Running Reports – BMW E36 323i Convertible

Starting mileage – 116458 7th May – 117662 7th July
Total Miles – 1204
MPG – 24.48mpg

Costs –

When I collected the car it was still wearing the previous owners private plate, and with the cars original registration in the boot. Luckily I wasn’t pulled by the police, so no funny questions to answer, and also the new MoT, Tax etc arrived from the DLVA within a week, so I could transfer the plate without incurring any additional charge from my insurance company, which was a relief having being stung for an extra £100 over the previous Audi Cabriolet. On longer drives than the road test I discovered the front right had a bit of a knock, having being told it’d had bushes last year you start racking your mind ‘what the hell is it?’ but a trip to the local garage revealed one of the bushes fitted last year was fitted badly, and were now slightly broke. So nothing too major, new bottom arm ordered to fix it properly. Slightly more worrying, it turned out I’d got a water leak, a bit of an achilles heel on this generation of M50/M52 engines, only I’d not noticed, so first I knew was when the gauge suddenly shot towards red when out one afternoon by Ladybower (least there’s plenty of water there). Another trip to the garage diagnosed a rather worn water pump. Repair urgency was escalated, and they’ve both now been sorted, so no water leak &  handling on the front much improved now. Luckily the water pump was also covered under the warranty, a quick call to Gmund Cars, told them how much I’d been quoted, so they told me to get on with it & a cheque arrived to cover it shortly afterwards. Top service.

When I’d bought the car it also had a small amount of corrosion on the rear arches, I’d already phone my mates up in the trade whilst looking at the car to price getting these fixed, so the plan was to get these sorted later in the year. However I had a bit of an ‘incident’ with the wall at work on one of the arches, so the job was brought forward, and I had both arches & the rear bumper painted. Expensive, but fixing the corrosion when minor should avoid more expensive bills in the future.

Early changes have involved swapping out the nice but still prehistoric Sony CD radio, for a JVC unit I’d fitted to the Audi. This features BT hands free (and audio streaming from your phone), and a USB port for a USB stick. Keeps you legal on the phone, plenty of tunes, and minimal devices fighting for the cig lighter. I’d also noted that the BMW is a bit more breezy roof down above 40mph than the Audi was (never mind 60mph), think it’s because you sit a bit higher in the car, and at least your head definitely comes in to closer contact with the sun visors during manoeuvres, so I’ve invested in a wind deflector. These typically fetch £100-200 on eBay, but a bit of hunting around Gumtree managed to source a genuine one for £60. Bargain, keeps you warmer, doesn’t leave your hair a mess (if unlike me you’ve got some), it works very effectively, £60 definitely well spent. It does however cover up the rear seats, but such is my usage it’s been fixed in place nearly 2 months so far without causing an issue yet.

After two years with the Audi Cabriolet it’s impossible not to compare the two. So I’ll try & briefly cover some of those.

The first impressions of the Audi having a chunkier build, but the general ergonomics of the BMW wrap around dash feels better, just got to learn that some switches have moved. Not sure which wins it on the scuttle shake, the BMW shakes the rear glass less, but it has managed a dash shake which I’ve never managed on the Audi, so score draw there. Whilst the Audi was a bit noisier than a tin top roof up, the BMW is much closer noise wise to a tin top at motorway cruising speeds. The lining is also neater and does a much better job at hiding the mechanism, particularly on the rear 3/4s. Downsides, I think the boots a tad smaller, and they’re common, I see another E36 at least daily, if not twice daily on my short commute. Even if the E36 convertibles are rare, I think I still see more of those than all types of Audi 80 combined!

The ride of the two feels pretty similar, both comforting bumps nicely, without any jarring, the E36 edges it though, just, it’s less jolty & extra score points as feel not hitting the rear bump stops. The real difference is weight distribution, as you start to push on you can tell this car is much closer 50/50 weight distribution than the Audi was, which really suffered with the nose heavy feel, with the heavy V6 way out front. The Audi was easier to jump in and drive quickly straight away (maybe in part as auto too), but once you’re in the flow of the BMW, it handles flatter, less understeer, and plenty of reassuring grip from the fat 225 Dunlop tyres which means I’ve rarely troubled the traction control. The brakes though on the BMW definitely need a bit of extra work, whilst I got the Audi’s hot on occasion, during a bit of spirited driving along a local twisty stretch, probably only a few miles, I suffered some severe brake fade, they soon cooled down again, but evidently some new brake fluid is required, and if that doesn’t sort it, then a deeper look at the discs/pads, but Lockheed branding on the pads suggests they should be OK.

