We love reading these sorts of retro-reviews from the likes of Car and Driver, Motor Trend and Road & Track. As enthusiasts, we tend to look back on older cars with rose-tinted glasses, letting nostalgia potentially cloud our judgement about how good a car actually was. So reading reviews and comparison tests from back in their day can give us perspective. This specific comparison test from Car and Driver back in 2004 pits the E46 BMW 3 Series — often the benchmark for sport sedan handling — against its timely rivals.
I’m pretty sure I read this very comparison test in Car and Driver magazine as a teenager, so going back to read it again is hitting me with all the nostalgic feels.
Back in 2004, the E46 BMW 3 Series, specifically the BMW 325i, took on the Audi A4, Infiniti G35, Acura TL, Jaguar X-Type, Saab 9-3 Arc and Lexus IS300. All cars in this test had manual transmissions and prices around $35,000. So, at that price point, which manually-equipped premium sport sedan was best?
Read Also: BMW E46 3 Series Guide
Shockingly, the E46 3 Series didn’t win. We tend to think of the E46 as an undefeatable automotive deity. However, it wasn’t perfect even in its own day. Admittedly, it did take second place and it likely would have taken first place had the price point of entry had been higher.
At $35,000, back in 2004, the only 3 Series you could get was the 325i, which just didn’t have enough power to compete with its rivals. The E46 325i only had 184 horsepower from its 2.5 liter inline-six. While that power was smooth and accessible, it just wasn’t strong enough to trade blows with cars like the Infiniti G35 and its 260 horsepower 3.5 liter V6.
Of course, if we were to look at the used market now, there’s no chance we take anything other than the E46 3 Series, as its looks have aged the best and its engine is the sweeter of the two, despite not being as powerful. Drive an old Nissan/Infiniti product now and the 3.5 V6, despite being powerful feels coarse and cheap. Old BMW I6s still feel smooth as silk today and retain their charm. However, it’s interesting to see that even the mighty E46 wasn’t unflappable in its own day.
[Source: Car and Driver]