Short Lived Ownership of the BMW 535i, Josh Buys Yet Another Car

Josh's 328i F30 in Garage

If car buying was an STD, yours truly would be Tommy Lee. Last week I told my wife that I wanted to replace the 535i with something more fun. She was basically like “Do whatever makes you happy”. God bless her heart. Green light! Off to find car number 25. If you’re curious as to what the previous 24 were, you can see my full vehicle ownership history here.

So that night while laying in bed I browsed every auto classifieds I could find looking for ideas. I really was starting from scratch. First step was to build a pool. Basically anything with a clutch and a warranty was game. Then I filtered out those that did not have a usable back seat. Though slightly on the tight side, the E46 M3 was the benchmark in terms of rear seat space. MPGs were also a factor. The closer to $30k, the closer to 30 MPG I wanted. Points docked for being FWD. Bonus for RWD.

2007 Subaru Forester with STI partsThere was this cool Forester XT on Craigslist a few miles away with some suspension and STI parts. This car would both turn heads, haul ass and could be loaded up with all my best friends and a dog. The price was well in the ballpark however it was obvious that there were things that I’d need to address if I was to go for it. Little rust spots, suspension tuning and other little bits and pieces. And even though there was no warranty to be found, I could always opt for one of those questionable aftermarket warranties. The problem is that I had already owned an STI and WRX. I’m just not getting the Subaru flavor off my tongue. Something was telling me that this car could turn in to a headache. Not to knock the owner’s car, but I’ve been skeptical of the EJ engine’s ability to hold itself together unless built with choice internals. Very neat car, but not for me unless it was a second toy. Pass.

Black 2008 BMW M3 DCTPerhaps the most intriguing of all the cars available were the handful of E90/92 V8 M3s which popped up. For example, this 2008 M3 DCT with 60k miles for $28k. The problem is that none of them had a warranty longer than the dealer supplied 60 or 90 days and good luck finding a company that will offer warranties to M vehicles. However glorious the sound of that high revving V8, my wallet quivered at the thought of repair costs.

2015 Mustang GT was on the table until I confirmed the back seats were too small. Camaro? Nope. Hold off for the 2016? Too impatient. Maybe the Cadillac ATS? The interior styling just doesn’t do it for me. The Volkswagen GTI SE was a fun car but the interior felt bland. Maybe if I was giving bonus points for FWD it would have been a contender.

Somehow I keep swinging back to the Roundel. Of all the cars in the pool, the 3-Series appeared to fit my requirements best. The N54/N55 turbo 6 cylinder engines haul serious ass with a tune but after having the 535i with a simple JB4 tune I deemed that power totally unnecessary. I know I mentioned warranty but after it’s up I’d like to be able to work on it myself. Given that, the 4 cylinder turbo engines in the F30 320/328i’s are much more compact and as such there is way more room to work in the engine bay. I can actually cup my hand around the turbo in the 320i and 328i! Can’t even see the freaking snails on my 535i!

As luck would have it, BMW of Fairfax, just up the street from the office happened to have two manual transmission 328i’s that had just come in off of lease. Both CPO’d. For those who don’t know what CPO is. A CPO’d car typically means all services records were maintained by BMW, such as from a leased vehicle, and as such BMW extends the warranty several more years after the original expires or to 100k miles. Whichever comes first.

Of the two manual transmission cars, the one that really piqued my interest was a black 2012 328i on Imola Red interior with only 25k miles. It reminded me of 2007 328i coupe that had this same combination. And what really got me excited was how the vehicle was optioned. It appeared to be a stripper model. No, not like bare breasts, sadly. I meant zero options. No sunroof. Manual seats, no Premium Package, no Technology Package. It even had halogen headlights. What we have here, my friends, was the lightest, most driver oriented 328i that could be built! Could this be the perfect car for me? I was immediately all in and pranced drove giddily over to check it out.

My excite wore off rather quickly as soon as I actually experienced what a stripper model felt like. The manual seats were fine but everything else felt spartan. Didn’t have the Logic 7 stereo. I didn’t like the way the front end looked without the xenon headlights. But the extra headroom without the sunroof was perfect for track days! And then it hit me. If I want to buy a car like this I should go look for a real sports car. From my other should was a voice yelling “Aftermarket Limited Slip!” Had to shrug it off and move on.

Next up, a CPO’d white on black 328i with 45k miles that was nicely optioned. The first thing I did after getting in the car was adjust the seat to it’s lowest position and raise my hand vertically over my head to check for headliner clearance. Wait. Why am I even doing this? I’m not going to track this car. It’s way too bloody nice. Blood. Like the color of the interior accents against the glossy black dash trim. The navigation system in the car is fantastic. What else do we have here? Heated leather seats, heated steering wheel, heads up display, xenon headlights! Oh, and that sunroof which ain’t so bad after all.

The test drive confirmed what I already knew from my review of the 2015 BMW 328i Sport Wagon. The turbo 4 cylinder engine is quite good. The 328i Sport Wagon I drove had the ZF 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters. It’s a perfect fit for the N20/26 engine. With the engine in Sport mode, it’s every bit as powerful as the old inline 6 but with even more grunt down low. I honestly think the manual transmission feels a little sloppy, but I’m sure that’s nothing a short throw can’t fix. Then there was the shift knob. It’s okay but I swear BMW has been using the same shifter since 2006. It needs an update.

I didn’t need any more time behind the wheel. This F30 328i will do.


  1. the key is to be honest with yourself about what the car is going to be used for… for example, a lot of people get “beater”/”daily” cars that are too nice or too unreliable or too cool or too expensive.

    anyways, does it bug you that when you search “manual” transmission on most used car sites (including BMW CPO) that you get manumatic cars? i wish there was a way to find 3-pedal old-school row-your-own-gears manual transmission cars easily… first thing i do is skip straight to the photos of the interior and disappointingly find the SMG stub, next!…

    1. You’ve hit the nail dead on the head. As much as I want M levels of performance in my daily driver, I’m not actively tracking my car anymore. That’s why the 328i is a better fit.

      Filtering by transmission and jumping directly to the interior shot to confirm three pedals is exactly what I do, too!

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