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Car Junkie
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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
:banghead:

Well, it's happened. I'm officially going nuts. The 330Ci is winding its way through the factory, slowly being assembled. Meanwhile, I'm sitting here with steam coming out of my ears, trying to decide if I really, truly, want it. :banghead:

It's not even about the money. I can swing it either way, although I would probably buy the M3 and lease the 330Ci. In that respect, the M3 gives me some peace of mind when it comes to watching my mileage. The slightly lower payments on the M3 would also free up a little cash for driving events, tires, and other mods. At the same time, the 330Ci is newer, I can directly control the break-in, and I don't have to worry as much about anything breaking (warranty).

Ack! What do I do now?! I admit that part of my hesitation is in telling the dealer that I don't want the car any more. However, they should be able to sell it in a fraction of a second - it's missing all of two options. I don't really want to strain my relationship with the dealer, though.

....uh, er, but just in case, does anyone know where I can find some good pre-owned M3s? I would like a CPO model, but they're hard to find these days.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Yes I have, but not on the same day and not exactly as I wanted. The M3 was a '99 5-speed convertible, and the 330Ci was a non-SP (yeah, the difference is only in the wheels) with steptronic. I want a coupe with a stick and with the SP if it's the 330. I drove the M3 about two weeks before I drove the Ci. Another problem - I'm a beginning stick driver, so a decent portion of my test drive was spent worrying about the stick. :rolleyes: Both cars were in excellent, near-perfect condition, and the M3 had just under 30k on the odometer.

Anyway, my initial observation is that both cars have some good scoot off the line, with the M3 feeling a bit faster even though the convertible top made it heavier and not as stiff. The M3 was my first BMW driving experience, and I was struck by how direct it felt...how connected it felt to the road. The 330 felt similarly, but it deed seem more isolated and muted.

Knowing what I know now, I want to drive both cars back-to-back. The hard part is finding an M3.
 

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Car Junkie
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Discussion Starter #4
I should add that the primary reason I'm moving on from my current car (2000 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP) is that I want to be involved in autcrosses and track days. I'm pretty sick of trying to pull a sports car out of a big American family car - it's a great vehicle, but not what I want right now.

So a '99 M3 would be older than my current car, but better, but a new E46 would be newer, but not as much fun as the M3 (I think), but...but...but...:banghead:

TD, it's all your fault! :D
 

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Jetfire said:
I want to be involved in autcrosses and track days.
You just answered your own question. If you are thinking about the M3 convertible, that won't be good for your auto-x/track agenda. Get an M3 coupe instead of a cabrio if you want to do track for shure, as most groups do not allow convetibles without cages. You should drive a manual transmission 330 to help make up your mind better, the experience is very different with a manual. The 330 is more isolated for shure, but it is very capable and a lot of fun to drive. Add a new car warranty and full service plan, it seems like a good choice.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Hey Nate, I may have confused you. I actually want a coupe, either M or 330; it's just that the only M3 at the dealer was a cabrio. Thanks for the advice though. I definitely need to find a 5spd 330Ci and a 5spd M3 sitting on a lot together in order to better make up my mind. Until then, I am open to everyone else's rants. :)
 
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Jetfire said:
Hey Nate, I may have confused you. I actually want a coupe, either M or 330; it's just that the only M3 at the dealer was a cabrio. Thanks for the advice though. I definitely need to find a 5spd 330Ci and a 5spd M3 sitting on a lot together in order to better make up my mind. Until then, I am open to everyone else's rants. :)
Well, apparently you already know that I dumped an '01 330i SP 5-spd for a '98 E36 M3 sedan 5-spd for "feel" reasons.

Seriously, DRIVE BOTH. Don't decide until you do. While they are similiar on paper, they are NOT at all the same in the flesh.
 

