through the rev range; even when the revs climb near the engine's 6,500rpm red line there is no perceptible harshness. Although the 2.5-litre engine which powers the 323Ci is every bit as refined and responsive under normal driving, with a lesser 175bhp
and 245Nm of torque, it is a full second slower to 60mph, stopping the clock at 8.0 seconds dead. Because of that lower torque figure, the powerplant feels slightly less responsive when being driven at the extremes of its rev range. It remains an impressive unit, but it's not as accomplished as the 2.8-litre 'six' fitted to the 328Ci. Whereas that car needs only a whiff of throttle to take it away from the line, the 323Ci requires a jab. At the top end of the rev range, where the 2.8 is responsive and unstressed, you can sense that the lower capacity powerplant is having to work just that little bit harder.
The new 3-Series Coupé is far more accomplished than its predecessor in nearly every area. As well as sleek styling and generous equipment, there's more space for driver and rear seat passengers, and extra performance and refinement. The 323 and 328Ci justify their prices. Few will fail to fall for the driving experience, so if the style of this coupé is for you, there's no more tempting alternative."
'99 Titanium Silver 323i Sport w/5-spd