Car buying is a funny thing. For most, it’s based around practicality and need. For the rest of us, it’s based around something much more raw and emotional. I have been shirking my responsibility to provide RFD Garage content around here; my last entry was a raucous 2014 Focus ST. To rectify that, I went car shopping.
As I said, car buying is a strange part of most people’s lives. They don’t enjoy it, it takes too much time, and it’s generally a stressful experience. I love it. With few exceptions, I love every aspect of it. My favorite part is the research phase. My last daily driver was a 2014 Ford Fusion SE, a great car (same engine as the aforementioned Focus ST) but not specifically geared towards the enthusiast. We think Ford has altered that course with the 325 hp Fusion Sport, but we’ll need to drive it for ourselves to be sure. Anyway, back to the story, I decided to swap the Fusion for something else. But what? New? Used? Sedan? Coupe? Time to go shopping!
That’s when practicality factors into the equation, as it did with the Fusion. I’ve got multiple offspring, and they have things like “legs”, and “stuff”. So while a coupe could have been functional, it would more likely have been a pain in the ass most days.
Enter the sports sedan, the bastion of fun + practicality. So it had to have four doors, what else?
Well, any enthusiast worth his salt drives a manual, right? Some exceptions exist to this, but not many. Most are super expensive sports cars that don’t come with a manual. I recently slashed my commute from an hour and a half to something more like 20 minutes. So the reasons that I ditched the Focus for something more comfortable and easier to drive are gone.
Right, so manual sedan. What else?
Well, as much as I appreciated the front drive layout, it’s not my first choice. Wheel hop and torque steer are not two of my favorite things. Neither is understeer. So honestly I intentionally excluded AWD. While it’s grippy and functional, it’s not nearly as much fun. What’s the point of a track day or autocross outing if it’s not fun? So
Right Rear Wheel Drive it had to be.
That really limits the options, I’ll tell you that. This exercise was also intended to save some cash as well, so the budget was about $20,000. That would allow us to swap the 2014 Ford for something with a lower payment, which was win-win for everyone involved.
I really wanted a sedan with a big V8, 6speed, and RWD . That unicorn either doesn’t exist, was incredibly hard to find, or wasn’t in the budget. Dodge Charger? Automatic only. And a bit heavy if I’m being honest. Cadillac CTS-V? They’re out there under 20 large, but the mileage figures are pretty high and I was a bit worried about reliability. Chevrolet SS? Great car, very underrated, out of the budget. Ford? They haven’t had anything since the Lincoln LS. Which I believe I even looked for, but couldn’t find one with a manual.
Guess it’s an Import
So, while America was built on RWD, I had to look at the import market to find what I wanted.
Subaru: too AWD’y. Acura: no RWD. Infiniti: getting a bit too heavy. VW: no RWD.
Enter the dragon. I have always had a thing for the Lexus IS300. I got invited to a ride and drive event hosted by Lexus back in 2000 when the car was initially rolled out out in the US. Even with the auto, it was a pretty fun car to drive. The pro drivers they had on hand were able to get it incredibly sideways with us slackjawed riders holding on for dear life. I was hooked. I had my first job out of college and wanted one. Unfortunately I was on a Honda Civic budget and it didn’t happen. Fast forward to 2016 and you can pick up an IS300, with the very rare factory manual, incredibly cheap. Like less than half the budget cheap. Sounds like money for mods. So that was on the list.
But honestly, and judge me if you will, but even in good nick, a 15 year old car feels like…a 15 year old car. So while I loved the idea of a super reliable 2JZ-GE engine—which sounds like a mash-up between Jay Z and General Electric—the aging bits around it ended up being a deal breaker for a daily driver. RFD is still slightly infatuated with the IS though, so expect to see it enter the project car garage at some point.
Sheiza! It’s up to the Germans isn’t it?
Audi popped onto my radar for a second, used S4s are cheap. But they are AWD—and if I was worried about reliability in a CTS-V, this is a whole different ballgame. Mercedes makes some cool shit, and something with “AMG” on it would do nicely. But within the budget, it was some pretty old hardware being peddled by sketchy “we finance anyone” dealers that kept creeping into my cars.com search.
Enter the Bavarians. I’ve never owned a BMW. I figured Josh had that covered. But admittedly I’ve looked longingly at many a Bimmer and did the Obama-not-bad face. So I started to look heavily at my options, starting with the 5-series. Depending on your budget, you can get a great 535i or 528i sedan, with a manual transmission. But this go-around meant they were several years older than comparable 3-series options.
And if you’re going 3-series, you have to start with the M3. Figuring that Josh would immediately start recommending which ///M car to buy, I unleashed my criteria on him. I got an earful of “VANOS this” and “rear subframe that” which turned me off faster than a padded bra. Plus it’s tough to find a manual M3 sedan out there within budget. He instead started sending me relatively new 3-series sedans. The goal was to find a 3-series with a 6-speed and the M-Sport package. Obviously the letter “M” makes things better. And on the 3-series, circa 2011 you got:
- Park Distance Control
- Sport Suspension
- M Steering Wheel
- Aerodynamic Kit
- Shadowline Exterior Trim
- Anthracite Headliner
- Increased Top Speed Limiter
And found it we did, at a local Nissan dealer. Actually Josh found it. Thanks man.
Enter the winner, the 2011 BMW 328i E90 M-Sport.
I’ll try not to wax too poetic about this car. It’s only got 231 hp, which if I’m being honest, it’s a ton. But it only weighs about 3300 pounds, which is much less than two tons, and pretty light for a sedan (or just about any car these days). Its also the last year that BMW used two critical things. Naturally aspirated 6-cylinders and hydraulic steering. The latter I forgot just how much I missed. Steering on this car is a revelation, it takes much more muscle to point where you want it to go, but my God it feels like it is wired to your brain via your arms. Every thing the car senses through the tires is transported directly to the part of your cerebellum that dictates which way you steer next. You don’t need the rest of your brain, turn it off. Just like the car lead the way.
This is all expounded upon by the suspension, of which this car benefits from some upgraded M goodies. Combined with that ridiculously good steering, this car is a blast to drive through the twisties. The engine, while not exceptionally powerful like other cars that wear the M badge in anger, delivers enough to keep the car moving quickly. While delivering pretty decent gas mileage (18/28), if you’re into that sort of thing.
And the seats. Oh, the seats. Manual adjustment, they sit nice and low with bolsters that you can tighten right up against your rib cage. Because track day. And if you’ve had too much Mexican food, widen those suckers right out. It’s heavenly.
The M-Sport package, as described above, is partially aesthetic of course. Unique wheels, front and rear bumpers, shift knob, and some interior bits round out the look. Parked next to a more pedestrian 3-series of the same era, and it’s clear that this car is special.
I won’t spend too much time on this, we meant to have this article as an intro to the new garage entry. We’ll do a full video review soon, if nothing else to document the “before” version of this 328i. We promise it won’t stay stock too long, so keep an eye on RFD for more as this project gets under way.
Overall, I have rarely come across a used car—particularly a 5-year old used car with 0ver 70,000 miles—in better shape. So it’s time to get to work, watch this space for more 328i M-Sport content. It’s light, normally aspirated, and still has hydraulic steering.
Is this the last of the true BMW sports sedans?