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That's funny because I was deciding the EXACT same thing.. Except I also have a G35 Coupe thrown in the mix.. I have 3 cars on order, a 350Z, a G35 Coupe, and a 330CI fully loaded.. I can't seem to wait for the G35 Coupe to come out and my 330CI is a 2003 model so I wont see those cars for 3-4 months if I decide to wait (and the wait is killing me). So I started looking at E36 M3 Coupes and decided I really like them.. The only thing that bothers me is the warranty on the M3 (or lack thereof) and the torsional rigidity (which is much less than the E46 and G35 which both are much more solid). However nothing feels more connected to the road than a E36 M3...... I really can't decide either... :banghead:
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Hey CaliChris,
Welcome to my party. :) After doing some searching around the web, we're far from the first people to run into this conflict.

Well, I'm going to test drive an M3 today and decide. I took a 330Ci out for a good test drive yesterday. The 330Ci is an excellent car but I know what everybody is saying when they talk about the isolated feel. It's quick and it handles well, but the driving experience is not as direct as I would like.

When I drive the E36 today, I will be paying close attention to two things - driving feel and interior appointments. I expect to find a dramatically more connected driving experience paired with a dated interior. As long as the interior doesn't totally turn me off, I'll have to go with the M3 if it feels that much better. More to come later.
 

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Jetfire said:
Hey CaliChris,
Welcome to my party. :) After doing some searching around the web, we're far from the first people to run into this conflict.

Well, I'm going to test drive an M3 today and decide. I took a 330Ci out for a good test drive yesterday. The 330Ci is an excellent car but I know what everybody is saying when they talk about the isolated feel. It's quick and it handles well, but the driving experience is not as direct as I would like.

When I drive the E36 today, I will be paying close attention to two things - driving feel and interior appointments. I expect to find a dramatically more connected driving experience paired with a dated interior. As long as the interior doesn't totally turn me off, I'll have to go with the M3 if it feels that much better. More to come later.
Hehe.. my mind changes every day. Currently i'm thinking that it's more of a choice between the E36 M3 and the G35 Coupe and that the 330CI is being tossed out of the mix.. I did get the chance to drive the 330CI and M3 back to back both in manual and the M3 is definately a more visceral car. You feel more, you hear more. Unfortunately it's almost too much in the M3. I also prefer the look of the old M3 compared to the new 330CI, the car is much more muscular looking. The only thing i'm afraid of is if I purchase an M3 at this point I might regret it in the future once the G35 Coupe comes out... It seems as if that car will be just like a 4-person 350Z (which has received rave reviews as handling very much like an E46 M3). The G35 Coupe may have just about everything, the looks, luxury, speed, handling, and sufficient driver feedback (something the E46 330CI lacks). More importantly, Infiniti quality...After reading some of the posts here buying a BMW is worrying me.
 

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Car Junkie
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Discussion Starter #11
I wouldn't worry too much about quality issues. After all, how many people post to say, "hey guys...my car's running well, everything's fine"? If anything, I'd be more concerned with the G35 since it's brand new and nobody knows if there are long-term issues yet.

Anyway, I got back from driving an M3. I'll post about it when I have a few minutes.
 

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Discussion Starter #13 (Edited)
Here we go (loooong)

TD said:


Okay, I'll admit I've very eager to read your impressions. Come on... POST 'EM.
Okey doke, here we go. First, the short version of my story:

I want an E36 M3. :D

Now, the long version of my story.

Yesterday I went to Carmax in an effort to drive both cars in one session. Unfortunately, their '99 M3 was reserved for a possible sale. I later found out that the sale fell through, but that meant that I could only drive one car - a white '01 330Ci, PP/SP/etc. and so forth. I'm getting more comfortable with driving a stick, so I was able to really concentrate on the driving experience.

Here's what I think of the 330Ci: It's a fantastic car. It's powerful and very well mannered. The interior is creamy smooth and luscious. I was able to go WOT several times and test the car's responsiveness in a large empty lot. It's obvious to me that the car is capable of doing everything I want, and that it's possibly more than I can handle in some cases.

However, it's clearly a luxury car first and a sports car second. I didn't really feel the road, even though I knew what was going on - it's like there was a damping layer that separated the wheels from my steering inputs. The throttle response felt okay to me, but it too felt muted. I'm guessing that it's the DBW interfering with the throttle response, although other cars have similar systems (like the C5's fully electronic throttle) with a more satisfying feel. And while I did appreciate the quiet cabin and lack of noise, it seemed almost too quiet. I like being able to hear a little engine noise when I step on it. All things considered, though, I loved the car for what it is.

Fast forward to today. I went to a dealer that specializes in pre-owned BMWs (Auto Advantage in Manassas Park, VA for those who are local). The sales staff had knowledge of all repainted areas of all their cars, among other things - I would recommend anyone to the dealership. Anyway, I set my eyes on a silver '99 M3 coupe with about 43k on the clock, contour wheels, and a fair number of options. The salesman handed me the keys and a suggested test drive route and left me alone with the car. Heh heh heh...

Once I left the parking lot, I went WOT to check straighline performance. I definitely believe the M3 is slightly faster than the 330Ci, but that's not the important part. The feedback from the car was vastly superior. I felt more confident going faster in this car than in the 330. The M3 was louder - the sound is not obnoxious, but more enthusiastic. In a straight line, though, I would have been happy in either car.

Instead of taking the suggested route, I then turned into an empty lot (I love empty lots :D) to repeat my "autocross handling" test. I didn't push my luck but I definitely pushed the car harder than the 330. Why? Again, because I felt more confident in it. Vastly more confident. The car had less lean in hard corners and provided much more feedback through the steering wheel and pedals. I never turned off ASC (too many light poles around) but I was amazed at how intuitive the car was to control - I always knew when I was on the edge of losing traction. People say that a few hundred pounds don't matter - I say bull$hit. The M3 is DEFINITELY more tossable, easier to feel, and easier to anticipate. Conclusions: The M3 has a clear, obvious advantage over the 330Ci when it comes to twisting roads. Either car will do in a straight line, although the M3 is somewhat faster...keep in mind, though, that the number of miles on an M3 will eventually take its toll on performance. Not sure when that will happen, perhaps too far in the future to matter.

So in case you haven't already guessed, I would describe the M3 as a sports car first, and a luxury car second. The "luxurious" touches on the E36 might have seemed nice a few years ago, but they're outshadowed by the E46 and even by the same-year S4. In reality, the luxury features on the E36 are just enough to make it a comfortable car, and not opulent like the 330Ci. It's pretty amazing what a few years will do to the perception of luxury, huh? On the flip side, though, the M3's athletic abilities leave the 330 in the dust. I don't consider myself to be a great driver yet, but I immediately felt like I was behind the wheel of a more capable machine during the second test drive. Yes, both cars are great, but the M3 is that much better.

Again, both cars are excellent. It's a matter of what you want. Do you want to be noticed, cruise from place to place, and still take on the occasional stoplight Grand Prix? Then get the 330. It's perfect for your needs, and it can be modded to improve handling and acceleration if you want to compete at autocrosses or track events. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the car, in my opinion.

On the other hand, do you want to drive hard most of the time, be able to drive anywhere you need comfortably, and feel more at home at an autocross or road course? Get the M3. It is not as "nice" inside as the 330, not by a long shot. But it's still heads and tails above other cars in the same class, and it will outdrive them all, too. It holds up very well in stock classes, and responds well to the tons of mods out there. At its core, it is a more pure performance-oriented vehicle. There's absolutely nothing wrong about this car, either.

For me, the choice is now obvious. I'm glad I went through the trouble of driving both cars over a single weekend. Unfortunately, my life is now more difficult - now I have to go find an M3 in great shape at the end of the '99 model run's lease return period. :p

Phew, what a mouthful! I hope I didn't leave anything out. Comments, anyone? If there are any serious objections, get 'em out now - I'm going to cancel my order with the dealer tomorrow. I'll do that regardless of what anyone says, though. :)
 
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TD's got a new friend :)

I haven't driven either, but that review certainly summed it up nicely, I think.

