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lnlds
lnlds Reader
2/20/22 11:16 p.m.


I've been on and off lusting after N/A E90s since one of the neighborhood kids let me ride in his and I followed one on track last summer.
 

Contestant #1

https://www.facebook.com/marketplace/item/461133835689868/?referralSurface=messenger_lightspeed_banner&referralCode=messenger_banner

Dark grey-clean appearing
Listed 9.5k, 119k miles, 6-speed Full cooling system refresh done, oil filter housing gasket, belt, tensioner, pulley, tires < 6 months. Owner only owned for a few weeks before realizing he doesn't have time for it over other projects/life (S2k and bugeye in background of one picture) 
 

Contestant #2

https://www.facebook.com/marketplace/item/669840337695451/

Silver car, located in NYC, small quarter sized door dings, mild front corner scuff on front bumper, clean overall appearing car, but less clean than the first one
Listed 8.5k, 45k miles, 6-speed. Aftermarket exhaust, clean title, new water pump, new thermostat. Oil pan gasket, valve cover gasket, new brakes, new clutch.


My current stable:

  1. 2001 Celica GT-S 6-speed
    • 207k miles
    • Have to double clutch 4th on downshifts, A/C doesn't work (undiagnosed)
    • Revs to 8250 rpm
    • Rock reliable, owned the car for 10 years
    • Reliable and fun on track
    • Clutch done at 115k miles
    • Shocks at 166k miles
    • Hatchback utility
  2. 2007 TSX 6-Speed (wife's car)
    • 77k miles
    • Was a one-owner car
    • Likely best car I'll own
    • Can fit both kids in car-seats
    • Koni yellows, Race header, Intake box, hondata reflashed

 

Logically our next cars should be a minivan/3-row for family excursions, and then a miata/gr86 type fun car. The tsx is only a set of ground-controls and camber arms away from being a fanstatic honda. I don't plan on getting rid of the TSX unless it gets taken from me.

We don't drive much, so any car change is for my own enjoyment. I want to see what BMWs and RWD were about and this seems like the last reasonable way to get into one, but owning 2 sedans doesn't make much sense. The only practical advantage is the E90 is safer than my celica, and can serve as a back-up family car if things change where we have to take turns shuttling the kids to and from day-care. The second one seems like a "free car" for 5 years if nothing is wrong with it, but every new used car is a gamble.

What would you do GRM? Look at NC miatas instead? Enjoy the last rwd, i-6, hydraulic steering BMW? Do the right thing and get a minivan as the next car?

 

Edit: Listings added

Cactus
Cactus HalfDork
2/20/22 11:28 p.m.

I had one with turbos. It needed new turbos within a year of me trading it (way down, but for something I may never get rid of).

 

I kinda want to get an NA model, but they're still a little too much money for my cheap ass (with a stick anyway). They're a little more maintenance heavy than most Japanese stuff, but it's not hard to work on them. They're great daily drivers, but as a fun car? Go for a test drive and make your own judgement.

 

And a low miles car street parked in NYC has probably lived a harder life than a high mile car parked in a driveway somewhere.

02Pilot
02Pilot UberDork
2/21/22 7:01 a.m.

I've lived in the vicinity of NYC my whole life, and I would never buy a city car unless it could be documented as having spent its entire life in a heated garage. The first one sounds like the preferred option to me, though I suspect you can find better. At that mileage, you might be looking at a water pump and thermostat, valve cover gasket, plugs if they haven't been done, possibly coils too, and dampers. Otherwise, they're pretty solid platforms. Find a sport package car if you can - it's worth extra money just for the seats.

SKJSS (formerly Klayfish)
SKJSS (formerly Klayfish) PowerDork
2/21/22 8:42 a.m.

My daily driver is a 2011 128i 6spd, which shares a lot of components with the E90.  Should you get an E90 based car?  In a few words....HELL YES!!  I've owned a crap ton of daily drivers and my 128i is unquestionably among my favorite.  The steering feel is superb.  The engine is smooth as silk and so is the gearbox.  I wouldn't call it "fast", but it's quick enough.  Very comfortable for long drives, and I average about 28mpg...lots of highway and some country roads.  

I would love a 135i for the extra power.  However the N54/55 reputation is less than stellar.  The N52 is the way to go...they're pretty damn solid motors.

ZOO (Forum Supporter)
ZOO (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
2/21/22 9:20 a.m.

Being an enthusiast is a bit like appreciating excellent food, wine, or scotch.  You are willing to make some tradeoffs for the things you enjoy.  As a long time BMW owner and enthusiast, the tradeoffs that the BMW asks for in exchange for its brilliance are worth it.  You can mitigate some of those tradeoffs, such opting for an N52, and your experience won't be compromised.

E90s are terrific.  My sister runs a 2011 328 x-drive with a 6-speed.  I would ignored the x-drive for years.  But I've driven hers quite a bit, in both dry and snowy conditions.  It is way better than I expected as a die-hard RWD BMW guy.

Aspen
Aspen HalfDork
2/21/22 10:35 a.m.

E91 6spd.  It will cost you though.  Or ZHP sedan, they are going up in value.

docwyte
docwyte PowerDork
2/21/22 10:59 a.m.

I suggest you watch the Savage Geese review of his E92 M3.  He talks about the pros and cons and the cons are pretty significant...

Driven5
Driven5 UberDork
2/21/22 12:14 p.m.
ZOO (Forum Supporter) said:

As a long time BMW owner and enthusiast, the tradeoffs that the BMW asks for in exchange for its brilliance are worth it.

As a longtime Miata owner and enthusiast, after my 1st year of 128i ownership, I couldn't disagree more about the 'brilliance' of BMW. They're not bad, but far from great, and their engineering has been blinded by their own brilliance to the point that they outsmarted themselves... Choosing unnecessarily complex 'solutions' that could have been more simply solved without the drawbacks. The deeper I dig to try to take it from 8/10 of a great car to a 10, the more I realize that it wasn't actually an 8 to start with.

If you want something redundant to the TSX, I suppose an E90 is an ok choice.

If your youngest is front facing (or will be soon) and you want something complementary to the TSX, I personally would look elsewhere.

I'd recommend not only driving one to form your own opinion on the driving feel, but also looking into all of the engineered shortcomings that you'll be facing as well.

02Pilot
02Pilot UberDork
2/21/22 12:46 p.m.

In reply to Driven5 :

I'm quite curious as to which aspects of the 128i you are referring. I don't disagree that BMW has a tendency to solve problems that weren't really problems, but - at least in the case of the 128i - I'm quite happy with the final product in spite of them. Any elaboration would be appreciated.

chandler
chandler UltimaDork
2/21/22 1:38 p.m.

Also, a 128i driver and agree with the above. It's a very good little coupe.

SKJSS (formerly Klayfish)
SKJSS (formerly Klayfish) PowerDork
2/21/22 2:00 p.m.

I definitely think you should go drive one and see for yourself.  I couldn't disagree more with Driven5.  The 128i is one of the last "great" BMWs before they started focusing more on luxury.  I think the car is far above an 8/10 stock.  But that's just my own $.02.  Go drive one and see.

ZOO (Forum Supporter)
ZOO (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
2/21/22 4:43 p.m.
Driven5 said:
ZOO (Forum Supporter) said:

As a long time BMW owner and enthusiast, the tradeoffs that the BMW asks for in exchange for its brilliance are worth it.

As a longtime Miata owner and enthusiast, after my 1st year of 128i ownership, I couldn't disagree more about the 'brilliance' of BMW. They're not bad, but far from great, and their engineering has been blinded by their own brilliance to the point that they outsmarted themselves... Choosing unnecessarily complex 'solutions' that could have been more simply solved without the drawbacks. The deeper I dig to try to take it from 8/10 of a great car to a 10, the more I realize that it wasn't actually an 8 to start with.

If you want something redundant to the TSX, I suppose an E90 is an ok choice.

If your youngest is front facing (or will be soon) and you want something complementary to the TSX, I personally would look elsewhere.

I'd recommend not only driving one to form your own opinion on the driving feel, but also looking into all of the engineered shortcomings that you'll be facing as well.

Sadly Mazda doesn't make a 4 seater, RWD car any longer.  And their last attempt was sadly let down by choice of powerplant (speaking of shooting oneself in the foot).

Byrneon27
Byrneon27 Reader
2/21/22 6:29 p.m.

Two E90s in my household. The 328xi is brilliant. The 335i is more brilliant and just infuriating enough to keep me interested, interestingly enough much like the 328xi's owner. 

 

They're the beak between "classic" and modern BMWs and in my opinion grab up many more of the good points than the bad

RyanGreener (Forum Supporter)
RyanGreener (Forum Supporter) Reader
2/21/22 6:30 p.m.
Driven5 said:
ZOO (Forum Supporter) said:

As a long time BMW owner and enthusiast, the tradeoffs that the BMW asks for in exchange for its brilliance are worth it.

As a longtime Miata owner and enthusiast, after my 1st year of 128i ownership, I couldn't disagree more about the 'brilliance' of BMW. They're not bad, but far from great, and their engineering has been blinded by their own brilliance to the point that they outsmarted themselves... Choosing unnecessarily complex 'solutions' that could have been more simply solved without the drawbacks. The deeper I dig to try to take it from 8/10 of a great car to a 10, the more I realize that it wasn't actually an 8 to start with.

If you want something redundant to the TSX, I suppose an E90 is an ok choice.

If your youngest is front facing (or will be soon) and you want something complementary to the TSX, I personally would look elsewhere.

I'd recommend not only driving one to form your own opinion on the driving feel, but also looking into all of the engineered shortcomings that you'll be facing as well.

Really curious about the shortcomings. Care to share?

CyberEric
CyberEric Dork
2/21/22 7:10 p.m.

As a long time BMW fan, I get so excited about the E90 and 228i being the last great BMWs, then I see a 45k mile car that has already needed a oil pan and valve cover gasket, new thermostat, etc. 

Ugh. That's why Not don't buy them anymore.

That said, the driving dynamics are great. When I worked for a company writing about cars circa 2014, I drove an A4 back to back with an E90 328i. The BMW was better in every way. It felt like a true sport sedan next to the A4. I opened the hood after some spirited driving and saw oil spewing out of the valve cover and though, "Yep, that's about right."

RyanGreener (Forum Supporter)
RyanGreener (Forum Supporter) Reader
2/21/22 7:13 p.m.
CyberEric said:

As a long time BMW fan, I get so excited about the E90 and 228i being the last great BMWs, then I see a 45k mile car that has already needed a oil pan and valve cover gasket, new thermostat, etc. 

Ugh. That's why Not don't buy them anymore.

That said, the driving dynamics are great. When I worked for a company writing about cars circa 2014, I drove an A4 back to back with an E90 328i. The BMW was better in every way. It felt like a true sport sedan next to the A4. I opened the hood after some spirited driving and saw oil spewing out of the valve cover and though, "Yep, that's about right."

Ahh, I am an eyeing a base model E90 sedan that is RWD/manual and only has 50k miles. The old lady doesn't want it anymore (she just wants to buy a new car no problems as of now)....this is not encouraging :(

Driven5
Driven5 UberDork
2/21/22 7:26 p.m.

In reply to 02Pilot :

Drivetrain: Failure prone electric water pumps, failure prone oil pan gaskets, failure prone valve cover gaskets, failure prone oil filter housing gaskets that naturally leak oil onto the accessory belt, oil soaking the accessory belt is one of multiple known causes for accessory belt shredding with shreds known for being sucked inside the timing cover through the front seal and causing internal damage, expensive failure prone (3-stage) intake manifold valves, annoying clutch delay valve, poor clutch stop position, 2-stage muffler stays nearly silent even when the valve opens up.

Interior: Radio head unit display that stops working if it gets warm, and cheap a-pillar trim (at least on convertibles) that BMW couldn't figure out how to make not constantly rattle over even small bumps (even when the cars were brand new) but a bunch of nobodies on the internet could.

