Things I Hate About My BMW 535i

My 2008 BMW 535i is gone now so I figured I’d take a few moments to recap everything I disliked about that car. Spoiler: There weren’t many so I’m gonna be grasping a bit.

Let’s start with the transmission. The transmission wasn’t unique to BMW, in fact the ZF 6HP26 was used in a range of vehicles including Bentley, Ford, Jaguar, Maserati, and Range Rover. If you opt for the 535i, what you want is the flappy paddles on the steering wheel. Trust me on this one. Paddle shifters were a factory option included only on cars with the optional Sport Automatic Transmission (or SAT). This bought three things. First, SAT optioned cars received was a completely different and more high-end looking shifter hardware. Rather than a bare metal stalk, the shifter had a nice leather boot and the knob itself was shorter, stubbier, and just appeared to be made of higher quality. Next, the SAT option included paddle shifters on the steering wheel and to tie it all together the transmission had entirely different software that improved upshifts, downshifts, rev matched and shifted quicker. If you enjoyed SMG or DCT then this was the ticket. It would be the best $500 ever spent on this car.

My car didn’t have the SAT option. Instead, I retrofitted the shifter hardware for about $500 through BMW of Fairfax and found a guy on the forums to update my transmission software remotely. To complete the upgrade I’d need to source a steering wheel with the paddle shifters. Those seemed to go for upward of $700 so I never pulled the trigger on that. The software did make a noticeable improvement however I rarely got to enjoy it as my car primarily sat in traffic.

Included with the SAT shifter hardware, though not required to get the functionality, was a Sport button. When illuminated, the steering would tighten up. Almost too much. I found the steering at low speeds to be a fucking chore but once you’re over 25 MPH it was a nice improvement. On the backroads it was great.

It didn’t matter how good the steering feel was if the suspension bits underneath were showing age. I never had a chance to drive a well-kept low milage example for comparison so I couldn’t be too sure if this was just how the E60 drove. What I could tell you is that every new slab of concrete on Interstate 66 was met with a harsh jolt that shot directly up through the steering wheel and to my elbows. I wasn’t quite sure if it was the tires, dampers or bushings that were the culprit. Visual inspections indicated the bushings and dampers were still good. The run flat tires exacerbated the behavior. If I had intended on keeping this car long term then I would have started with a set of Bilsteins and then moved on to individual bushings.

Monaco Blue 2008 BMW 535i
Aesthetically speaking, I hated the non M Sport front bumper. Finding a good angle that included the front license plate was, well, there was no good angle. The only way I would have liked this front bumper was if I was ripping it off to replace with the M Sport. Not my fault. This car did not pass my own Look Back Test and I knew it when I bought it. Was it uglier than my 2015 Subaru WRX? Yeah, I think so.

We couldn’t knock on an E60 BMW if we didn’t mention iDrive. My first experience with iDrive was the CCC version. DVD based, first generation poop. It took a day or two to become acclimated to the system and in short time I was enjoying it. Then I experienced the newer version, CIC, and NBT, and hated it. I wanted to upgrade but that was no easy, not cheap, project. To make matters worse, the maps DVD was constantly becoming unreadable. Not that I relied on the built-in navigation anyway, but it annoyed me to see the error message on the screen every time I took a drive.

The last interior item on my list is the park distance control. There were sensors on the front and rear bumpers that measured distance to objects. Rather than simply using cameras, BMW decided on this. It worked well but became very annoying very quick. Every time the transmission was placed into Reverse, the sensors activated. Every time. Each morning I was greeted to loud and rapid beeping when I backed out of my garage. The PDC could be disabled, but that required pushing another button. Would have been nice if the PDC could have been disabled entirely through the iDrive system.

Engine wise, the N54 twin-turbo inline six was a powerhouse. Just a few weeks after I bought the 535i I installed the Burger Motorsports JB4 and pumped up the boost. The car pulled so ridiculously hard on the highway with just the JB4 that I was completely satisfied. So much, that I never bothered to run the BMS DCI intakes. Unfortunately an exhaust leak developed about two months after the JB4 was installed. We traced the exhaust leak up to the manifold area. I hadn’t heard of N54 exhaust manifolds cracking and being that the car had just over 76k miles on it, I figured this would be a very costly repair. We also discovered another oil leak while the car was up on the lift. It was at this point I started weighing out in my head how much I actually enjoyed this car. If I took it to a repair shop for the exhaust leak there would undoubtedly be many other bits and pieces that would also need to be replaced in order to button it all back together properly. What if the turbos themselves were toast? That’s $2k easily.

Nope, I don’t like the car that much! So I put the factory wheels back on and traded it in on a Certified Pre-Owned 328i with a clutch. The 535i was somebody else’s problem now!


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