If I were in the market for a $28-$34,000 car, I'd have to think I'd choose an E36 M3 over the 330Ci as well.
 
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You summed it up well. For me, instead of just test drives, I actually owned a 330i SP 5-spd for 15 mos and 13 K miles. The disconnect only become more apparent after living with the car day to day.

But as there are many E46 enthusiasts/defenders here, I'll leave it at that.

I completely agree with your assessment although others might not. And I look forward to meeting you at local events.

BTW, registration for the September 14-15 drivers' school out at Summit Point opens in a few days. Go to the NCC website and get the application form filled out and ready to mail. Mine is sitting here, stamped and sealed, with a Post-It on it that reads "Mail July 12th".

There are a number of other local E36 M3er on the board that regularly do track and autox events and a few of them are also ex-E46ers.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Hey atyclb, nice username. I'm a big U2 fan, too....and if I could swing it, there would've been little debate. An E46 M3 would be sitting in my driveway.

TD, thanks for the tip - I'll definitely check it out. Time to go find a helmet.

Oh, and for anyone else who might be facing the same problem, let me share another thing that kept me from looking closely at the E36. My current car is a 2000 Pontiac Grand Prix. Never mind the Pontiac part ;) but think about it - is it really wise to dump a 2000 car for an older one for more money? I struggled with that. A lot. In the end, though, it came down to my reason for buying a car. That was enough for me to decide against the "newness" of an E46 and the "backwardness" of buying an older car. I'm going to have a much more capable car that will last at least as long as my Ponitiac, and the M3 is easily worth the extra dough.
 
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Jetfire said:
Hey atyclb, nice username. I'm a big U2 fan, too....and if I could swing it, there would've been little debate. An E46 M3 would be sitting in my driveway.
I knew there was something I liked about you. I was at both U2 shows at the MCI Center in June of 2001.

Here's a pic I took from a different show last year :)

 

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atyclb said:


I knew there was something I liked about you. I was at both U2 shows at the MCI Center in June of 2001.

Here's a pic I took from a different show last year :)

Ditto... :D
 

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Re: Here we go (loooong)

Jetfire said:


Okey doke, here we go. First, the short version of my story:

I want an E36 M3. :D

Now, the long version of my story.

Yesterday I went to Carmax in an effort to drive both cars in one session. Unfortunately, their '99 M3 was reserved for a possible sale. I later found out that the sale fell through, but that meant that I could only drive one car - a white '01 330Ci, PP/SP/etc. and so forth. I'm getting more comfortable with driving a stick, so I was able to really concentrate on the driving experience.

Here's what I think of the 330Ci: It's a fantastic car. It's powerful and very well mannered. The interior is creamy smooth and luscious. I was able to go WOT several times and test the car's responsiveness in a large empty lot. It's obvious to me that the car is capable of doing everything I want, and that it's possibly more than I can handle in some cases.

However, it's clearly a luxury car first and a sports car second. I didn't really feel the road, even though I knew what was going on - it's like there was a damping layer that separated the wheels from my steering inputs. The throttle response felt okay to me, but it too felt muted. I'm guessing that it's the DBW interfering with the throttle response, although other cars have similar systems (like the C5's fully electronic throttle) with a more satisfying feel. And while I did appreciate the quiet cabin and lack of noise, it seemed almost too quiet. I like being able to hear a little engine noise when I step on it. All things considered, though, I loved the car for what it is.

Fast forward to today. I went to a dealer that specializes in pre-owned BMWs (Auto Advantage in Manassas Park, VA for those who are local). The sales staff had knowledge of all repainted areas of all their cars, among other things - I would recommend anyone to the dealership. Anyway, I set my eyes on a silver '99 M3 coupe with about 43k on the clock, contour wheels, and a fair number of options. The salesman handed me the keys and a suggested test drive route and left me alone with the car. Heh heh heh...

