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BMW 3-series (1991-99)

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15 Reviews
  • Question marks over gearbox reliability
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    15 Reviews
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      11.01.2009 21:57

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      Much better than an N Reg Fiesta

      I own a bottom of the range 3 series (1996) thats definitely near the end of its life but Im still blown away by it! The ride quality, driver comfort and power are all superior to newer cars I have driven. Everyone rants and raves about how expensive BMWs are to maintain but the only real cost is the actual service, everything else including parts and labour is reasonably priced once a BMW reaches this age. The fuel economy isn't aweful, even a badly maintained beamer like mine can get 40MPG in built up areas and 50MPG out on the road.

      Be cautious when purchasing one of these, they all have a fault where the engine sits too far back under the bonnet and the head gasket goes every 75k miles because there is nowhere for its heat to go. If the car has low mileage or you know the last time the headgasket was replaced then I wouldn't worry about it.

      The car is extremely reliable, I've broken some pretty crucial parts and its just kept going. I've driven it for months not knowing that the CV joint was cracked and my radiator was virtually useless yet the engine took the heat.

      When I get rid of this car its going to be difficult to stop my next car from being another beamer.

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      16.03.2003 18:21
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      • "Question marks over gearbox reliability"

      Don't get me wrong - I like BMWs. But they've got to have the six-cylinder engine. That distinctive engine note just does it for me. So, for this reason alone, the four-cylinder ones just don't cut it. A feeling reinforced after a few days with a friend's 1995 316i auto. This, the E36 model, was sold in the UK between 1991 and 2001 (the saloon between 1991-98, when it was replaced by the current model). Despite the fact that early cars are now 12 years old, prices haven't dropped significantly below £2,000 (compare that with a 12-year old Sierra or Cavalier, average price £400) and the desirability is still right up there at the "want one" level. Early cars didn't have body-colour bumpers and were criticised for being too plasticky inside and out. So from the 1994 model year all cars had body coloured bumpers and side skirts. This particular car, from early 1995, is the base model so lacks the lovely multi-spoke alloys of the SE model but still looks excellent in gloss black. The proportions are superb - check out how little overhang there is between the front the of the car and the front wheels. If you want something even better looking, the coupe or convertible are for you, but at a price. Inside you have the usual excellent, informative BMW dashboard, but I was alarmed to find that the fabric on the base of the driver's seat of this car (only 52,000 miles and two owners) was wearing through. I hope this is not typical. It's worth bearing in mind that this car's light grey cloth will show the dirt quite badly, and the plastic backs of the front seats get easily scuffed. Not a lot of room in the back either (but that's always been a 3-series hallmark - if you want more room you buy a 5-series, clever eh because either way BMW walks off with your cheque). A good way to tell a well-looked-after Beemer is to check if the glovebox-mounted rechargeable torch or toolkit (mounted in the
      underside of the bootlid) are still present and correct. They will usually have been "removed" by previous owners, so a one-owner car from new or a low-mileage example should still have them. This car had the torch but the whole toolkit was gone. Also, unfortunately, there was no service book, but if you run the chassis and registration number past a BMW dealer their computer should be able to give details of any work done there. The specification of this car is usual BMW - the bare necessities (electric front windows, central locking, electric mirrors, ABS) but everything else is on the options list. This particular car had (obviously) the four-speed automatic gearbox and an electric steel sunroof (plus the black paint), none of which will have been cheap for the first owner. So what's it like on the road. Well, I know the 50/50 weight distribution allows for near-perfect handling balance. I know the multi-link rear suspension curbs excessive oversteer that affected the earlier 3-series models. But this is not the Ultimate Driving Machine. No, paint it white and fill it with semi-skimmed, because a 316i with the automatic gearbox is the Ultimate Driving Milkfloat. I couldn't find any performance figures, but I would estimate 0-60 to be in the region of 15 seconds. That's leaving the auto in "D" but engaging the Sport mode, so it upshifts at 5,500rpm. This way you get a lot of noise (it's quite smooth for a four-cylinder though) but very little in the way of forward motion. I know that by teaming a 102hp 1.6-litre engine with a power-sapping automatic gearbox and putting it in a heavy body you don't expect a McLaren F1, but this car vies with my father's old 1990 Vauxhall Cavalier 1.8GL auto as being the slowest-accelerating car I have ever driven. Even my 1978 Ford Fiesta 1.1L, with half the power (but half the weight) felt more lively. I could live with the lack of performance from r
      est if it was matched by overtaking flexibility, and here is where an automatic usually scores - you just press the throttle to the floor and it kicks down a couple of gears to leave you straight in the power band. But again, the BMW didn't impress - kicking down at 25-30mph (as you would if you were overtaking a moped, JCB or tractor) gave a lot of engine noise for a second or two as the engine wound it's way to 5000rpm (just like a slipping clutch) before drive was restored with a bit of a thud. This may point to a question mark over the reliability of this particular car's gearbox, but certainly you don't get this sort of delay in my father's Vectra 1.8 auto. I would therefore be worried for my friend who has just bought the car, as earlier BMW autoboxes didn't have much of a reputation for longevity. So, to sum up, this baby Beemer is probably ideal for those who potter round town or sit on the motorway all day. Me? The engine/gearbox combo spoilt it for me, but I wouldn't mind trying a manual version to see if that's better. But I think only at least a 320i would do...

