With the gradual demise of local rear wheel drive sedans, many Australians who enjoy the purity of real wheel drive but also the practicality and look of a four-door sedan are thinking hard about their options.
There is an answer. But it's not for the faint hearted.
Imagine an affordable sedan with a brilliant, straight six magnesium alloy engine, 190 kW, 300nm of torque pushing only 1460kg and accompanied by a creamy, aurally pleasing but tough soundtrack.
Let's add eight airbags, fantastic leather seats, sunroof, auto-wipers, a six speed ZF automatic, GPS, premium audio with Bluetooth and communicative hydraulic steering.
Now add unnecessary but appreciated features, such as key fobs which automatically restore the position of the electric seat. So that you can actually get into the driver's seat after your smaller framed wife has been driving. Each key also remembers independent radio and air-conditioning preferences.
This sedan has got the smarts to preload the brakes if you rapidly lift off the accelerator. That, plus a whole host of advanced safety features that will keep the rear end in-line and on the road. Something that you'll really appreciate when you've got family members on-board or when your wife's driving in the wet. The electronic nannies will allow for a bit of rear slip and can be turned off, unlike many new cars.
Plus it's probably one of the best handling sporting sedans ever built.
A sedan with a 0-100 time of 6.6 seconds, but is capable of around 7L per 100k's on the highway. Radar adaptive cruise control - for those long halls where you just want to kick back and consume those kilometres as effortlessly as possible. Adaptive cruise really pays when you are following that idiot who is on and off the throttle, glued to the right-hand lane and you just can't be bothered clicking the cruise control button 27 times a minute to match.
But the best thing is the price. This car is available for under $20,000.
You've probably realised that I'm talking about the brilliant 2005 BMW e90 330i.
So how is a used 330i relevant today?
It's relevant because you simply cannot buy a premium car this advanced, with this level of performance at an affordable price. Certainly not one with this level of technology and sophistication. Not unless you are prepared to spend a significant sum of money on a new 328i or the new 340i - which will cost you double kidneys for double kidney exclusivity.
What are the downsides?
There aren't many 330i's left that have good service histories and low kays. BMW didn't sell many in Australia, because the 330i was about $100,000 when new. Then you need to maintain it properly. Take a deep breath and allow for another $5000-$8000 over the first three years for repairs. The 330i is a bit of a garage queen, mainly due to the complex electronics on board. The suspension is probably tired after 10 years. So be prepared to fork out for a high quality set of springs and shocks to refresh that Bavarian stance. Let's call that another two grand.
The other problem is that the run-flats it was issued with are harder than Jason Statham in “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and about as compliant as him as well. So buy a decent set of sporting rubber, an air compressor and a bottle of green goo for the boot, because you have no spare. Let's call that another $1600.
It wouldn't hurt to have NRMA roadside assistance as well. Not just for that flat you can't repair, but if an electrical mogwai decides to eat after midnight and you are 200 km from nowhere, then you might need rescuing (wiki “Gremlins movie” GEN Y).
So it's not the greatest used car on a budget, probably one of the worst. However, the e90 330i is still one of the best sporting sedans in the world. It makes for an epic daily driver, due to the creature comforts combined with the relaxed but potent power delivery.
If you need more, pony up the extra cash for the 335i turbo that arrived in 2006. But many will appreciate the smoothness, linear power delivery and throaty exhaust note of the naturally aspirated 330i over the later turbo's and the NA engine is cheaper to maintain.
The e90 330i is the best car I have ever owned.
I love it driving it.
I hate paying for it.
But it really is “the ultimate driving machine.”