Category Archives: Editorial

What to Look for When Buying a used BMW

Depending on who you ask, BMW either stands for the ultimate driving machine or “breaks monthly or weekly.” Ask a seasoned wrench hand their opinion of these cars and they’ll probably say the same thing they do of most cars. If you treat them well and take care of them, you shouldn’t expect more trouble with a bimmer than any other car.

What you can expect is an engaging driving experience, styling that is instantly recognizable but not obnoxious, and an interior that neatly walks the line between luxury and purpose. For many owners, nothing but a BMW will do, and these cars can be had at very accessible price ranges. So how do you make sure the car you pick is the right one?

Know What you Want

BMW is often credited with inventing the sports sedan, or at least bringing it to the masses. While smallish saloon cars and coupes remain the German automaker’s bread-and-butter, there are so many variants on the used car market it can be difficult to know where to start. You can even choose a BMW SUV, if that’s your thing.

The Three Series, BMW Iconoclast

A good place to begin your homework is with the three series, the car that made BMW what it is today. You could probably plop down for any six-cylinder three series made in the last thirty years with decent maintenance history and mileage and have a perfectly enjoyable car. They’re that good.

This is not to say that four-cylinder cars should be avoided, in particular the latest generation of small-displacement cars are very good, however with the exception of the now unicorn-status first-generation M3, most early four-pot cars were underpowered and not particularly stout.

Z cars typically fall into the 3-series bucket, and while opinions on styling vary, they don’t suffer from any outrageously different ailments than your typical 3-series, and might be described as a generally underappreciated small sports car.

The Five Series, Workaday Warrior

If the three series brought sport sedans to the masses, the five brought sports sedans to the junior executive. Offering slightly more room and plusher appointments than their smaller brethren, five series cars still offer exceptional driving dynamics.

Mid-2000s cars are subject to some questionable styling practices in the form of the notorious “bangle butt”, so if you’re in the market for a premium car, look for later models. If you’re willing to go earlier, a cozy 540i with 15 years or so of patina can be had for less than ten grand, and you get the decadence of a Bavarian-built V8. Just make sure you understand the inevitable costs of maintenance.

The five series was also the original family to launch a BMW SUV, the venerated X5. While there are 3, 4, 6 and 1-series variants out there, all of which are competent crossovers, the 5 is probably your best bet for a used BMW four-wheeler. Aside from the X models, if it’s rocking a roundel and 4wd, and wasn’t made in the last five years, purchase at your own risk.

The Seven, Like an S-Class With Handling Dynamics

About those maintenance costs, add a thirty-percent premium for BMW’s flagship land yacht, the autobahn-cruising seven. Having the best of everything, including particularly cosseting interiors that even included optional water buffalo hides on select models, comes at a price. But few cars dominate the road like a well-kept seven series.

Getting into a later model seven could be difficult as even used cars tend to be exclusively expensive or carry mileage well in excess of 100k. Stick to the V8 cars and avoid the seductive V12 unless you’re prepared to give your first born to keep it on the road. And that’s assuming it doesn’t break.

One-Offs and B-Sides

In addition to the standard three—five—seven lineup, BMW has made a huge number of unique models. In recent years, the brand has also used up just about every one of the digits with the exception of nine.

One and two series cars make a good choice if you’re looking for a compact and can afford a late-model BMW. The occasional six series is approachable these days, and there are some remnants of the old “shark nose” cars from the seventies floating around out there. Both are large, asphalt-leveling coupes on opposite ends of the price spectrum.

Speaking of big coupes, BMW’s attempt at a halo car was the early-90s eight series. Hardcore collectors love these cars, but those new to motoring or BMW should steer clear, if you even spot one, because of preventatively high maintenance costs.

M is for Motorsports

Actually, it probably stands for some German word that means motorsports. M cars are BMW’s homage to the company’s racing heritage. They offer uprated feedback and engagement, and limits that can be unreasonable to challenge without risking a ticket, or worse.

If you choose to go this route, get a full mechanic’s inspection, do your homework on the specific model, know what breaks, and be prepared to pay significant maintenance costs. Also, take comfort in knowing you’ll crack a smile every time you get behind the wheel. Just maybe keep the traction control on for the first week or so.

Take-home Lessons

These are good general pointers about what’s out there, but the best advice I can give you about purchasing a car is to do your homework about that particular car. Find out how many owners it has had, where it came from, and whether important recall work has been carried out.

If you’re buying a BMW for the first time, congratulations. Be smart and you’ll come away with a car that delivers driving pleasure not many can match.

Cooper Tire RS3-G1 Update in California’s Monsoon Winter

So as some of you might have heard, California is getting a lot of rain this winter. I thought it was supposed to have been last year, with all the El Nino talk, but El Nino has got nothing on what we’ve had this year. Quite simply, in the last two months, Sacramento has just about accumulated the amount of rain it gets in an entire year. In TWO MONTHS. There was five inches of rain in a four-day span just the other week…

Anyways, enough about the weather. What this meant though was it presented the perfect testing ground for these new Cooper Tire RS3-G1‘s  wrapped around the wheels of my 330i ZHP. These are touted as an ultra high-performance all-season tire, designed to work and excel in the rain. So how are they doing? Quite well. MUCH better than those Sumitomo summer tires I had prior in the wet. In short, when the road is soaked, I don’t find myself tiptoeing around corners. Approaching a right turn merge lane at a signal, I don’t drive any slower than if it were dry, such is the confidence the Coopers give in less than ideal conditions.