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        10.07.2002 09:59
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        The forgotten Bmrrrrrr ? The 1996 is the only BMW I have found with the 1.9i Multi valve M44 engine. Produced for only one year this car is a rare little number. Extra power and smoothness belies the small ( for BMW ) engine. Yes it is heavy and slowish... 0 to 30 in 3.6 secs slow that is. Draw backs.. none .. it is a standard E36 coupe body and parts. Special.. they all are. The usefulness of the car is that you have coupe style with saloon funtionality. The back seats far from being an added extra will accomodate a large adult with ease. The boot is big enough for the family shopping and the split rear seats a boon for larger items that will "post" through the boot opening. All in all a big car with a big heart thats fun and practical. Yes it is expensive to repair, but thats not too often. Overall would not seem to be any more expensive than the bog standard car to run and maintain.

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          05.03.2002 05:27
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          I'll admit I didn't even want to get the car. It was my dad's idea. As we always know dad's are wrong, but there is an exception to every rule, and I found it. Eventually he convinced me to take a look at it, and I am was very very pleased. I'm only 19 but I'm not the proud owner of a 1991 H-Reg 3-door 316i Lux BMW. It was worth it purely for the fact it's a beautiful car and makes you feel good just to drive it. I found the bite on it hard to get used to but apart from that it's just a dream. It handles beautifully and it loaded with features. I got PAS, electric windows, central locking, alloys, fog lights, electric sunroof, 8 speaker stereo system, and all at a price to die for! to cap it all off it had only done 28k miles, kept in top notch condition. Now everywhere I go people comment on what a lovely car I have. some have even offered to swap cars with me :) But I think I'll be sticking with my shiney BMW for a while. It's comfortable, like a lovely pair of slippers that have been worn to fit your feet, and only your feet, perfectly. It's not the most economical car around but it is a 1.6i after all. MY first car was a Mazda 323 1.6i anyway so I'm used to it. Insurance doesn't come cheap either, unless you have a very stupid dad who puts you on his ;) If you've never driven a BMW before I recommend you do so, and if you but one you will not be disappointed!

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            07.09.2001 21:52
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            I've recently bought my first BMW. It's a N reg 320i and I love it. I was lucky to find one with only 34k on the clock, as they're mostly used as fleet cars. Although I might not understand all the technology, and anything is an improvement from the Orion I had before, I couldn't rate the car highly enough. Firstly, it has the excellent build quality you can expect from BMW. The car feels like it was built to last. The interior is devoid of crappy plastic facias, and although the main display is starting to look a little dated, everything is easy and clear to read. The seats are comfortable, although I find it more comfortable to drive a long haul than be in the passenger seat. There is plenty of space, with no trouble having 4 adults, and only minor squashing with 5. The boot space is more than ample, managing to fit in all our tent and gear when we went to the Grand Prix earlier in the year. When driving the car feels responsive, and accelerates really well for a car of it's size and class. (I read another comment about hot hatches easily out accelerating them, they're bound to though, think of the weight difference). I thought the insurance cost was going to be astronomical, especially as I'm only 22, but it was affordable. I also haven't found the running costs to high, doing about 35mpg. It had it's first service (well in my ownership time anyway) and the guys at the BMW garage were extremely helpful and had the car ready and polished on time. More than anything it feels right though, and runs a very close second to my husband for my affections!

