2008 BMW 135i: Spoiled by the N54 or; Why I wouldn't buy an E46 M3 or; Why Sadlier is off his rocker.
February 13, 2009
Last week Associate Editor Josh Sadlier went all Tom Cruise on us. (Although he did it via internet tubes instead of Oprah's couch, but hey, we take the soap boxes we can get.) He's in love, it's cute. But it's also scarred a scary amount of psychosis on his already shredded psyche. Like Katie Holmes, I think he's got Stockholm Syndrome.
Following the jump will lead you down a path to understanding why the 135 is a fantastic drivers car. Why the M3 is overrated and why Sadlier needs an M3 intervention. (That, or it'll be a fantastic waste of about 5 minutes.)
1) Old BMWs smell: Every BMW more than four years old smells like crayons. It's an acrid burning smell that certainly causes the driver's brain to melt. I need to carry aspirin and drive with the windows open in our M3 just to tolerate the excellent drive. They also smell like old oil as every single one of them has spare oil hidden somewhere in the car for when the light inevitably turns on. The 135 smells like new car and burning rubber. Maybe it's just ours that smells that way. Whatever, it was worth it. (Neither Sadlier nor Editor In Chief Oldham mentioned the smell when picking the M3 as his darling. No idea how. Too much M3 stink to remember?)
2) Old BMWs are expensive: Service Inspection II is over a grand. And that's just periodic maintence. When things break it's even more expensive. The 135 still has a warranty.
3) The interior on the M3 is sad: Some call it patina, I call it old. The buttons sort of stick and the plastic is scratched and worn virtually everywhere a human could touch.
4) The M3's shifter is BEAT: The clutch is in similar shape. Each time I take that car I'm sure that this will be the clutch's final ride. When we tested it with the new tires, the driver asked, "Is the clutch going to survive this?" 135's shifter is light, precise and unabused. Just like the clutch. Go ahead and rip a no-lift 1-2, it can take it.
5) The E46 M3 looks dated: Yeah, I said it.
6) The 135 has an iPod adapter: The M3 has a cd changer. In the trunk. This is 2009 people, going fast doesn't need sacrifice anymore. If I can go faster with more convenience features I'm going to.
7) Sadlier has a beard: Kind of. Who do you trust: an upstanding gentleman with a new haircut, or some guy with a beard who went to school in Massachusetts?
8) The title item N54 engine: Useable torque everywhere. And unlike the S54 it doesn't sound like it's about to spin itself into oblivion. You're worried about CERN's LHC creating a black hole? It's more likely that an S54 would do it. The N54 is the strong, quiet type only offering a dull whir when pushed to the limits. It's less engaging than the S54, but also more refined and less frantic.
9) M guys: Like buying a Corvette or a Mustang or a Ferrari, when you buy an M car you have to buy a jacket with the M badge on the back. And the keychain with the M. And some cool M badges with the colors of the German flag instead of the M stripes. And you've got to wave at other M cars. And then you've gotta disapprove of every other fast car for not being an M. It's a vicious circle and I just don't have the time to join a cult. Drive a 135 and nobody looks. Ever. It's under the radar masquerading as a chick car.
10) Love ruins everything: Sadlier and others in the office love the M3. They love the image it offered when new. They love the direct feel and feedback. They love the performance advantage it used to have over virtually everything. Love is blind and if you fall into its trap you'll soon be the same way. The 135 offers a better ride, better interior and more features. It's faster and less harsh. It's also soulless. I don't care about soul. I want to go fast and be comfortable. It's why I don't own anything British.
At the start of the M3's long term test I was excited, the E46 was on my short list for a weekend toy. It's not anymore. I just don't love it enough to deal with the flaws. I'll still gleefully take the keys on a clear day and head to the mountains, I just don't want to own one.
Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant