I casually mentioned in passing recently that we traded our E61 530xi Sports Wagon for an E82 135i Sport. While production overlapped between the two chassis, they are really polar opposites when it comes to BMWs. The 5-Series was obvious all about comfort and isolation, as well as carrying a huge load of anything you could throw at it through any weather. The 1-Series sought to return BMW to its more affordable small car roots by shrinking the swollen 3-Series down substantially.
What BMW unintentionally did was to create an E46 successor. The E82s are similarly sized, similarly equipped and were similarly priced to the E46. And in its most basic, most sporty form, the early 135i Sport is on paper a close match for the performance of the third generation M3. Okay, there’s no doubt that the 135i isn’t a M3 when you get behind the wheel. But is it a special car? Yes. And does it move? The N54/55 are rated at 300 horsepower – about 10% shy of the S54. But they’ve got 300 lb.ft of torque, almost about 15% more than the M3 had. And because they’re a turbo motor and they were able to tune that torque curve in, it’s about as flat as the Makgadikgadi Pan. That means roll-on performance, and the 135i rewards you any time you want. The strange thing is, it really doesn’t drive like it is a turbo motor. There’s no lag, no flat spots, no real woosh. It just feels like a very strong high-compression inline-6. And though it won’t corner like a E46 M3, it’s not far off in acceleration or driving feel.
The dash changed and some of the operations are different, but the seats and small greenhouse will instantly remind you of the earlier chassis. Ours is about as basic as they came – 6-speed manual, manual seats, no iDrive, but with a sunroof. But probably the ultimate spec is the late N55-equipped M-Sport and ‘is’ models. They’re quite hard to find even though they’re fairly new. Why is that?
Back in November of 2017, I looked at an early special-order 540i Sport Package. It ticked many of the right boxes; while the later cars gained the shouty M5 exterior bits, the early cars are understated in a nice way, yet still potent. I’ve especially always been a fan of the Style 19 BBS wheels on the early Sport cars, but the follow up wasn’t bad, either. The turbine Style 32s mimicked Alpina’s signature style, but looked right at home and as if they were always intended for the E39.
But this car has some other items going for it that the first didn’t. While both are M62/TU 6-speeds and carried the M-Sport suspension, this one also has the M-Sport steering wheel and sport seats. The downside?
Sport, M-Sport, Sport, M-Sport, Sport, M-Sport. Choose your title! More research and some comments from our astute readership seems to confirm that the official title of this car is 540i Sport in the USA, though it includes items labeled as M-Sport within that package. Thanks to everyone for their commentary and following!
Starting in late 1999 for the 2000 model year, BMW replaced the “Sport” package on the E39 with the newly recycled “M-Sport” moniker. Of course, the M-Sport had been seen on the E34 before and carried M-bits over to the normal 540i model. This was much the same for the E39; moving forward, the M-Sport models not only got the upgraded suspension and larger wheels associated with the sport package, but also gained a M-Sport steering wheel, shift knob and door sills. However, it wouldn’t be until the 2003 model year that the M-Sport reached its full potential when BMW slotted the M-Technic bumper covers on to create a ‘M5 light’ once again.
In between, there were minor changes mostly notable for different wheel designs. In 2001, for example, the Style 66 wheels were used. Staggered at 17×8 in front and 17×9 in the rear, the wheels mimicked the design of the Style 65 18″ M5 wheels minus the second set of split-5 spokes inset. These wheels were also coincidentally the optional winter wheel package for the M5. But without the bigger bumpers and M-Parallel wheels associated with the 2003, the 2000-2002 models were much more understated in their approach and to most aren’t quite as desirable as the M-Tech’d models.
Of course, when you find a showroom fresh one with only 1,890 miles, maybe that doesn’t matter?
As I mentioned in the M635CSi post recently, some of the confusion about these “M” branded models came from the nomenclature between the E24 and E28. While the M6 and M5 co-existed in the United States market, they did not in Europe. This left the M635CSi to be the equivalent of the M6. But the same was not true of the M535i. This model was sold as a more affordable alternative to the M5; most of the look of the Motorsports model but without the bigger bills associated with the more exotic double overhead cam 24 valve M88/3. Instead, you got a 3.4 liter M30 under the hood just like the rest of the .35 models. The recipe was a success, selling around 10,000 examples in several different markets – but never in the U.S..
Instead, the U.S. market received the 535iS model. The iS model was specific to the North American market and gave you the look of the U.S.-bound M5, with deeper front and rear spoilers, M-crafted sport suspension and sport seats. It, too, was quite popular – between 1987 and 1988, just over 6,000 examples sold in the United States alone, and of those, a little more than half were the preferred manual variant. One of the nice aspects of the 535iS was that if you enjoyed colors other than black you were able to order the lesser model in any shade you wanted, unlike the M5.
Today’s 535iS is a bit special, as it’s combined the two models into one in an exhaustive recreation of a European market M535i starting with a Zinnoberrot 535iS:
My recent M5 v. Alpina B10 post took a look at two exotic versions of the E34. Of course, BMW offered their own alternative to the M5 late in the production cycle, as the introduction of the M60 V8-powered 540i produced nearly as much usable power as the more expensive M variant. Such was the success of the 540i that BMW initially judged the M5 dead in this market; it was removed from the U.S. in 1993 after slow sales and wouldn’t return until the new millennium.
As a result, the 540i flew the 5-series performance flag for two generations and still is very popular today. Especially in Sport versions, the E34 and E39 540is offered power, refinement and outstanding chassis dynamics in a package that was attainable for more people. So which is the better buy today – the first or second generation?
