J New Reader
Feb. 3, 2011 7:43 p.m.

Short version: I think I want a BMW (leaning toward E46 330i sedan w/manual and sports pack if I can find one)

Long version: I have an 03 Neon SXT with most of the bolt ons + coilovers and I want to take the car further, but in order to do so, I need another car for a DD while the neon is up on blocks...

The car needs to seat 5 (slightly more rear passenger room than the neon) and it needs to be manual trans. After than it gets into wants....200-300hp, prefer RWD, but would consider AWD. Want LSD but doubt that will happen. Prefer light and simple! Budget is 10-16K. Needs to be reliable and not cost an arm and a leg to maintain... main canidates: e36 - e46 3 series, WRX, MB C230, Audi A4.

WRX rear seats are smaller than neon but has tons of potential. Resale is high and most version are beat thoroughly. Easier/cheaper to maintain and modify.

C230 worried about cost of maint and all those electronics.

A4- questionable reliablity...expensive to maintain

which leaves the ultimate driving machine. There are plenty of decent e46s in my price range... but when you narrow it down to RWD/Manual/sedans the list narrows considerably.

I test drove an 04 325i and was not impressed..admittedly the roads were crap so I couldn't push the car. I sat there for about 10 min just pushing buttons trying to figure out what they did. When I finally left the parking lot, the clutch uptake was abrupt (something I can get used to, but with such a long pedal stroke, I figured it would be more gradual). Once I got moving, I noticed the heavy steering and everything just felt solid but isolated from the road. Car seemed to accelerate okay, but there wasn't any noticeable "sensation of speed"...I was going 70 on the interstate and didn't realize I was going that fast (bad roads remember) and didn't realize I was still in 3rd cuz I couldn't hear the engine or exhaust (radio was off). Speaking of gears...Holy long rows, Batman! (The neon has STS which made it seem even longer). But the brakes were amazing.

I love the looks of a Bimmer but walked away with a ho-hum driving impression. I expected more from all the rave reviews it gets. And it was even worse when I got back in the neon and sped off with the tail swinging around and a huge smile on my face as I could feel exactly what the car was doing.

I want to test drive another BMW when the roads are dry and I can push it a little and maybe find "the ultimate driving machine". I am not sure if it is familiarity or the old addage of driving a slow car fast vs. driving a fast (not really though) car slow, but the neon is nothing but smiles and I jsut haven't found that with the BMW (even the 05 WRX I test drove last fall didn't put a smile on my face like the neon does...but maybe if I drove the WRX like I drove the neon it would...until I wrecked or got my liscense yanked). Maybe I can find an e36 with out a bazillion miles on it?

If I can't find something that meets my needs/wants/budget that gets me excited to drive, I may just get an "appliance" so the wife can drive it too, she refuses to learn to drive a stick ...

Ideas? Advice?

mad_machine SuperDork
Feb. 3, 2011 8:35 p.m.


You are not going to find an LSD in any BMW save the M-series since 1996. I know, my Febuary 1996 318ti is one of the last non-Ms with an LSD

4cylndrfury SuperDork
Feb. 3, 2011 9:04 p.m.



MitchellC Dork
Feb. 3, 2011 9:08 p.m.

Heck, in that budget, you will probably be able to find an M3/4/5 (4 door, 5 speed).

This one looks pretty nice.

Duke SuperDork
Feb. 4, 2011 8:17 a.m.

I have a 2004 325i ZSP (sports pack) manual and I think it's a fantastic daily. I find the steering very communicative, the chassis is nicely balanced, and the ride quality is very good considering the handling. Knock out the locating pins in the tops of the front strut towers and dial in some negative camber. I autocrossed it in D Stock for a few seasons and my only real complaint was too much body roll, and maybe the lack of LSD. I have RE-01Rs on it for most of the year (and autox) and some old Alpins on it in the winter.

It's not overwhelming in acceleration, but it's got plenty of sauce for daily driving. The M54 is a little smooth and quiet, but it will happily make power until you smack into the limiter, and don't we want smooth? Get a cat back system if you want more noise.

Get or make a clutch stop puck to lose that bottom inch of pedal travel, and the takeup feels much better. The throws are somewhat long and uncrisp (all BMW manuals seem to be like that) but it won't take long to get used to that.

Somebody mentioned the IS300 but I felt about the Lexus exactly the way you do about the 3 series. I was very underwhelmed with the dynamics and it was way more expensive than its obvious role model, so I went for the BMW.

1988RedT2 HalfDork
Feb. 4, 2011 8:31 a.m.

I think the BMW thing is about "balance", even though that's the excuse you often hear from owners of slow cars. My wife got an E36 convertible last spring for a sunny day car, and I admit to being seriously let down by the lack of oomph. Granted, my perceptions may be influenced by my FC turbo rotary, but still, I was expecting more from "the ultimate driving machine". Still it's a pleasant enough car, and pretty well suited or its intended purpose.

And yes, BMW over Lexus any day.

Feb. 4, 2011 8:40 a.m.

E36 M3

DukeOfUndersteer SuperDork
Feb. 4, 2011 8:41 a.m.
Giant Purple Snorklewacker wrote: E36 M3

watch your language!

mtn SuperDork
Feb. 4, 2011 8:48 a.m.

I'd be looking for a Legacy Spec B, you gotta give up RWD for AWD though: http://sacramento.craigslist.org/cto/2184284663.html

Others that come to mind to consider: Mazdaspeed 6 (AWD), Cadillac CTS (I've even seen early high mileage V's for 15k), Volvo V70R/S60R (AWD), and uh... Well, thats it. We were looking for something similar (but with 16-20 year old drivers in mind) and ended up having to give up AWD/RWD and got a SAAB 9-5.

If you give up the stick for the sake of the wife, you can put yourself into Chargers and Chrysler 300's which are a satisfying drive as far as appliances go, if you would consider it an appliance. Like or leave it looks though.

J New Reader
Feb. 4, 2011 6:57 p.m.

I found a few is300 manuals within a 200 mile radius, but not really impressed with the looks and have read so-so reviews.

That E36 M3 looks real nice and if it was within 200 miles of me I would probably snatch it up.

I have considered the Legacy too, but most around here are autos. All the cool cars are on the coasts and I am stuck in Omaha, NE. I did find a 330i in Sioux Falls that I would like to go check out...I will just keep an eye out and keep test driving until I find something I HAVE to have...until then, I will just keep beatin and buildin on my neon...

On a side note, I work with a national ranked auto-x and she has an STi and her hubby has a 135i and she was commenting on how much more expensive the same parts are for the BMW...they call it the "BMW tax".

J New Reader
Feb. 4, 2011 7:06 p.m.

Oh, I actually like the Chargers...wish they would throw a proper manual trans in one! And maybe shrink them down to 3/4 scale...

By the time RWD makes a comeback, cars will be too heavy and have too many electronics to be fun anymore. Simple, light, RWD, manual trans...like a Miata for a guy with a family

How much fun would a RWD SRT4 be?

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