Brief Test Drive: E90 BMW 323i

Brief Test Drive: E90 BMW 323i

by -

Sometime back, I briefly test drove the E60 BMW 523i. That car was powered by another one of the Bavarians’ famous straight-six powerplants – the 2,497cc N52B25 producing 190bhp @ 5,900rpm and 230Nm @ 3,250rpm. Here’s my verdict: it was bad. BMW seperated the 523i from the 525i by a good RM30k (it was RM60k at one point) in pricing, and they made sure you felt it.

The 525i was powered by the same engine, but you wouldn’t have guessed it. Where the 523i was slow off the mark and sluggish overall, the 525i proved far more responsive and far more willing to rev. The secret to that lay in the ECU mapping where in the 525i the same engine was tuned for 218bhp @ 6,500rpm and 250Nm @ 2,700rpm. RM30k worth of programming – BMW‘s product planning was both brilliant and infuriating in equal measure.

This specification and pricing strategy has now been implemented in the 3-series, with the latest facelift introducing a 323i model priced a similar distance below the 325i. Like in the 523i, the 323i, priced at RM276k, is powered by the 190bhp version of the N52. Unlike on the 523i however, 190bhp is actually good enough for the 3-series.

A couple of weeks back, I took the car from the premises of Sapura Auto to the Ampang Elevated Highway and back. On the straights, the 323i was more than happy to respond to shoves on the gas pedal. Acceleration was strong, but it won’t pin you onto the seats. On long sweeping bends, the 323i maintained great composure – tracking to the lane as if on rails.

Compared to the RM310k 325i, the 323i does not lag too far behind in terms of overall performance. Being softer sprung, it’s also the easier car to live with on a day-to-day basis, having lost little of its handling prowess. In terms of equipment, the specs sheet of both cars are more or less identical – with differences mainly being all the little M-badged trims and finishes.

The functional equipments are identical to its pricier sibling, and this includes a new iDrive system that features a vastly improved controller, a dashboard-mounted 8.8″ high-definition colour monitor and its own hard-disk. It’s built in with a satnav system that displays actual 3D maps of Malaysia.

It’s most fortunate that the detuned state of the N52 engine in no way handicapped the 323i as it did the 523i. In every respect, the 323i is a very well-balanced car which would provide its owner miles of driving satisfaction. In terms of value for money, this is the pick of the 3-series bunch in Malaysia’s lineup.


Engine: 2,497cc, inline-6, double VANOS, and Valvetronic.
Max Power: 190bhp @ 5,900rpm
Max Torque: 230Nm @ 3,250rpm
Transmission: 6-speed Steptronic auto
Top Speed: 231kph
0-100kph: 8.7s
Fuel Consumption: 8.8l / 100km

(+): As comprehensively equipped as the 325i, and almost just as good to drive.
(-): That the same engine in the 325i produces more.

Verdict: In Malaysia, this is the best value for money 3-series to buy.

BMW 323i - Yours for RM276k
BMW 323i – Yours for RM276k

Little changed upfront.


  1. when you report fuel consumption, how about using an intelligible method, for example, miles per gallon is a good start, translated into kilometers per litre. Therefore, this BEE m Double uses does about 11km per litre. 8.8l/100km is stupid

  2. Yes, I am sorry. I agree with you. Using miles per gallon, where neither miles nor gallon are used in Malaysia is very intelligent. By the way, which definition of gallon should I use? The US version, or the UK version?

    The unit “litres/100 kilometre” would probably be not very popular among the scientifically oriented, but it is used by people, but probably not smart ones like you.

    Here are the values in alternative units, take your pick:
    – 3.12 gallons(UK) / 100 miles
    – 3.74 gallons(US) / 100 miles
    – 11.4 km/l
    – 0.088 l/km
    – 32.1 mpg (UK)
    – 26.7 mpg (US)

    But then again, I am sure you would have known how to convert to all these values right? Silly me.