Just the other day, I wondered what kind of large wagon you could still buy. The Mercedes-Benz E-Class and recently introduced Volvo V90 seem to be the last two holdouts in what was once a robust market of longroof models. Back up a decade, and you could add the Audi A6 Avant and 5-series Touring/Sport Wagon to the mix, and both are still quite desirable in their last form.
With forced induction and plenty of technology as well as a sport ride, both the Audi and BMW entrants into the marketplace were expensive alternatives to the rest of the now traditional “Sport Utility” lineups. And both sold in very small numbers, giving enthusiasts precious few options to choose from when it comes to the used market. In the case of the BMW, the most desirable models are the M-Sport models offered late in the run, and they’re not frequently seen. So much so, that when this one popped up I was certain it was the same 2010 I looked at recently. The color combination of Tiefseeblau Metallic and Natural Brown Dakota combined with the M-Sport package seemed too unlikely to immediately come across again; yet, here we are, with a VIN only about 100 after the recent example. Is this one a winner?
Like the M535i from the other day, the 318ti continued BMW’s expansion of M branding to pedestrian models. That plan included inclusion of a new down-market economy model; the 318ti Compact. The new hatchback platform brought the pricing of the small executive into the teens (just), but the only engine available – the 138 horsepower M44 1.8 liter 4-cylinder – proved just adequate motivation. Though big brother power wouldn’t come to the chassis, the Sport, Club Sport and later M-Sport packages added BMW Motorsport DNA into the E36/5. Subtle styling revisions included M3 front bumper cover, revised rocker panels and a diffusor-inspired rear cover. The Club Sport and M-Sport received special mirror covers and integrated fog lights, as well, along with the M-Sport suspension. Inside, special sport seats with Millpoint fabric (red in the case of the Club Sport), along with an M branded wheel and shift knob, helped to remind the driver that they were in the sportiest of economy BMWs. And the basic package was fairly good to begin with, in spite of the power shortfall; Car and Driver rated the 318ti Sport second in its handling competition, though it should be noted that it lost to a front-wheel drive Honda.
These 318ti M-Sports have developed a bit of a cult following as a result, offering economy car sensibility and cheap repairs with M3 looks – and, for many, a great basis for motor swaps down the line:
(Editor’s Correction: Though I originally listed this car as a M-Sport, it’s really a 135is with the Sport package. However, the equipment package on this car was renamed for the 2009 model year to M-Sport. This car does feature the upgrade 740 M-Sport suspension.)
It’s hard to judge the performance value of the BMW 135i M-Sport 6-speed as anything other than very tempting in today’s market. Get beyond the styling for a second and look at what this car comes with; stock, the twin-turbocharged N54 inline-6 pumps out an impressive 302 horsepower and matching torque, giving you E46 M3-strata performance. Equipped with the M-Sport package, you got shadow line trim, a black headliner, sport seats, M steering wheel and shifter, M door sills, and the M-sport M264 5-spoke wheels unique to this model. While performance wasn’t turned up, the 1M was no slouch, capable of sub 5-second 0-60 times. Admittedly, it is not the most beautiful product that BMW produced in period, but in gussied-up M-Sport form it is certainly more purposeful than the standard 128i your boss’s secretary ran out to get the moment it was off-lease.
But the real beauty of the 135i M-Sport is the price. Some dip into the mid-teens or occasionally below, but even a pristine one like today’s example hits the market below $25,000. A generation newer than the E46 M3, it offers plenty of sport, reasonable practicality, more affordable repairs and one could argue that it’s a bit of a sleeper compared to the S-motored cars:
Taut, restrained and handsome. These words come to mind when describing the E38 platform 7-series, perhaps one of the most successful BMW designs in recent memory. In short wheelbase form with the M-Sport package, which adds sport seats, firmer suspension, shorter final drive, M-Parallel wheels, sport steering wheel and Shadowline trim, the conservatively styled executive express takes on a slightly more menacing look and feel. Owing to the marvel of depreciation, these cars can be had for a fraction of their original cost. While bargain-basement examples are tempting, they probably hide gremlins that will cost the asking price again to put right. Best to pay up front for a nice one, like this lovely looking example for sale in California.
There’s an entire sub-culture of automobile enthusiasts that MUST have everything wagon. And for those people, there have long been many options to choose from – expect recently. Since the 2000s, the number of wagons available to U.S. fans has dropped off a cliff so that today precious few are left. I detailed what I felt was the height of the market last year over at The Truth About Cars.
Today, enter the marketplace and there are very few options left. The staple Audi A6 and BMW 5-series wagons have left the market, as has the regular A4. Sure, today you can finally get an all-wheel drive Golf Sportwagon that was promised for so long, but outside of that, you’re left really with the Allroad, the expensive and numb (but potentially ridiculously quick) Mercedes-Benz E-Class wagon, or the BMW 3-series.
Options for the 3-series have dwindled as well as the price has increased. From rear-or-all-wheel drive a few years ago with multiple engine options, only two remain – you have a choice or gas, or diesel. The Sports Wagon has gotten pretty ridiculously expensive, too – starting at $43,000, it’s not hard to break $60,000 when you start to add options (which you’ll see below). Even more ridiculousl is the naming convention, to the point of I’m not sure what the word order is in the title of these cars anymore. Seriously, consider our first example – the “2017 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon M-Sport Individual”. Or was Individual first? Or M-Sport second?
Nevertheless, these wagons remain popular among sport-minded German car freaks who need to carry more than just themselves. Today I have two interesting blue options to consider – one a special-ordered Individual in Laguna Seca that is brand spanking new, or a lightly used Estoril Blue Metallic example. Which is the one to have?