I had a 2008 MINI S for about 2 years before I got my ZHP sedan and I owned both for about a month. I alternated cars during that time and found that the ZHP did not disappoint in any way even though it was a lot bigger. Sure, it had that new car excitement, but 8 months later I rarely miss my MINI. The MINI did feel a lot different, but the added space in the back (for my 4 year old) and general comfort of the BMW made it a better choice for me as a daily driver. The turbo 4 was ok, but it doesn't match the sound and feeling of the smooth inline 6 (although the supercharged MINIs do have a nice exhaust pop and burble to them). The overall community that you get when you own a MINI is better IMO (no offense), but it is getting diluted as more and more people buy the cars. One comment about the community where BMW shines is in the technical information available; MINI people were more concerned about buying stickers and stuffed animals than posting diy tutorials. When I miss my MINI the most is when I am going to take a left at an intersection going 45 or so and knowing that in my MINI i really didn't need to hit the brakes in order to make it. There is a very connected feeling about the momentum in a MINI that the heavier 330i can't match.
If you can handle the smaller size, I would say a MINI S might be a good choice especially over a 325. A nicer 330i is a great choice if you need the space and can handle the cost. I can't comment on the M3 since I've never had the chance to drive one, but my guess is that if you are worried about buying a 330xi then a decent M3 is probably not a good choice for you. I'd love an M, but I am not financially ready to maintain one the way I would want to. Side note, I also don't see the need for an xi in AZ.
Last edited by netsatwork; 02-22-2011 at 02:03 PM.