Performance wise, despite being very similar on paper, 170bhp vs 150bhp (BMW vs Audi), 108bhp/ton vs 103bhp/ton, on the road the extra 0-60 gutso (8.3 vs 10.5) is definitely noticeably beyond 3000rpm, below that the Audi wins on low down torque, but beyond the BMW starts to surge with an extra potency more than the paper figures would first suggest, definitely much quicker on the road, it gives a kick in the back the Audi lacked. You wouldn’t believe despite looking more slender, and the 50/50 weight distribution the BMW is actually 100kg heavier than the Audi. I can’t directly compact the gear changes with the Audi being an auto, but my previous Audi 2.0 saloon had a very light smooth action, the E36 though has quite a firm, short throw, but I have baulked it a few times trying to rush it, but easy enough once mastered. The steering is also a bit more nicely weighted and gives more feedback, and the leather wheel feels chunkier, thicker rimmed than the Audi’s, and the Airbag is a much nicer affair.

What’s definitely a night & day change is fuel consumption, whereas I was getting an average of 19mpg out of the Audi (not helped by being an Auto), the BMW is returning a comparatively pleasant 25mpg average, even after a spirited roof down drive, that, according to my MPG savings calc is enough to save me at least £500 a year, even on my limited mileage. Other nice bits are the cabin is evidently filled with a few more lights than the Audi, so finding the ignition slot after dusk in that was a bit of a chore, but open the door in the BM and it’s a lot more light bouncing around inside. Despite being from the era when BMWs were renowned for skimping on the audio, the 6 speaker system of the BMW is much better than the Audi too.

All in all I’m enjoying my time with the BMW, sounds nice, it’s quick, admittedly I’ve driven quicker, but, here’s the thing, whilst for eg the mk6 Golf GTI was quick, it was easy quick, soulless, just too damned capable & fast for the roads I enjoy to drive (but can I have the seats please?), which is why I’d still take a mk2 GTI over a mk6. The 323i is quick enough that you can enjoy the acceleration and handling, safely overtake, but, also, not so fast that you’re constantly having to reel it back the correct side of the speed limit. Also means it’s from a time that it hasn’t got that much grip that you haven’t got to enter a corner well beyond the safety of ‘line of sight’ to be able to feel that you are actually ‘driving’ the car.

I still love the multi mode of these 4 seater cabriolets, roof up, windows up, on the road it doesn’t feel that different to a coupe, because it is a convertible it isn’t just frameless doors, you can drop the full side-glass for the full pillar-less coupe effect (either of these effects is doubled when wearing the hard top). You can then of course drop the roof & enjoy the full convertible effect which I love around the countryside, as you get to enjoy panoramic views, as well as all the sounds & smells, so a much fuller experience than driving through in an air-conditioned silent bubble. The only downsides really are a) the compromised boot space, but it’s still got much more boot space than MX5, S2000, GTV Spider etc etc… b) does add the rollover worry that I’ve never worried about in tin tops, but the BMW does add automatic roll over protection hidden behind the rear headrests for an extra level of protection.

Planned for the future? Well whilst the rear Dunlops have plenty of tread, the fronts will need replacing soon, toying between sticking with OEM spec Dunlops the car is running all round (currently winning), or switching to something else. I did toy with switching the 16s for later (M3?) 17s, but the factory 16s are in such beautiful virtually unmarked condition I’m going to stick with them for now unless a bargain set of immaculate 17s turn up somewhere. Other than that, a basic service is planned for some point soon, but mainly, it’s high summer, I want to take her out & enjoy the local roads & countryside the way she’s meant to be…

Riding the white line

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