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BMW 1-Series - awesome? headache? awesome enough to make the headache bearable?

Thinking the time has come to replace the 2000 Volvo S40. So far, the only car which is really appealing is the BMW 1-Series. I like the “sport coupe” styling and test drove one yesterday. Lots of fun. I am somewhat accustomed to repair sticker shock with my current car, but then again it has lasted me 14 years and 160K with no major engine issues. (Just a lot of random other things and a lot of those are wear and tear.) I know Hondas are great and reliable and less expensive but they just don’t drive the same as the Euro cars and I can’t seem to find anything comparable in size and styling to the 1-series. I really don’t want a hatchback. I buy a car once every 14 years, so I’ll be living with it for a while. Anyone have any input or feedback for me? Talk me into or out of buying a fun-to-drive and super cute but no idea how reliable it is car? I’m not finding much about them online other than they are fun to drive which I already know. Much appreciated.

How about a Mazda 3s with the 2.5l engine? It’s getting GREAT reviews, especially for the combination of fun to drive and fuel economy. But it’s a 4 door. I’d take a test drive, at least. You should find it similar to the S40 (which was derived from a prior Mazda 3/European Focus chassis design).

I’ve been a BMW enthusiast for over 30 years with a half dozen through the garage. My current 328i with 120,000 miles still looks and drives like it was new.

The 1-Series was the last “true” BMW in my mind – 3.0l in-line six cylinder engine (normally aspirated), rear wheel drive, and with a real manual transmission. Get one while you can and enjoy the drive! I have lost all interest in new turbo engined, automatic transmission, AWD BMWs. The up coming FWD cars were the last straw for me.

@twotone I agree with both of the previous comments.
Buy the car because you like it and it drives well, not because it’s a so called Euro-car. The car you had was a decent handling fwd plow horse but still a comparatively poor handler to a BMW. Try a Miata. Try the new Scion sports cars. Try a Subaru WRX. There are a plethora of great handling non Euro sports cars/sedans that handle great. Then, buy the BMW, not because it has a Euro name, but because it fills your needs. After all, there are a bunch of non Euro cars that handle much better then an S40. Not many better then the BMW.

I had a VW Rabbit years ago and I must agree w/you that the German driving experience is a little different from my current car w/a Japan design, the Corolla. With the German car, the powertrain while the same basic configuration and size, it seemed a bit peppier, noticed mostly when accelerating from 30-70 mph. The German car seats were a little nicer, a little more comfortable, the suspension was a little stiffer so while the ride was a little more jarring on bumpy roads, the cornering was more accurate, compared to the Corolla. Both cars I found to be fairly easy to do routine scheduled maintenance myself on as a DIY’er.

But still, all in all, after comparing the two, I’m a confirmed Corolla devotee. Comparing the Japan vs German owning experience, I found the brakes, fuel injection system, body hardware, axels/hubs/wheel bearings, and cooling system to be more reliable on the Corolla compared to the Rabbit. And the Corolla equipped w/a manual transmission is plenty peppy for what I need (I wouldn’t say this for the automatic version for that year, the automatic version was too slow.) And the Corolla ride is softer on bumpy roads and the corning is good enough for what I need. After 20 years I still have the same seats in the Corolla and they remain almost good as new both in function and appearance. I couldn’t have said that for the Rabbit even after 10 years.

So it sort of depends on what qualities you seek in a car, and what downsides you are willing to live with. Me, as first priority, I prefer a car that – if given routine scheduled maintenance – will basically always start and get me where I’m going safely and reliably. I don’t like to be in a position of needing to get somewhere, and discovering the brakes aren’t working, or the fuel injection system is gunked up, or the seat belts won’t retract.

Having to spend the weekend fixing the car, or even if it is just taking the car to the shop to be fixed there, to me that is a huge downside as it upsets the routine of things I’d rather be doing, and if the only upside is a little more comfy seats and a little peppier acceleration, I’m not willing to accept that compromise.

I finally took the plunge and bought a Ford Focus Hatchback. It is fun to drive, the automatic has the dual clutch, I got the manual. The handling is great. It is champagne on beer budget. I also like the Mazda 3, but the hatch was more $$ than my budget and the handling and shifter felt better on the Ford.

I know looking in Euro cars and BMW’s, you are not looking in getting a Ford, but this one is a different car. I don’t know how long-term reliability is going to be, but I am hoping less costly than a BMW.

@twotone - “Get one while you can and enjoy the drive! I have lost all interest in new turbo engined, automatic transmission, AWD BMWs.”