Once I left the parking lot, I went WOT to check straighline performance. I definitely believe the M3 is slightly faster than the 330Ci, but that's not the important part. The feedback from the car was vastly superior. I felt more confident going faster in this car than in the 330. The M3 was louder - the sound is not obnoxious, but more enthusiastic. In a straight line, though, I would have been happy in either car.

Instead of taking the suggested route, I then turned into an empty lot (I love empty lots :D) to repeat my "autocross handling" test. I didn't push my luck but I definitely pushed the car harder than the 330. Why? Again, because I felt more confident in it. Vastly more confident. The car had less lean in hard corners and provided much more feedback through the steering wheel and pedals. I never turned off ASC (too many light poles around) but I was amazed at how intuitive the car was to control - I always knew when I was on the edge of losing traction. People say that a few hundred pounds don't matter - I say bull$hit. The M3 is DEFINITELY more tossable, easier to feel, and easier to anticipate. Conclusions: The M3 has a clear, obvious advantage over the 330Ci when it comes to twisting roads. Either car will do in a straight line, although the M3 is somewhat faster...keep in mind, though, that the number of miles on an M3 will eventually take its toll on performance. Not sure when that will happen, perhaps too far in the future to matter.

So in case you haven't already guessed, I would describe the M3 as a sports car first, and a luxury car second. The "luxurious" touches on the E36 might have seemed nice a few years ago, but they're outshadowed by the E46 and even by the same-year S4. In reality, the luxury features on the E36 are just enough to make it a comfortable car, and not opulent like the 330Ci. It's pretty amazing what a few years will do to the perception of luxury, huh? On the flip side, though, the M3's athletic abilities leave the 330 in the dust. I don't consider myself to be a great driver yet, but I immediately felt like I was behind the wheel of a more capable machine during the second test drive. Yes, both cars are great, but the M3 is that much better.

Again, both cars are excellent. It's a matter of what you want. Do you want to be noticed, cruise from place to place, and still take on the occasional stoplight Grand Prix? Then get the 330. It's perfect for your needs, and it can be modded to improve handling and acceleration if you want to compete at autocrosses or track events. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the car, in my opinion.

On the other hand, do you want to drive hard most of the time, be able to drive anywhere you need comfortably, and feel more at home at an autocross or road course? Get the M3. It is not as "nice" inside as the 330, not by a long shot. But it's still heads and tails above other cars in the same class, and it will outdrive them all, too. It holds up very well in stock classes, and responds well to the tons of mods out there. At its core, it is a more pure performance-oriented vehicle. There's absolutely nothing wrong about this car, either.

For me, the choice is now obvious. I'm glad I went through the trouble of driving both cars over a single weekend. Unfortunately, my life is now more difficult - now I have to go find an M3 in great shape at the end of the '99 model run's lease return period. :p

Phew, what a mouthful! I hope I didn't leave anything out. Comments, anyone? If there are any serious objections, get 'em out now - I'm going to cancel my order with the dealer tomorrow. I'll do that regardless of what anyone says, though. :)
I'm assuming you didn't consider the G35 Coupe at all right? It's going to be about the same price as an E36 M3, and it will definately be more visceral than the E46 330CI... Louder engine, more direct brakes, and quicker and more precise steering.... Plus it'll be a new design with a stiffer body (as the previous generation E36 M3's weren't very rigid).. Just a suggestion, maybe you don't like Nissan (as lots of people do not). BTW, the G35 Sedan has been doing pretty well in terms of reliability, i've been monitoring the G35 boards and there seems to be very few problems and most are minor (such as loud A/C's or squeaky seatbelts.)

BTW, that's exactly what I found in my back to back test drives... The 330CI is a luxury car first, a sports car second while the M3 is a drivers/sports car first with luxury thrown in.....
 
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