To Japan and Back – Goodbye Subaru WRX, Hello BMW 535i

BMW 535i and Subaru WRX at Dealership

It was only last November that I sold my 2004 BMW M3 to get a 2015 Subaru WRX. Shortly after the purchase I wrote the things I hated about the WRX but what I didn’t write about in that article was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Just last week I took a minor hit and traded my 2015 WRX in to Sheehy Volkswagen in Springfield, VA (which they’re currently listing for $28,900) for a used German car that is sure to get a lot of “but whys?” – a 2008 BMW 535i.  So let’s first talk about the whys.

There were many reasons I purchased the 2015 Subaru WRX and one of them was for additional space for family and friends.  Indeed the Subaru WRX did have ample rear space but what I didn’t anticipate and quickly discovered was the poor conversation quality due to road noise at speed.  And if I wanted to listen to music at highway speeds I found that I’d need to “crank it to eleven” in order to drown out the road noise.  Not gonna happen with my family in the car. In short, the new WRX is still a tin can econobox in need of serious sound deadening if conversation with rear seated passengers is expected.  But it wasn’t only this.  For a car made in 2015 it had next to none of the features I was accustom to, even when comparing to my decade old M3.

2008 BMW 535i sport package front cabin in natural brown leather

Comparing an eight year old German sport sedan to the 2015 WRX

Subaru owed me about $1,500, which I won’t get in to, so in the end I ate about $1,000 on the trade.  And let’s be honest, it does not get any better than that when trading in an almost new vehicle.  I picked up the 2008 BMW 535i with 74k miles for $16,200.  It has the Sport package, Cold weather package, Navigation and loads of other nannies that go a long way with me.  The dealer gives a 2 month warranty on all used cars but I’m familiar with BMWs and am not too concerned about the warranty so lets immediately get that out of the way.   If you can change a flat tire you can most definitely fix the most common problems. First rule is never go to the dealership unless you enjoy pissing money away. There are many online vendors that sell OEM BMW parts for half of the dealership costs and being that BMW’s are so well engineered, most all known fail points were foreseen by BMW’s engineers and are fairly accessible to replace in your own garage.

BMW iDrive heated seats distribution interfaceLet’s start with the seats.  The 2008 BMW 535i has supple leather seats that have been worn in nicely from the previous owner.  The seats themselves are about 100-way adjustable to accommodate any seating position you want.  The side bolsters inflate to snug me way tighter than the WRX’s seat did and even the seat back is two pieces and the arc can be adjusted to your curvature!  The headrests even have adjustable side bolsters similar to what they have on airplanes.  The seats not only have three different levels of heating but the distribution of the heat is also adjustable via settings in iDrive! Oh, and the driver’s seat has 3 memory settings.  The passenger seat has the same features minus memory.  The Subaru’s power seating options included height adjustment, forward/back and tilt.  No memory.

2008 BMW iDrive radio interface
Listening to music is once again a joy.  The cabin is quiet at all speeds and the stereo in the BMW places the Subaru back to the middle ages.  The difference in audio quality is night and day over Subaru. BMW’s iDrive also adds some awesome features to the radio. HD radio is built in and iDrive’s interface has the ability to configure a dozen custom preset channels and get this – each channel can have it’s own custom equalizer setting! The frequencies for each channel are now completely independent of one another! My one and only gripe when it comes to the stereo system is that the input for Bluetooth connectivity is strictly limited to calling. As it is, streaming music from a portable device has to be done via the AUX input cable or loaded through a USB thumb drive. If Bluetooth streaming becomes a big deal I could add on a bluetooth input from one of many aftermarket vendors.

2008 BMW iDrive controller
BMW’s iDrive isn’t nearly as difficult to use as they [you know who you are] say. Up, down, left, right, and a dial. There’s two buttons for Pete’s sake! Once I got that down I found navigating through the interface to be a breeze. There are many neat options that can be set such as setting a chime at the top of every hour. Okay, that one is annoying. I like that I can set the doors to automatically lock at 10 MPH and that I can set the key fob to roll down the windows with a push of the button. Neither of which were options on the Subaru. The navigation in 2008 still used the old DVD based system but does include real-time traffic. I used to use Google Maps on my iPhone Android but find I no longer need to rely on it. It would be nice to get the latest navigation DVD but not sure how I feel about paying BMW $100 for it.

Dynamic steering. Automatic rain-sensing wipers. Active cruise control. Proximity sensors. Keyless entry. Push-button start. One-touch windows everywhere. Rear privacy shades. Heated steering wheel. Auto-folding smart glass mirrors. Built-in Homelink with smart glass. Rear passengers even have their own HVAC controls! Oh, and a 6-speed ZF transmission mated to a twin-fuckin-turbo 3.0 liter engine that BMW under rates at 300 horsepower and 300 torque. All for less than the cost of a new Toyota Corolla! Jesus, where did you go Subaru?!

Admittedly, the BMW E60 chassis was never really much of a looker.  At least it wasn’t.  I think that’s changed a bit.  In time the Bangled-up design has become more and more appealing.  If you do opt for an E60, I’d recommend getting a 2008+ model because 2008 was the LCI year.  What’s LCI?  It’s when the model received a facelift both inside and out.  The front bumper, headlights, tail lights, side skirts and rear bumper were updated.  Inside, the most apparent updates were to the door cards and the iDrive system.

