While there wasn’t much of a contest between the E28 M5 and E34 535i, by the end of the E34 run the 540i M Sport was – for all intents and purposes – a M5 without the S38. BMW upped the ante to 400 horsepower in the new E39 M5, once again widening the gap to the 540i model. But the successor E60 545i offered 330 horsepower with matching torque in 2003 alongside the outgoing E39 and once again the gap in performance became much smaller. That gap was made almost impercievable in 2005, when BMW revised the E60 with the increased displacement in the N62 motor. Now sporting 4.8 liters from the N62B48, the new “550i” now had 360 horsepower and 361 lb.ft of torque – a much better match for the S62. What was perhaps more amazing was that the new N62 also nearly matched the torque of the new E60 M5’s S85 V10. But while that screaming V10 produced far more horsepower, the peak torque was reached only at 6,100 revolutions – hardly practical in your daily commute. In comparison, peak twist on the N62 came at a much more realistic 3,400 r.p.m.s, and on the fly these 550is were – and still are – seriously quick sedans. They also introduced the next generation of design language and computer technology into the 5-series. Some love the look while others lambaste the design. While it’s certainly not my favorite 5, at least it’s distinctive and different in a world full of cookie-cutter designs and dare I say I think it may look better today than it did new – perhaps a testament to its avant garde lines. While the lust-worthy V10 captures the imagination of enthusiasts, day to day the 550i is likely as fast 95% of the time and much cheaper to get into and run. The thing is, is this the one to get?
While there’s no doubt that the E9x M3 was instantly recognizable as the replacement for the outgoing E46 model, there was an inconvenient truth that had snuck into the lineup: weight. Part of what had made the E30 such a curb-hopping maniac was that lack of heft even with all the accoutrements. By the time the E92 launched, the M3 had put on nearly 800 lbs of weight.
To motivate it the extra mass, BMW did effectively what it had done to create the S14 from the M88; it took its top-tier motor in the S85 V10 and removed two cylinders. The result was the S65 V8 and 414 horsepower was on tap for your right foot’s pleasure. That was a monumental leap from the E46; when the E46 launched with 93 horsepower more than the prior generation, I thought there was no way BMW could do it again. But they did, tacking on 81 horsepower to the prior generation’s total without forced induction. BMW topped the E46’s specific output per liter, too, besting 103 in the E9x – in a package which was 40 lbs lighter despite two more cylinders. Impressive, indeed.
Granted, if you were plunking down $60,000-odd worth of your hard earned credit, you’d want amenities like power seats, a nice radio, air conditioning – the normals that made it a better road car to live with day-to-day. The original purchaser went fairly light on options; it’s got cloth seats, no sunroof, no navigation…in fact, really pretty few options were ticked. But one significant one was; of the 15,799 came to the U.S.. 8,299 of those were post LCI cars like today’s example. 6,235 came as manuals (both pre- and post-LCI). 865 were sent through BMW’s Individual program and painted a variety of colors, and this is one of 43 that were finished in Dakar Yellow.
For a while, if you were a diesel and wagon fan, you had some options; Volkswagen graced us with a manual TDi Jetta and Golf five-door, Mercedes-Benz floated the E-Class over here, and last but not least was BMW. The F31 launched in 2012, replacing the E91 we just looked at:
2011 BMW 328i xDrive Sports Wagon 6-Speed
It was larger in pretty much every way, but also took on a more aggressive stance. It looked lower and meaner than the E91, especially when outfitted with M equipment. Gone were the manual and six-cylinder options, but you did get the option of selecting even more trim lines and a diesel, to boot. That’s exactly what we have here; a well-optioned 2017 328d xDrive, representing the end of F31 production. As the G21 hasn’t yet arrived and there’s currently no wagon available from BMW, nor are there plans to bring the diesel over yet, this really represents a unique opportunity:
Truth told the E91 isn’t a particularly rare car. There are plenty up for sale every day of the week, and of those that you can find for sale today, the all-wheel drive 328i xDrive isn’t particularly rare, either. But what is not seen very often is the combination of those two factors plus a stick in the center console which can be articulated in 7 different positions. That’s right, we have a unicorn manual! Such is the frequency with which these are referred to by the mythological term, you’d be forgiven for thinking that BMW dealers had a special option box that you could select for your unicorn badge.