Suspension: Non-sporty 'sport' front camber (understeer), 'sport' wheels/tires staggered (understeer), 'sport' rear "sway bar" looks like a brake line and might as well be one (understeer), marshmallow soft and failure prone fluid filled front control arm bushings deflect under load (understeer), marshmallow soft rear subframe bushings that cause the entire rear subframe to effectively be a part of the unsprung mass that is entirely counterproductive to both ride and handling, and I've got some thoughts on the inadequacy of the rear shock mount design that I'll save until after I can validate them through testing later this year.

Miscellaneous: Car ridiculously requires re-coding in the ECU for what should be a stupidly simple battery change.

Performance Driving: Understeers like it's FWD unless heavily provoked, poor oil temp control can lead to sudden and severe power reduction in hot weather, sudden and severe power reduction if too much heavy braking due to the computer algorithm (no sensory inputs) thinking the stock pads would 'probably' start to fade soon, constantly changing pedal feel from the same computer (no sensory inputs) algorithms attempting to compensate for assumed brake temperature changes and fade.

My Miatae were a giggle even stock on the street. My Mustang was a giggle even stock on the street. The 128i is sporty for an appliance on the street, but has never really been the giggle I expected from one of the last 'great' BMW's... And was even less composed when pushed on a closed course.

If I had to describe the personality of the car I'd say that the simply BMW feels like it takes itself too seriously... Probably because the engineers behind it did too.

mikeatrpi
mikeatrpi HalfDork
2/21/22 7:38 p.m.

Wow.  I mean, you're not wrong Driven5.  Sounds harsh but in my 2 years of ownership I've experienced some of that.

 

I still love my 06 330i 6spd sport non idrive though.

RyanGreener (Forum Supporter)
RyanGreener (Forum Supporter) Reader
2/21/22 7:49 p.m.
Driven5 said:

In reply to 02Pilot :

Drivetrain: Failure prone electric water pumps, failure prone oil pan gaskets, failure prone valve cover gaskets, failure prone oil filter housing gaskets that naturally leak oil onto the accessory belt, oil soaking the accessory belt is one of multiple known causes for accessory belt shredding with shreds known for being sucked inside the timing cover through the front seal and causing internal damage, expensive failure prone (3-stage) intake manifold valves, annoying clutch delay valve, poor clutch stop position, 2-stage muffler stays nearly silent even when the valve opens up.

Interior: Radio head unit display that stops working if it gets warm, and cheap a-pillar trim (at least on convertibles) that BMW couldn't figure out how to make not constantly rattle over even small bumps (even when the cars were brand new) but a bunch of nobodies on the internet could.

Suspension: Non-sporty 'sport' front camber (understeer), 'sport' wheels/tires staggered (understeer), 'sport' rear "sway bar" looks like a brake line and might as well be one (understeer), marshmallow soft and failure prone fluid filled front control arm bushings deflect under load (understeer), marshmallow soft rear subframe bushings that cause the entire rear subframe to effectively be a part of the unsprung mass that is entirely counterproductive to both ride and handling, and I've got some thoughts on the inadequacy of the rear shock mount design that I'll save until after I can validate them through testing later this year.

Miscellaneous: Car ridiculously requires re-coding in the ECU for what should be a stupidly simple battery change.

Performance Driving: Understeers like it's FWD unless heavily provoked, poor oil temp control can lead to sudden and severe power reduction in hot weather, sudden and severe power reduction if too much heavy braking due to the computer algorithm (no sensory inputs) thinking the stock pads would 'probably' start to fade soon, constantly changing pedal feel from the same computer (no sensory inputs) algorithms attempting to compensate for assumed brake temperature changes and fade.

My Miatae were a giggle even stock on the street. My Mustang was a giggle even stock on the street. The 128i is sporty for an appliance on the street, but has never really been the giggle I expected from one of the last 'great' BMW's... And was even less composed when pushed on a closed course.

If I had to describe the personality of the car I'd say that the simply BMW feels like it takes itself too seriously... Probably because the engineers behind it did too.

Whoa! These are both N/A and Twin Turbo motor problems? (I know one is the N52)

02Pilot
02Pilot UberDork
2/21/22 7:55 p.m.