I recall a thread on Jalopnik titled 10 Reasons The E60 535i Is Better Than The M5. Now I may be a little biased but I won’t debate it.  A while back, BBC‘s Top Gear tested a 535d (D is for Diesel) and the Stig piloted it around the Top Gear Test Track  just as quick as the Nissan 350Z and the Ford Focus RS. Interestingly enough, the BMW 545i they compared was three seconds or so faster than the 535d, which would place it next to the almighty Honda NSX Type-R. See for yourself.

Now on to the power train.

Yes, BMW’s twin-turbo N54 engine had an early onslaught of “problems”. The infamous waste gate rattle of the turbo and the fuel pumps failing. Both have been addressed by BMW and are no longer an issue. BMW has extended their warranty of the turbos on all 135i/335i/535i vehicles to 82k miles. If the wastage doesn’t rattle by then it’s unlikely that it ever will. Then there’s the high pressure fuel pumps. BMW has also updated those. Again, no longer an issue.

But it’s not all free and clear. As with any turbo car there is bound to be some oil blow-by. This causes some nasty oil collection in the intake that may cause the car to run rough. There are methods to cleaning it. None too expensive. To help limit the oil blow-by, simply install a $200 catch can. That’s half the price of cleaning a messy oil-caked intake.

N54 Engine with Burger Intake
If the N54’s 300 horsepower isn’t enough, there are handful of options to quickly and painlessly increase horsepower anywhere from 40 to 100 in minutes. This is the same engine used in the 135i and 335i so just about any performance upgrades to those cars can be done to the 535i as well. A handheld tuner such as the one manufacturer by Cobb allows you to not only reflash the ECU for an incredible power increase but also has live graphing, can read and clear codes and can also be used for custom tuning. Then there’s the Burger Motorsports JB4 and Procede Tuning piggy-back systems that do not require refreshing of the ECU but are simply plug-and-play.  These systems also allow for data logging, clearing of codes and the ability to switch custom maps on the fly via your steering wheel controls. For example, switching from an E85 tune to the stock MAP (effectively by-passing the piggy-back system) in seconds.  Adding 100 horsepower has never been so simple.

The ZF 6-speed transmission on the 535i can be updated with BMW’s Sport software to liven up the shifts and make everything more aggressive. The Sport shifter itself can even be swapped to non-sport transmission equipped cars to include the Sport button. Really, the biggest difference between the optional Sport Transmission, besides the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters, and the normal transmission is the software which can be found for free among many of the N54 community forums. Sounds like an upgrade I can get down with!

Steering is still hydraulic and while it may not be as communicative as my M3, it’s far better than the electronic steering found in the new Subaru WRX. I would place the 535i’s steering effort on the higher side of middle using a scale of Crown Victoria-to-Vintage Racer. Just next to the Subaru STi, perhaps. This reminds me, I should probably change the power steering fluid.

Somewhere in town is an orange Ford Fiesta ST that couldn’t shake a 535i through the local back roads.  The E60 isn’t small so nobody should expect it to be as nimble as the 3-Series.  Keep that in mind and you’ll be blown away with how the BMW 535i rips up the back roads without you having to man handle the wheel.  I’m going to thank the optional Sport package for this.  While I’m in school-mode, the 535i’s Sport package gives the E60 even better handling by lowering the car and firming up the suspension and includes Active Suspension to keep the ride flat in corners.  In addition, 535i’s with the Sport package receives 245/40 tires up front on 18×8 (offset et20) and 274/35 tires on 18×9 (offset et32) wheels in the rear.

The brake pedal of the 535i feels so good.  In the Subaru WRX the brakes felt like they were made of wood.  This car slows down in a hurry from any speed thanks to massive 4-piston calipers squeezing equally massive 13.7 inch rotors up front.  The rear receives equally impressive 13.5 inch rotors with two piston calipers.

Back Home

I knew from the moment I sold my M3 that I may regret the decision. The Subaru WRX was a pleasant, albeit short lived change, that simply left something to be desired. If I was coming from a previous generation Subaru I likely would have been fine with the 2015 WRX but I wasn’t. Used BMW’s are a bargain in my eyes. From my personal experience owning 24 cars tells me that 100,000 miles of used in a 3 or 5-series is nothing like 100,000 miles in a Japanese vehicle. As long as you are smart about maintenance and can turn a wrench when needed the value is there in spades.

As with any new used car, some maintenance should be performed. I’ve sourced six new Bosh spark plugs from Amazon for $70, the special spark plug removal tool for $20, the Burger Tuning JB4 piggy-back for $400 and their air filters for $90.  With the increased boost from the JB4 may come the need to replace coil packs and I’m prepared there as well. I found that most local auto parts stores stock aftermarket coil packs that carry lifetime warranty for about $30 each.

Now I need to find a more appropriate license plate.  And stock up on underpants.

    1. Through a VW dealer. Short story: I was originally looking at a black on red 2012 328i sport package at BMW of Sterling however they only offered $25k on trade, which wasn’t gonna happen. CarMax across the street offered $23k. A few days later after becoming slightly obsessed with the E60 535i, I found this car at Sheehy VW in Springfield, VA and they offered me $27k. Subaru owed me $1,500 so I decided to take the $1,500 hit and the rest is history.

  1. Bluetooth Audio done easy: For $15.99 buy a Blackberry Music Gateway. You need to give it USB power via a cigarette lighter adapter or USB port if available, then run an audio cable from the Gateway to the Aux. My E90 had all of this in the center armrest. Trick is your iPhone can simultaneously connect via Bluetooth to both the BMW Phone interface and the Blackberry.

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