Salesman: Now that you’ve selected all your other options, I’m going to tell you about one final “dealer special” option we can offer you – but it’s only for select, and discerning customers!
Rich Plebian: Uh, okay, what is it?
S: It’s the not offered to public “Unicorn” option
RP: “Unicorn”? Like, horned mythological beast?
S: Yes, exactly. The Unicorn Package is option code 785.
RP: Okay, what does it get me?
S: You get to tell everyone how unique your mass produced car is.
RP: Wait, it gives me special powers?
S: No, you just get to say that your car is more special than the other cars that are exactly like it.
RP: Well, people have always told me how special I am, so sign me up!
Thus, when it comes time to sell your unicorn package car, you too can tell everyone that this was the only one that’s like it! Except for the other ones that are like it. But don’t mind them. Let’s look at this one!
Often we ignore really modern cars on these pages. It’s not necessarily that they’re not exciting – often it’s quite the opposite. For me, it’s just that they’re not exciting to see for sale because they’re still effectively cars that you can walk into a dealership and buy. And I’m sorry, while they can thoroughly out-perform older cars in virtually every way, you can’t just walk into an Audi dealer and buy a brand new Quattro, can you?
But impressive these cars are, and if you can look down the road so to speak at having one as a potential special car in the future, you can balance a hefty discount from new with near-new status and have quite a savings over stock, too. When the F8x BMW M3 and M4 launched, they were loud, proud, and…well, large. Park an M4 next to an original M3, and you can nearly hide the entire older model behind the silhouette of the new one. But when the G80 was launched recently, well…suddenly meet the new boss had me looking at the old boss in a new light. And the S55 is still good for 425 horsepower – and it’ll still rip your face off. 0-60 is gone in 4 seconds and it’ll demolish the older generations in a straight line. So let’s check out the signature tone with unique interiors in two very different configurations:
Following in the footsteps of the Z4 sDrive28i I just talked about, let’s check out the changes from the 1-Series to the 2-Series. As with the Z4, turbo inline-six power continued in the M235i, which was effectively a restyled 135i with a N55 with a touch more twist and more weight. Purists may decry that an M badge crept into the lineup but the reality is that if you drive one of these turbocharged small BMWs, and I own a 135i Sport, they’re worthy of the letter. Whether you agree or not doesn’t change the fact that one thing was notably absent from the revised 2-series – the normally aspirated N52 was dropped in favor of the N20 in the ’28’ model. So they were cheaper, right? Well, yes and no. This 2016 228i Coupe we’re looking at today stickered at just shy of $33,000; hardly cheap, but one of the cheaper BMWs you could buy in 2016. However, this particular 228i didn’t leave the dealership in the 30s, thanks to a healthy dose of optional equipment that has left it one of the more unique configurations I’ve seen. Let’s take a look:
The E23 has always been a design which to me has been quite polarizing. As with the E12 and E24, Paul Bracq was heavily involved in the final design and it shows – in many ways, the E23 looks like a cross between the two that was scaled up 10%. The results of that in my mind weren’t always good. Growing up, my father had both E24s and E28s, clean looking, well proportioned designs, and when I first saw an E23 I remember thinking it looked a bit ungainly. In U.S. specification, the bumpers were too big and the wheels were too small, resulting in a car which appeared heavy, sagging and sad. When he’s really upset, my son manages to invert his lip and stick it out, tears streaming down his cheeks. It’s a look which nearly mimics the U.S. spec front end of the E23 I now recognize. However, in European trim the E23 made more sense – it looked lighter, smaller and better proportioned. While not as stately as the W116, it certainly looked a fair bit sportier outside and more modern. Couple those European-market looks with some great period BBS RS wheels and the look is just about perfect; throw in the turbocharged M106 motor and you’ve peeked much interest. Of course, unfortunately the M106 was only pared with an automatic transmission – but then, what would happen if you swapped that for a 5-speed?