  3. dope! can’t you read properly? I was giving you an example of miles per gallon translated into km per litre, like it says! The point is that knowing how far a car will go on a given quantity of fuel, not the other way round (if you can figure that out Einstein!).

  4. Sorry mate, I’m no Einstein here.

    Your focus in analysing FC is on distance per unit volume. Fine with me. But it doesn’t render volume per unit distance irrelevant. Say for example, I want to estimate how much fuel I need when travelling KL-Penang, litres per 100km is easily the more useful figure to me.

    I also make extensive use of the unit km/l in estimating my consumption too. That’s useful for, as you said, estimating how far I can go in a tank of my fuel.

    I don’t proclaim to be an expert, but just because the subject doesn’t agree with your preference doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

  5. In all normally developed countries, unlike Malaysia, car manufacturers always quote distance against volume as it’s a legal requirement for consumer protection. It serves as a good comparison between different makes, whereas some countries go further by giving three figure for town (urban) highway and combined, so you get a good idea what kind of “mileage” the car will be doing in different driving situations. I just cannot get my head around this 8.8l/100km……

  6. btw, I am looking to get a BEE em Double…but everyone tells me they are hellish to maintain in Malaysia. Is that true?

  7. Well, I suppose it’s just what you’re used to. I am quite used to using volume / distance, so it’s fine with me. Some people like to work with the idea that their car uses less fuel for a given distance. My mates use volume per distance to compare our cars’ consumption figures. Personally, I am good for both approaches.

    I am unaware that some countries regulate the format of quoting FC figures, but I agree that there should be one single standard for the sake of consumers’ comparison. It’s just like some manufacturers quote kW, some quote hp and some quote PS for power output – it does not give a basis for comparison.

    On your question of maintaining a BMW… I would say they’re definitely not cheap, but compared to other continental cars, I believe the costs are quite reasonable. For one, you’re backed by an extensive service network (in the Peninsula), and even if you want to go outside, there are quite a few reputable BMW specialists that can take good care of your car.

    I don’t know about older BMWs, but newer ones have service intervals of 25,000km, so even if the service bills are huge, they would be fewer and further between. Part replacements may be a little costly though, but it boils down to what you consider as affordable or not. I know that a set of taillights for the E90 3-series is just a shade below RM2k.

  8. Thanks for the info. Are you sure that the service interval is 25k km? In the UK mine was 25k miles, but that was a temperate climate. That would be around 15k miles converted from 25k km. It’s not so much the cost of the parts and service, it’s the temperamental nature of these cars in this climate, and the potential loss of time getting these things sorted, even on a new car with a warranty. I’m sure both showrooms sell the tropical versions, so I am told. I try to get info from owners on the forums, but here they seem to be mostly old bangers not the newer Bee ems.

  9. oh yes, and in the UK, when my Bee em went wrong, it went wrong big time. Not just replace a small worn out part, like the engine management system.

  10. The 25,000km service interval was an info I garnered from a friend who used to own an E46 318i.

    Unlike back in, say, the 1970s or 1980s, the current global nature of the industry means that car manufacturers these day and age usually engineer their cars for all climates.

    It does not guarantee against failure, but it would mean that any problems that arise in your car is probably climate unrelated. The new BMs are very sophisticated machines – with very intricate electronics. On one hand, you have lots of advanced features to enjoy, but on the other hand, there are higher probabilities of component failure.

    It’s good that cost is not an issue for you. If things go wrong, the loss of time is pretty much unavoidable, but since you’re buying a premium vehicle, you can at least expect a courtesy car if your car is grounded in the workshop for an extended period of time.

  11. Kaylcar……ALL Canadian car ratings are labelled and marketed as # of litres per 100 km. For example, the BMW in question gets 8.8l/100km. A) it’s not stupid, B) “in normally developed countries” makes it clearly apparent you do not live in one. Careful of what you speak that you do not know or understand.

Leave a Reply