It\’s a Process: Choosing the Right Car

As some of you may have noticed, my contributions to the site over the past few weeks have been a bit scarce. It goes without saying, but I had something in the works and it required my full attention and time.

With the turn of the year my wife’s Audi was destined to exit (finally) and this would free up a spot for a new vehicle. The instability in the economy and fuel prices hitting a 5-year low got me thinking as to what my options were. I have been, and still remain, a huge proponent of the BMW Advanced Diesels. I have been eyeing a nicely optioned 335d for sometime now, as many of you know. The timing just did not work within the window I had established so it was a no go. But with the end of the year push, when dealers and manufacturers are trying to close out the books, some of the best deals can often be had.With BMW offering some nice incentives, timing for a new car could not have been better (for us).

I began going down the list of my options in the BMW family of vehicles. My requirements were simple: sport package, manual (yes I know the 335d does not fit this but that car was my one exception), room for four and have the ability to carry my mountain bike.

I mulled over a John Cooper Works MINI Clubman but just could not see myself spending that much money for that car. While in its own right it is a great car and fulfills a market need, it was just not what I was looking for at that price point. I am also not a fan of those barn doors. The next logical move would have been looking into a 135i, but who said that I was logical?

With all the fanfare the 135i has deservingly received, it would have been something worth investigating. It would have been if it had more than 2 doors. While I currently have no children, you never know what can happen within the next year and trying to move a car these days is not the easiest thing (Unless you happen to be one of the world’s foremost experts on the MINI and have a prime example of what that car should be; I digress). So out went the 135i and all coupes, leaving just sedans and sport wagons.

Having spent 50k miles behind the wheel of my 530xit, I can tell you it is a fine car and is great for everything. Everything, except feeling connected to the road. My one complaint about the car is that the steering is a bit light and feedback from the road is minimal. The self-leveling rear suspension is nice for moving heavy things and keeping the car at the optimal ride height but it makes spirited driving a bit of a guessing game at times. It is time for a change. So, hopping back into the same model, though now powered by the N54 twin turbo, is something I decided against.

With that I was left with was the remainder of the 5 and 3 series lineups, specifically the 550i, 535i, 335i or the 328xit (sport wagon is the modern name). Having just picked up a 328xi in Munich for my wife this past October, even though I tried my best to get her into the wagon then, made me want something more.

To be continued…

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  • Mike

    I see you own xi’s but RWD options are on your list. Where are you geographically located? Given your economy/fuel points, the history of AWD ownership (Audi and xi’s) and income level I’d guess Northeastern USA, but I hate guessing. I ask because your location will reveal the expected weather conditions for your area and might settle the i vs. xi consideration…further narrowing your list.

    I’d suggest scratching the 550i and consider adding the 535i xDrive, 335i xDrive or X6 xDrive35i to your list potential purchases.

    On a personal note…I really hate the new “xDrive” nomenclature.

  • Mike,

    Your guess was spot on about the North East, I live on the NY/CT border. Having had several RWD and AWD vehicles I can say that either (with appropriate tires) serve my needs well. I have already made my selection and the vehicle is in the garage; I think it will surprise a few people and that is why I wanted to re-trace “the process”.

    I am not a fan of the xDrive nomenclature as well BUT there is a reason. Even though we don’t want to hear it it is b/c BMW has sold the most AWD vehicles over the past several years and yet consumers are not aligned with the xDrive name b/c the cars have been XI and the SAVs X#. So in the end it is marketing and the remainder is due to the US not wanting engine displacement in the name of vehicles.

  • JonPD

    Good write up Michael, will look forward to part 2. Interesting to see the critical thinking process of others in action when it comes down to the highly individual process of picking the right car.

  • lava

    Why a JCW clubman? Why not just a Clubman S? Its not like you are looking at an M car…?

  • Lava,

    If I was going the MINI route I was getting a JCW. I have already owned an MCS and while it was a fine car adding the extra weight associated with the Clubman I felt the JCW was a better overall product to fit my needs. I was not overly enamored with the Clubman to begin with so the JCW was the only sell for me. It is a nice car but I felt myself wanting to like it and still it just never grew on me.

    While I had not officially ruled out ///M cars during my initial search they were on the high end of my budget.

  • raj


    There are some low mile E39 M5’s out there compared priced like a fully loaded 335. I was just looking at a 2002 w/20K miles in Seattle for $35K. Car was like new. Unfortunately it was sold. Just a thought.

  • Raj,

    I think Gabe may be looking for a different sort of car than I am…. but thanks for the heads up! Also, when looking at E39 ///M cars be sure to have an independent mechanic that specializes in these cars take a look and listen to the car, that engine while great was very particular and needed to be seated properly (even more so than todays engines).

  • lava

    If your needs were to put a bicycle in the back a JCW or clubman S don’t much matter. If your needs were to go really fast, thats a different matter, but it does not really fall into the “needs” category so much as the “wants”..

    Sorry, I have a friend that is an engineer, supposedly very rational, but comes up with all manner of rationalization to make getting what he really wants sound like it was a logical decision. You’re giving me the same vibe.

  • Lava,

    There is no way I am putting any bicycle in the back of any car, that is what racks are for. I happen to pedal a Maverick mountain bike and it gets muddy if I am riding it like I should.

    I think it goes with out saying that I want to go fast as I eliminated the 128i and 328i from my choices, not what I needed to fulfill my wants. Heck if we all bought cars that only fulfilled needs we would all have Smart cars and what fun would that be!

    As I said I wanted to like the Clubman but I couldn’t; even in JCW guise. If I am not going to like that how am I going to like the S? It is just not my cup of tea, the rear doors really agitated me as overly gimmicky, they could have upgraded the suspension or put on an aero kit for the same amount of money those doors cost to engineer and build.

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  • lava

    Sorry, I’m primarily a road cyclist myself, and while I have a rack I almost always prefer an in car transport to hanging it out on the rack (mud aside – done that too). I assumed that was what you meant since you can rack on almost anything.

    Any how, “needs” was your term, not mine.. beg your pardon if I’m reading you wrong.