In reply to Driven5 :

I agree with many of your points on the drivetrain. I have no real experience with the stock suspension, as my car was already lowered and had upgraded dampers when I got it; I put in poly subframe bushing inserts and 1M/M3 control arms soon after I got it. With a good alignment I'm quite pleased with the suspension in its current state, at least for street use. Stock BMWs have been tuned for understeer for at least the last 25 years; I generally consider suspension upgrades almost mandatory. The battery replacement thing does serve a function (charging is regulated to maximize battery life) but I agree it's a solution to a problem that didn't exist.

It is certainly more serious than a Miata, or an older BMW like my 2002 or even an E30, but I've found it exceptionally competent for daily use. I guess I'm just more accepting of the flaws as part of the deal.

SKJSS (formerly Klayfish)
SKJSS (formerly Klayfish) PowerDork
2/21/22 8:43 p.m.

In reply to Driven5 :

Many of the drivetrain issues you describe are mostly applicable to the N54/55 engine, not so much the N52.  Yes, even the N52 is more maintenance intensive than a Honda, but they're pretty darn stout.  You'll see them with 200k+ miles routinely.  My car is at 136k miles and runs like a top.  It needs an oil pan gasket, which is certainly not something you'd see from a Toyota, but it's not tragic.  Yeah, it's pretty well known that most BMWs need cooling system refreshes around 100k.  It sucks.  If you go into ownership knowing what to expect, it's not bad.  The N52 is a generally reliable motor.

I agree recoding the battery is dumb as hell, but it's not that big of a deal.  It's also not completely necessary.

I haven't experienced any significant understeer in my 128i.  I haven't tracked it yet, but I plan to soon.  My experience with BMWs on the track is that they rotate pretty well.  In all my street use, the car has been fabulous on winding back roads.  Sharp turn in, great body control, very well balanced.

There's no "right or wrong" here, just opinion.  I've had 6 Miatae and about 6 or 7 Mustangs.  None of them were us much fun to drive as my 128i, especially the Mustangs.  The Miatae are fun, but too slow and too much body roll.  

toconn
toconn New Reader
2/21/22 9:40 p.m.

I've owned an '08 135i for 6 years now. It's not an E90 but very similar since the 1 series is based on a shortened 3 chassis and shares a majority of the same components. 

 

Overall: It's a good daily driver with some mild sporting and luxury characteristics. If you're looking for an engaging driver's car, these will leave you wanting. If you're after a refined daily driver that feels competent when you start hustling, they're not a bad choice.

 

Pro's: It drives well, it looks nice, and it still has a little bit of a premium feel still despite being almost 15 years old. For daily driver duty, it's an easy choice over something like a corolla. The chassis feels solid and the car will move impressively fast on the backroads. I like the size of the car too- good sight lines and it doesn't feel uncomfortably wide or long if you're in parking garages often. Semi-pro: once you get used to working on them they're not as bad as they seem - everything is actually pretty well laid out. Interior materials and exterior paint holding up pretty well to 15 years / 140k miles of use. 

 

So-So's: The controls are mostly So-So. Steering is often praised for being one of the last hydraulic systems in the EPS era but it doesn't actually feel that great to me, there's not that much feedback through the wheel. Credit where it's due though, the sport package steering wheel is phenomenal. Shifter is another so-so. It shifts fine and goes through the gears well enough but it doesn't like to be rushed. Throws are long and a little sloppy, again it feels fine but not what I'd call a sporty shift feel. I personally hate that BMW puts a no-lockout reverse right next to 1st on their shifter pattern but I won't hold that against them here. Brake pedal feels great but the 135i has its own fixed caliper brakes so your mileage may vary on e90 models. Clutch pedal feels good, especially after the clutch delay valve delete. Throttle is so-so. It responds well in most situations but throttle blips are slow to register and underwhelming, you have to be pretty deliberate with the gas pedal to get the rpm to bump up quickly. No rev hang between shifts atleast. 

