What's Wrong With BMW and How They Can Fix It

NB: this was written over ten years ago!


Modern BMW designs like the E36 3 series don't excite me much, although they do grow on me more over time. It's just such a shame that a manufacturer who made such wonderful designs as the old 5 and 3 series now feels the need to make cars so like all its competitors, ie far too rounded.

The old E30 3 series was a classic design, had to surpass one might think. Yet the current E36 didn't even try, the E30 and E36 are very different animals. The newer model is much bigger and heavier, such a shame. This means we need a more powerful engine to pull the extra weight along. Admittedly they are safer but don't you sometimes think cars are less fun than they used to be? I believe the E36 is meant to be a medium sized family car, closer to the old E28 five series in concept then the previous E30. An E36 is a nice car to own (I do) but isn't as satisfying as an E30.

BMW E30 M3

BMW E36 318iS

The E30 M3 Evolution - a truly classic car.

The current E36 - nicer?

Of course BMW do make some truly well designed cars, take the new Z3 roadster. I particularly like the side grill detail, a reminder of the classic BMW 507, although some say it detracts from the cars overall lines. The Z1 was a rare 2.5 litre car made in the late eighties. It has marvelous doors which drop down into the body rather than opening outwards. It was very expensive to make and never achieved high levels of production.


The gorgeous retro look E36 Z3

The Z3s more adventurous predecessor, the rare Z1.

The 318ti Compact - A Lost Opportunity

The 318ti Compact has got to be the biggest marketing con for years from the BMW stable. In actual fact it isn't any smaller than the coupe and saloon except for the chopped back end, it is certainly no "small" car. It uses the old E30 rear end to save money and increase interior space for the hatchback but I find it hard to believe this offers the same level of road holding.

Perhaps the most cynical part of the whole thing is the different interior offered in the Compact, it is difficult to believe this isn't a cost saving exercise. The car doesn't even have ventilated front brake discs! Not withstanding all this 318ti owners do seem fairly fanatical about their cars, witness the very active mailing list for the Compact.

If I sound a little bitter about the Compact then perhaps it is a manifestation of my disappointment. When I heard the initial rumours about the car I really wanted one, it sounded like the spiritual successor to my E30 318iS. Great engine, good fuel economy, nimble and light. Alas it has turned out to be very similar in weight and isn't any smaller - a chance to recapture the small car fun of the 2002tii and E30 318iS has been missed again. I really felt the E30 318iS was a poor mans M3, real driver's car - can we really say that of the E36 Compact?

I hope members of the Compact mailing list will take my ramblings in the constructive spirit they are intended and not as a diatribe against their cars. The Compact is still the best car in its class and price range, it's just not all it could have been.

The M Coupe - A Concept Gone Wrong?

The Z3 Coupe, or M Coupe, is the hard top version of the Z3 but it seems to have suffered an identity crisis along the way. It is now being used to rejuvenate BMW's sporty image and take on the Porsche 911! It will have 2.8 and M3 engine options with a 4 cylinder engine only available in "tax sensitive markets" like Italy.

I like the quirky styling of the car and I imagine it's a blast to drive. The M Roadster fills a niche in the market and is important to BMW's image, especially the M division.

The car will now be a two seater. Moving the structure of the Z3 about to give four seats has proven too costly. The other problem is weight. The ZM5 will weight about 1370kg, let's remember that my 1985 635CSi is only 50kg heavier than that - where have BMW gone wrong recently? Is new crash legislation hampering designers that much?

The Z3 Coupe should have an entry version which is light, has M-Tech suspension and a free revving sporty four cylinder engine. This would have wonderful handling and enough power to enjoy it. I would also be able to afford one! The US may have a market for 3.2 litre sports cars but in europe where perol is $1 a litre we still need small engined sports car that are fun to drive. This could yet become the car the 318ti should have been. Everyone says the Z3 1.9 roadster is underpowered. It isn't, it's just too heavy.

The 3.0CS, Six and Eight Series - No Comparison

The BMW 30.CS/i is the most beautiful car the company has ever produced in my opinion. It has real style and I one day hope to own one as a summer car, they are surprisingly good value at the moment. The 3.0CS was replaced by the equally desirable E24 six series. A large roomy sports coupe with a great engine and stunningly aggressive looks.

Then came the mistake. The BMW 850 surely cannot be regarded as a replacement for the six. It is vastly more expensive, was introduced with a five litre V12 engine and has only a token rear seat. It has stunning sleek lines and is a technological work of art which all make it a very desirable car. But six series buyers have spurned it due to its purchase price and running costs. Most of the six series owners I know converted to the E34 535iS which was a fine car and had the same big six 3.5 litre engine as their beloved E24. I like the eight series but it was the wrong car to replace the six, there should have been an E34 coupe.

The six was based on the E28 five series chassis and rumours keep emerging of a two door "new six" based on the E39 chassis with a selection of straight six and V8 engines, time will tell. But the fact remains that BMWs decision not to build a two door coupe based on the E34 five series has got to be a big mistake.


BMW E24 635CSi

BMW E31 850i

An early racing 3.0CSL

The stunning E24 635CSi

The 850CSi, a very different car


BMW are a very well made car on the whole, that's why there are still so many old ones on the road. But it must be said they is room for improvement, particularly interior wise. It's the little niggly things they tend to get wrong, not the major stuff. They take too long to fix known problems in later models. You only have to read BMW digest regularly to see the same faults reoccurring in the same model throughout its life, they just don't react quickly enough to remedy problems. Luckily there aren't that many problems!

But don't let me put you off. One reason you hear so many complaints about BMWs is that the owners tend to be more interested in their cars. They only want the gimmicks to work as well as the handling and engines! BMW owners gripe about faults you'd expect in cheaper cars.

Encouraging Brand Loyalty

Dealers could do more to encourage brand loyalty in current owners. Many lack a REAL commitment to quality whenever it might cost them money to correct a mistake. It is precisely such incidents that owners remember and tell their friends about unfortunately. I have had bad treatment form more than one dealer at times although on the whole they are good but expensive. UK dealers seem to organise fewer customer events than their American counterparts.

BMW should look more at their AutoTechnic chain in the UK. AutoTechnic sell and maintain used BMWs and can perform warranty work. They charge two thirds of the main dealer price for labour! There is far more of an enthusiasts air about the place and the staff are more interested in your problems. My local branch even race an old shape E30 M3, never managed to get it as a courtesy car yet though! Even if they were the same price as the main dealer I'd use them.