A few months ago I went on record in saying that I needed to go bigger. I needed to move from my E46 3 Series ZHP as the family in residence to something with more space. Today I’m happy to announce I found my solution. But first, lets back-up.
What does a BMW enthusiast do when a 3 Series proves too small? Naturally start looking at the 5 Series. That’s exactly what I began to do about two months ago thanks to the happy addition of another child to the house. But the constraints of a sedan wouldn’t do. I needed something with more utility yet something that behaved as if it were a sports sedan. Enter the E61 5 Series wagon.
As many of you know, finding the right wagon among a series of black on black 528i sedans was going to be a challenge. Of course I didn’t want just any wagon but a 535ix with the sport package and Navigation. As it turns out, that was a relatively tall order. The one thing I was prepared to give up on was a manual. Yes, for the first time in my life I was looking for a BMW without stick. I’ll spare you all the rationalizing and leave you with just this, with two kids and a load of God-knows-what in the back, 300 hp and a quick sifting six speed auto does a better job of soothing the frayed nerves than almost anything else.
With my marching orders complete I set out to find the car. My search began on Cars.com, Autotrader and of course eBay. It quickly became evident that I’d have to travel quite a distance for the perfect low mileage used 535ix. My target was anywhere from 30k (optimistic) to 40k. That meant it would likely be a 2008 to 2009 535ix. As expected it was a sea of similarly equipped non-sport packaged cars with unimaginative color combinations (i.e. black and black). However, within a week of looking I stumbled onto one in my back yard that looked perfect. A CPO-ed 2008 535ix with under 40k on it for under $30,000. Offered by a local car dealer (and not a BMW dealer), the wagon was clearly priced to move. And move it was about to as I was the third person to call about the car just two days after it came in. Luckily for me I was the only serious buyer within 1,000 miles.
That meant I had the hometown advantage and quickly headed over with money in hand. What I got was a Dark Silver 535ix with black interior (you can’t win them all) loaded with the sport, cold weather and premium packages. The car had had all the N54 related maintenance (the three pack as BMW mechanics call it) as well as having an additional CPO warranty.
At the end of that day I was the owner of a $67,000 four year old 535ix for less than $30,000. Thank you America for not wanting to pay for used BMW wagons.
Mods have been few of far between. Just hours after it hit my garage it had the 18″ M Sport wheels and Continental all-seasons installed and some subtle M Trim added (taking away the rather offensive metal trim on the sport package steering wheel). And of course, as with most of my cars, the ceremonial de-badging. There are plans beyond that but things will remain as subtle as a 5 Series deserve.
So what’s it like to go from a E46 ZHP (which ended up being sold after a bidding war) to a 4,000 pound wagon? Astonishingly, not bad. The E61 has a surprisingly delicate steering feel and great weight to it. The xDrive system is almost entirely transparent yet has already been a big help through snow. The N54 coupled with the compliant and capable six speed auto is both utterly comfortable and shockingly quick.
Above all it’s also a great family car. There’s space, conviencnce and style on top of the performance that I expected was there.
In fact the only real problem I can see with the E61 (not counting the unnecessary complexities it has over the 3 Series) is how badly it depecriates. The proof is in the price I bought it for. In less than three years this $67,000 car had lost over half its value. That’s a shocking statement to be made of any car – let alone one this exceptional. As a second owner I know I’ve insulated myself to some degree but clearly this is a car that isn’t afraid of depeciation.
The price paid makes the things like the unexpected poor MPG (mid-teens in city traffic) and a hopelessly out of date iDrive system seem like almost meaningless issues.
Is it the perfect car? Driving the ZHP or even the 1M in my garage and getting into the E61 can be a little shocking. There’s less intimacy and more of everything else. But for its purpose of blasting down highway fully loaded I’ve never owned anything that comes close. The combination of comfort and performance is eye-opening when coming from a smaller BMW. And the unique qualities of the E60 family are (at least at this point) rather endearing.
Look for more updates on this and other cars in the BF garage throughout the year.