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              10.12.2000 19:49
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              I see these overpriced and overrated German cars everywhere these days. Why people buy them is beyond me. I've never driven a foreign car in my life, and I never will. It was a sad day when the indigenous British car industry went down the tubes. Even our famous marques like Jaguar and Rover are now foreign owned. It's way past time that we began to take pride in our own products. We should stop buying this foreign c**p.

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                13.11.2000 06:06

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                I've driven and owned many cars over the years but this time its love. My last car was a Land Rover Discovery and it was probably the worst car I have ever driven. It only lasted 6 months before I found the love of my life. Its a 98 325se and what a fantastic drive it it. German engineering is certainly the best this car not only looks the business but it also drives that way. The car handles fantastically and goes round corners like its on rails. The engine noise that is created at high revs sends a chill through your bones and the acceleration is fantastic. The build quality is second to none, the car really feels well built, when to close the doors you hear a very satisfying "clunk" rather than the more usual "tinny" sound that most cars make when the doors are closed. The only downfall that I can see with the car is the lack of space. For a family car it really can be a bit tight but the other benefits far outweigh this. Buy one and see!

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                12.10.2000 05:15

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                The BMW 318 is a lovely car to drive, I have only had mine for six months and I can only say that it is the best car I have driven. The handling is excellent and the traction control system ensures that the full power is always delivered rather than being wasted on wheel spin. The cars build is like no other, it must be one of the most solidly built cars around. Before purchasing this vehile I was considering the Audi A4, but after test drives I was sure the BMW was the car for me due to its handling capability. Also the ride comfort is very good and the controls and instrumentation panel is well laid out. Overall an excellent car that I would recommend to anyone.

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                24.09.2000 23:13

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                I dearly wanted to love my BMW. The sharp lines and precision build appealed to my head, but the driving experience did nothing for my heart. The 3-series is reliable, honest and trustworthy, but it is also expensive to run and unrewarding to drive. The steering, uncorrupted unlike front-wheel drive cars, was pointy and direct. The power and suspension are super smooth. But the car is heavy and so it rolls into corners and brakes poorly. It can be out-accelerated by any teenager's hot hatch unless you go for a large-engined option and this only makes the experience more expensive! Handling is polluted by grippy yet unresponsive supension. The suspension failure and leaking fuel tank did nothing to improve my BMW experience. And honestly, the styling is looking dated now, even on the latest incarnation. I tried a Z3 but I couldn't get over the image problem. I'm not a hairdresser. In the end I had to go to Italy to find the styling flair and driving finesse I need.

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                22.08.2000 22:29

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                I bought a second hand one of these recently, and am generally very happy with it. The model I went for was the 320, housing a beautiful straight 6 engine (I found out later that this is the base model that comes with the great engine!). After taking it for a test drive, and hearing the noise under the bonnet, I was sold on it! Its expensive for its age, but this is due to demand for it, being a popular model, so re-sale value should be better than most. BMW servicing is steep, but with a car that is several years old, you can be forgiven for using other reputable Garages, as the re-sale value should not be affected too much! The car itself drives superbly, with a very willing engine, and responsive steering. Bearing in mind the rear wheel drive, I do tend to take increased care when cornering in the wet. Figures for MPG are rated at about 30mpg on average, but round London, I get 24 or so (thats what the mpg'o'meter says anyway!). One other dodgy thing worthy of note perhaps is the 'clutch judder' that can happen sometimes when the engine is hot. I have read about this happening to many other people, on the internet, and my sister (driving a 325is) also claims to have it happening to her, even when her car was new! Its not too serious, but can be an irritation! On the whole though, an excellent car, that oozes quality. I'm glad I chose this over a cheaper make!

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                14.08.2000 22:13

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                This is a great, but relatively expensive car to own. You can pick up an M-reg for around £12k including leather, air con, etc. So what's so good about a BMW 3 series coupe? EVERYTHING! It truly does everything well - it's comfortable, extremely well made and if you choose one of BMW's 6 cylinder engines you'll have the pleasure of driving a superbly smooth and muscular vehicle. If i were you i'd go for the 328i as the extra horsepower is certainly worth it. My 325i is no slouch but i've driven the 328i and M3 and the performance is noticeably better in the two models. The M3 remains an expensive car to buy and maintain - if you're considering an R reg vehicle this will set you back in excess of £25k and you may be better off saving for the NEW 330Ci which is only half a second slower and a great evolution of the coupe. The BMW 3 series coupe is practical but does not compromise on style or driver satisfaction. It will happily seat 4 adults in reasonable comfort although the boot is not huge. Go for the through loading seats for maximum flexibility also opt for as higher spec as you can - leather, aircon, full body colour, etc. This will ensure maxmimum re-sale value. Things to watch for - transmission, scuffed alloys, worn tired, interior trim on early models. Check the door handles to make sure they've not come loose, also the illumination / dash. Make sure the aircon fan is working properly - a common fault is that the transistor blows. Try and opt for non standard alloys but make sure they're BMW - others look tacky. Avoid non standard body kits and remember - many 3 series coupes look more sophisticated WITHOUT that rear spoiler / brake light!!

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                11.08.2000 23:58

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                Gotta be the best car I have ever owned. Solid, looks good and comfortable what else could you ask for. Everyone knows what the car looks like so there is very little point me going on about the slick curves and shape of the 318 opps there i go. Before buying bear in mind your going to need deep pockets as nothing comes cheap on these babies and any repairs etc are going to cost a fortune if carried out by BMW. One thing i have found is that the car tends to perform like a world figure skating champion in the slightest of wet conditions. That said if you cant afford a new one, like myself, for a good price you'll be able to pick up a used beemer and know its not going to be a donkey. I could go on for ever about the car but trust me you wont go far wrong with one of these

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                25.07.2000 04:30
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                As i'm in the trade I have driven hundreds of cars and I can safely say that this is one of the best. At the moment I have an L-reg 318i which i have been using for a few months now. Reason for this is that I know it will always get me around to different places and never let me down. Through winter it always started and I recently went away for two weeks, came back and started first time. If you want reliability then buy one. They may be expensive to own and run but if you way it up against a Mondeo or Vectra etc. then over the years the costs will balance out. I would advise anyone looking with five to six grand to spend, to go out and get an L-M reg 318i, dark colour, good spec with sensible miles (up to 100,000). The one I have at the moment has 125,000 miles and drives like 40,000. Don't be put off with higher mileages because these are built to last. Take my word for it. BigLee

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                  24.07.2000 20:03
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                  I'm in the motor trade, which means I have driven hundreds of cars and I can safely say that this is one of the best. At the moment I have an L-reg BMW 318i which i have been using for about 6 months now. Reason for this is that I know it will always get me around to different places and never let me down. Through winter it always started and I recently went away for two weeks, came back and started first time. If you are looking for reliability and safety then buy one. They may be expensive to own and run but if you way it up against a Ford Mondeo or Vauxhall Vectra etc. then over the years the costs will balance out. It would be adviseable to anyone looking with five to six grand to spend, to go out and look for a 1993/94 318i, in a dark colour (navy metallic is good), good specification (sunroof a must, don't touch one without) with sensible mileage (up to 100,000). The one I have at the moment has 127,000 miles and drives like 60,000. That may seem excessive for a lot of cars, but don't be put off with higher mileages because these are built to last.

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                  14.07.2000 20:32
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                  My husband and I are on our second BMW 3 series and we love them!! The first was a couple of years ago, it was a '91 automatic and was the best car we have ever had. Smooth, comfortable, good looking , economical and just a good car altogether. We would never have sold it except my husband set his heart on a Ducati 916 he'd been offered (men) and so it had to go. This May, however, about 4 cars later, we got chance of another BMW 3 series, manual this time, so we got it. Our car previous was an automatic and , to be honest, I didn't want to go back to a manual. Both hubby and I dislike driving really and we loved the auto but he wanted the Bimer, so we got it.(men...lol) First time I drove it though, I forgave him!! It's so smooth you almost forget you are even changing gear!! It's as good as our auto if not better! So, luxury, comfort, smoothness and looks. What more could you want? (except perhaps a bigger, more accessible boot)

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