 

Con's: The rear end wag is seriously bad. The rear subframe bushings have big gaping voids for additional compliance and replacing those with fully formed higher durometer bushings supposedly eliminates the issue, but I haven't done it yet to confirm. As it stands now you don't really notice anything when you're driving the car normally, but when you start accelerating or driving aggressively you can feel the back end start to push / wander around a bit under you. Then when you hit a mid-corner bump it gets real bad and you can feel the rear subframe undulating under the car and fighting the chassis. Another huge con is part cost & reliability. The N/A cars are admittedly a lot better here but not immune either. My N54 car has been pretty reliable despite the reputation but i need a new high pressure fuel pump and they're currently going for $800. Other common failure points: fuel injectors - $2600/set, electric water pump - $500, Vanos Solenoids are pretty cheap at only $360 for the pair. Valve cleaning needs to be done every 30-40k miles, lots of gaskets start going at 100k or so and some of them are a pain to replace. 

 

02Pilot
02Pilot UberDork
2/21/22 10:02 p.m.

In reply to toconn :

A couple relevant responses:

1) The HPFP, injectors, and intake valve cleaning are exclusive to the turbo cars. The NA cars are port injected and have none of those issues.

2) I've said here before that the Whiteline rear subframe poly inserts were the best hour and $50 I spent on the car, and nothing has changed. Anyone who owns one of these should do that job yesterday.

lnlds
lnlds Reader
2/21/22 10:23 p.m.

In reply to 02Pilot :
Agreed. I think these examples are priced higher than I'd want and the non-city example doesn't have the sports package. I also think there are a lot of upgrades I'd want to do to it on top of maintenance  (M3 lower control arms, get rid of runflats, get 5-series spare, milv while I do valve gasket) which would add quite a bit to my total cost of ownership)

In reply to SKJSS (formerly Klayfish) :
Seeing how the aftermarket took off with the N52s is what revitalized my interest in them. Cheap quality headers (roundel werk),  MILVs
, choice in manifolds 3-stage or N54. There's a dyno floating around of a 128i jumping from 201 whp to 248 whp with relatively minor bolt-ons. (Held power to 7.5k!) To me it seems like a great way to get into an *almost* e46 m3 for cheap.

In reply to Aspen :
No way ZHPs and E91s are dumb expensive for what they are. It's hard enough finding a regular E90 in rwd/6-speed/sports package to begin with. Most E91 I've seen are double the price, automatic, non-sports package, or x-drive.

In reply to docwyte :
Good call. I've watched it in the past quite a few years ago, but will rewatch it
 

In reply to Driven5 :
I think you also missed the starter going bad and having to pull off the manifold to replace it, and runflats riding harshly
 

 

Thanks for everyone's input. I think these cars are underappreciated at the moment and have great potential to be OE+ modified or "ZHP-ed", m3 lower control arms, header, manifold, milv would result in a fun street car with the right sounds and balance. But, I've decided to pour some more money in the TSX on fun things instead of needing to catch up maintenance on a new car. I'll try to drive one when I see a more compelling example (<120k mile, 6-speed, sports package car, with big ticket items done for ~7.5k).

Feel free to continue the discussion. Hopefully this thread will serve as a good resource other BMW-curious grm-ers. I've also added the facebook listing in the original post.

Driven5
Driven5 UberDork
2/22/22 1:43 a.m.

In reply to RyanGreener and SKJSS:

That non-comprehensive list is all specifically applicable to the N/A (N52) cars. The turbo (N55 and N54) each have progressively more concerns on the drivetrain front. It's not that any one of them are major issues or deal breakers, but rather the cumulative effect of them.

 

In reply to 02Pilot :

Yes, I'm still working my way through addressing as many of the faults as I am able to. Unfortunately, I'm also finding out for myself why BMW people are so afraid to run rear suspension frequencies that are common on other more sporting platforms. I've got two more things to try before giving up and backing off to either an Eibach/Koni or just stock/Koni setup as a last resort. 

 

In reply to toconn :

Glad to see I'm not totally off-base in my assessments. I think you're on the right track with what I'm struggling with. I bought this car expecting more of an enthusiast car that can be daily driven, and what I got was a daily driver that can be driven enthusiastically.

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