My favorite bit is switching off the traction control and adding gratuitous power through a good corner (when the coast is clear of course) to gleefully play with the balance of the E46 chassis. It’s quite addictive, this. Nothing like hanging out the ‘arse of a rear-wheel drive car. And it’s easy too! I can thank the tires for that, as the front does not wash out at all either. So yes, they have good grip in the wet and can be playful upon desire.

Through standing water, a few inches deep, they do aquaplane ever so slightly. Going straight through an asphalt river I do lose the ability to provide steering input momentarily. It doesn’t throw you around however, nor jerk the wheel around. They track straight through it, which is good and causes no alarm. This does only occur when the water is at least a couple inches deep.

Overall so far, I am very satisfied with the new rubber. The dry grip remains outstanding with severely good wet weather performance. Unfortunately, no real snow driving yet, and I don’t really want to. As Jeremy Clarkson once said, “In the snow, as any BMW driver will tell you, front-wheel drive is a lot better.”

Do You Really Need that M2 or is the M240i enough?

The M240i has been hitting dealer showrooms for the last couple month now and you might be wondering, “just what is different here? What about the M2 though?” Let’s start with the obvious changes over the outgoing M235i. For starters, there’s the name. Again, like all BMW’s of the last ten years, even though displacement isn’t changing (the names have not corresponded in 10 years anyways…), they do have to make it seem like the car is improving, which it has. If I hear both M240i and M235i, I’m going to automatically assume the bigger number is the better car.

M240i trunk badge So how exactly has it improved? It has a new engine, but it’s the same size, has the same number of cylinders, as well as use of a single, twin-scroll turbocharger. However, the block is different, being substantially stronger than the N55. The new B58, first debuted in the 340i earlier this year, has a ‘closed-deck’ design (block strength will be likened by tuners undoubtedly), and is of a modular architect to keep costs down for the bean counters in Munich. Simplified, the new 6 cylinders is the same engine as the 4-bangers, just with cylinders added on. But what a difference two cylinders make, giving a raucous bark to the exhaust note on startup and some nice cracks and pops on the overrun. And it’s what a dictionary refers you to when looking up the word smooth.

Torque is up significantly, now 369 instead of 330. That’s the same that the fabled M2 makes when on overboost.

And yes, as is obligated, it has more power now. 335 to be exact, where the M235i had ‘only’ 320. Torque is up significantly, now 369 instead of 330. That’s the same that the fabled M2 makes when on overboost. And it’s only 30 down in the power department, which got me thinking: where does it stack up against the M2 in an old-fashioned drag race? I immediately scoured Youtube and was both surprised and unsurprised at the result: it appears to be a damn near draw. Next was to get behind the wheel of the new ’40. Flipping down a couple ratios to second and, nailing it, I feel no difference as  my memory recalls the M2’s speed. Honestly, I can’t really tell. On paper, an M2 with a DCT will have the edge from it’s brutal launch control method, but through the gears, it feels every bit as quick as an M2. Maybe the top of the power band isn’t quite as strong, but how long are you really above 6500 RPM? I reckon BMW M will have an updated, faster M2 out in no time as a response, and likely with the new B58 engine as it still harnesses the ‘ancient’ N55.

So, you got fifty odd grand burning in your pocket for a proper BMW sports coupe, which should you pick? Well it becomes more difficult than it seems. If it were me, I’d have the M2 everyday. Having seen an M2 parked next to an M235/M240i, the M2 simply makes the latter look like a rental car. The wheel arches on the M2 look like the Hulk stretched and shrink-wrapped the metal around those lovely 19” wheels. It looks just bloody brilliant. The M2 also wins on sound, having a proper throaty snarl out of its four tailpipes. M2 has real track credentials too, sporting a fancy differential and better steering as well. The cabin comes standard with alcantara inserts swathed on the doors, lending a special aroma. Sounds like a win-win, right? Remember, I did say this was difficult.

Where the M240i fights back is in real-world usability. M2 is tuned for the track, which is great, when you’re on a track with it’s grizzly grip of the road and tenacious turn-in. On most roads in the wild, it is very stiffly sprung, with a jarring ride. I’m young, I can deal with that for another couple years, but for some it might be frankly too stiff. The M240i also has adaptive dampers, to switch between comfort and sport, something the M2 cannot do, having fixed damper rates. An M240i is also cheaper, before fitting options at least. If you can live without navigation, it will be a few grand cheaper. This is augmented all the more by the single biggest problem with the M2: availability. Most dealers have wait lists for the baby ‘M, and if you find one one on a showroom, they’ll likely be asking for $10,000 over MSRP. It makes the M240i at that point seem like a bargain, considering you get 99.9% daily performance and at least 90% of the track performance the M2 offers.

So, should you still want the M2 over the M240i? Sure! It’s all about desirability, after all. It must be said though, it really comes down to more of what you’re looking for and looking to spend, given dealer markups. For everyday driving, the M240i is probably the safer bet, as it’s more comfortable and has same straight-line speed. If you are a track junky, then I feel it’s a no-brainer to go for the M2. But really, I think it’s more or less what is available to you. If you’re considering one of the two, see what your dealer has. And if they only have M240i’s, give it a test drive and you’ll probably drive it home; you will not be disappointed. However, if you’ve driven an M2 already…