Every once in a while, something pops up that surprises me. So I’ll start off by saying that I had no idea that this model even existed. ‘What?’, you say – and rightly so, as I just looked at an E89 Z4 Roadster a few weeks ago:
2011 BMW Z4 sDrive35i
Ah, but that was the turbocharged ’35’ model, and while I knew there was a lower-specification naturally aspirated ’30i’ model (the same engine configuration was called ’28i’ in the E8x/E9x at the same time, making things more confusing). What I didn’t realize is that model was short-lived, though I suppose it should have made sense. The 2-Series went to four-cylinder power with its introduction in 2014, ending a long line of naturally aspirated inline-6 power in BMW coupes. But the change had already happened in 2012 in the E89; the N52 was dropped in favor of the N20. That should give you a clue as to displacement; this ’28’ was now 2.0 liters with a turbocharger. That probably sounds like a bit of a disappointment, but in typical German fashion it was pragmatic. The N20 was shorter, lighter, more fuel efficient, and effectively, just as powerful. Output was down to 240 horsepower from 255 with the N52, but torque was up to 260 lb-ft – 40 more than the N52, and while it can’t out-stump-pull the N54/N55’s numbers, for argument’s sake the 2.0 put out the same twist as the S54. Better still, while a majority of these engines were hooked to the equally pragmatic and efficient ZF 8-speed automatic, you could get a six-speed manual. So here’s one of the chosen few so selected:
Another day, another modded 2002. Like the E28, the 2002 is just one of those cars that looks great in stock form and awesome when turned up a few notches. Case in point? Today’s ’70 ‘Roundie’. This car was just a plain ’02 that has been modified with Turbo-style flares and a front valance, small bumpers, a reupholstered interior, and an M42 under the hood. It sounds an awful lot like the last one I looked at:
1974 BMW 2002
While the last car had a few things that I was less favorable about, to me today’s example looks just about perfect. And perhaps the best part? Not only is the heavy lifting done, but the asking price isn’t in the stratosphere:
BMW’s naming convention went all wonky (even wonkier, perhaps?) after 2010, as they moved away from the previous ‘iX’ moniker to the new ‘xDrive’ nameplate. To make normal models seem equally special, or perhaps to keep German badge makers employed, they then introduced a new model option – ‘sDrive’. While you might at first think this stands for ‘sport’, you’d be wrong. In fact, the ‘sDrive’ is like Audi’s ‘FrontTrak’ – a fancy name for a two-wheel drive model. Does that automatically mean rear-drive? No. You can, for example, get a brand new 2020 BMW X1 sDrive, which means front-wheel drive, but ostensibly the name is associated with the rear-drive-only Z4 roadster, as we see here.
The revised E89 Z4 launched in 2009, and gone were two things – the M variant, and the coupe, which was replaced by a folding hardtop design. Europe got a plethora of engine choices, but in America we got two, essentially shared with the E8x series – the sDrive3.0i and the sDrive3.5i. As with the E8x and E9x series, the “3.5” wasn’t actually a 3.5, but the twin-turbocharged N54 under the hood. Unlike both of those other models, though, the N54 was not replaced with the N55 single-turbo motor after 2010. Instead, the N54 soldiered on. Also unlike the E8x and e9x models, while there was a ‘is’ model launched that turned up the twist to 1M levels of power, in the Z4 that engine choice could only be had with a seven-speed DCT gearbox. That means that this car was the most potent form of the E89 you could get at the time with a manual transmission: