BMW E36 is the beast on the road


What you need to know:

While he got the BMW E36 cheaply and it drives like a beast; too good for a 1997 make, its spare parts are costly. These cars are seemingly superior, why do some people steer clear of them? 

BMWs are Germans, naturally, therefore, they are built like tanks, especially the versions you (BMW E36) and I possess - I own an E34 525i four years older than yours. These vehicles, I believe, were the apogee of BMW’s car building campaign.

Their respective successors, the E46 to your E36 and the E39 to my E34, were the last time BMW gave us real BMWs despite their foibles: the E46 lost the driver engagement that was the pride and defining characteristic of the 3 Series line, but by God, the car was desperately good to look at.

While the E39, one of the best-looking BMWs ever made, came with electronic issues but it democratised Steptronic technology to middle management types whose bonuses were healthy enough to get them a large German saloon, but not enough for them to upstage senior management who flexed their net worths by going the James Bond way of slinging E38s, which is another BMW that I desire not so secretly.

After these cars came and went at the onset of the 21st Century, BMW went mad. Their lead designer at the time, one Chris Bangle, bungled up the looks by dishing out atrocities such as the E60 5 Series, which is ugly whichever way you look at it, and the E65 which was released specifically to unsettle sufferers of OCD such as myself.

They did not stop there, they had to introduce iDrive, which sounds like an Apple product but was much more inconvenient to operate (this has since been improved and is one of the best user interfaces to be deployed in a car, but let us stay on theme).

They started making their current crop of N Series engines which are such a load of manure that, I kid you not, I was once offered a key-to-key trade by someone frustrated to the end of the tether by their N-powered 3 Series they thought my 400,000km Panzer was a better proposition. Of course I refused, and it rubbed them the wrong way.

There was the E60 M5 which came with 10 cylinders that nobody asked for, accompanied by a fearsome thirst and an electronic diff that exploded every time you drove the M5 the way M5s should be driven. It had what we call an SMG, a kind of semi-automatic gearbox that was as delicate as it was expensive, though it imbued the hot saloon with an ability to outrun Ferraris, which is no mean feat, but still the E60 will go down in history as the most unloved M5 of them all, which is quite the achievement given that it is scientifically impossible to dislike the M5, that is how awesome that model should be.

There is more, and we will stick with the M5 to show just how badly BMW had lost the plot. The E39 came with an V8 engine and six-speed manual, a true driver’s car, which is what BMW prides itself as the builders thereof. The E60 was auto/SMG only, except for the US market where a slightly detuned and detorqued six-speed manual was an available option.

Yes, BMW denied the E60 M5 the one thing that made M5s so wonderful: a three-pedal setup, but then capitulated and availed the manual gearbox in the one market on earth where nobody drives a manual: USA. What was wrong with these people? Had they forgotten what they stood for? Yes they had.

I test drove the G30 BMW, the current 5 Series model, in South Africa back when it was launched and for a moment there it looked like the Bavarians had sobered up, but I was wrong. They started selling us grilles with cars attached to them and in a shameless display of hubris that I will bet will come back to bite them, they dismissed feedback.

The reviews were horrible. The leering, toothy rictus that infested their latest cars were roundly vilified and castigated and how did BMW respond? Grab a strap and bang yourselves, losers, we have been making cars for many years and you cannot tell us jack squat.

Wait, what? Yes, BMW decided millennials know nothing and are not worthy of expressing opinion on the offensive countenances that started off with the new 7 Series, so to hell with your distaste, we will beat our cars with an ugly stick and you will buy those cars, like it or not.

While many motoring journalists shared their views about the downward spiralling trend of the BMW, all they did was disregard it. 

It is such a shame though. The brand once ruled, but now they just suck and they know they suck which is why they are reacting like spoilt children.


 Maybe the engineers took over and chased off the designers because, once you look past the shiny grin that greets you any time you approach a new BMW head-on, they have recovered their touch. Under the metal lurks the finest drivers’ cars you can find anywhere, I have test driven a few of the new crop of cars and their finesse borders on the epic.

The new 5 Series is a meister, invoking the reason why BMW calls itself «The Ultimate Driving Machine». The new X5 has four turbochargers and attacks the horizon like a heat seeker with air conditioning.