I just drove a new 528xi rental up Cal. rte. 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway). Had everything you mentioned. And is exactly what you said - disappointing. Handling was average, loose on center; engine (turbo 4) was rough below 3000 rpm (most driving); the interior average, cramped front seat, complex controls; and the ride rough, could feel every bump in the road.

The straight 6 made BMW, now it’s abandoned for most. Too bad.

The 128i is more reliable than the 135i according to Consumer Reports but both are average or above, Only the Nissan 370Z rates better for reliability for the class. They give great scores to either model but like the 135i better. Keep the car maintained by someone who knows Bmw’s even if it’s not the dealer and you should be able to keep the car for a long time. Bmw care and feeding might not be much more expensive than on the S40.

OP by own admission is willing to live with added maintenance costs for a Euro brand…that becomes a non issue.
If BMW wants to follow the crowd with 4 cylinder and fwd while still trying to keep it’s exclusivity and higher maintenance costs with it’s Euro name while costing thousands more then an Accord or Fusion, it could follow SAAB into oblivion. So, now may be the best time to buy an " old" style 1Series.

And the first several years maintenance is ‘free’ (included in the price).

Yes maintenance is free for the first few years, then any service costs for the long term shouldn’t be much different from the Op’s current car. Buy what you really like since it’s your car.

How do others here feel about the need for frequent maintenance? Is that as bothersome to you as it is to me? I have better stuff to do than take the car to the shop every two months for some maintenance or other problem. Let’s ignore the cost issue, say you had plenty of money so cost of repair and maintenance wasn’t an issue. Does having the chore of taking the car to the shop more frequently a bother to you, or something that you can easily schedule into your day so it is ok even if you have to do it more frequently with a German (or higher performance) car?

Thanks, y’all. This gives me some concrete research to do. I haven’t tested Mazda yet so will do that and that Ford but not seeing much research there either. As I said, I’m accustomed to high repair bills but am not at all a fan of them. Drove Honda/Acura for 10 years before this Volvo and they were certainly good cars with next to no repairs… I guess my quandary is about being sensible or buying something that makes me LOL while driving. Your feedback is great. Keep it coming, please.

Further info: I am looking to buy used, 2011 or so. I’m not a Euro-snob…would go elsewhere with no qualms if driving experience were close. I tested the Accord coupe and it was a lovely, smooth-riding car, but I was distracted by the cameras and beeping and drive control. And even the V6 did not come close to the peppiness of the BMW. Apparently my major requirements are stop fast and go fast when required, be cute, allow me to park in downtown Austin, have space for the tall dog and let me have bluetooth. Can I get a comparison of those cars? Again, thanks for all comments and feedback. Very helpful, really.

I take mine in two to three times per year. Twice for oil change and usually once for unplanned broken something. The frequency isn’t too high for me, just the cost on that unplanned thing. I only put about 14K a year on the car, so my required maintenance may be less frequent.

I find frequent visits to the shops/dealership annoying, even when the repairs and work is free/covered under warranty, I have to drop the car off, get a ride or shuttle and then back again.
My time is not free. That is one reason I do most of the work myself, I find I spend less time and usually it is dead time, like an oil change late Sunday night where I wouldn’t be doing anything else other than sitting on the couch.

Recently I had some water leaking in my Mazda CX-9’s door, it was covered under warranty, but needed one day of going there for them to figure it out. Then they ordered the part/returned car to me and back at it when the part arrived. To top that they had a naughty shuttle driver that kept zoom-zooming through traffic, I was scared for my life. On 2nd attempt I asked my wife to pick me up.

BMW series 1 cars (I think you are considering a new one, or only a year of so old) are more expensive to maintain and repair - but nothing like that Volvo you are getting rid of. Dump the Volvo before the next big bill comes along and the BMW should be fine. The new Mazda 3 is certainly worth a look too.

I bought a new Honda Civic in 2003 with a manual transmission which made it a more fun car for me to drive. No regrets at all. At about 145K it is still running strong and only a few very minor repairs along the way. A Honda doesn’t have to be boring, you just have to get one you consider fun. A new Accord with a V6 and a manual transmission would be a rocket to drive if you can find one.

“the v6 did not come close to the peppy ness of the BMW.”

The Accord v6 is certainly as capable as the six in the BMW in most respects. But, the traction electronics with fwd will not allow it to spin the tires excessively while trying to accelerate with the rwd BMW. That’s just the advantage of rwd over fwd. So, buying a large powerfully fwd and expecting good overall performance as a BMW with rwd, isn’t going to happen. The Awd Acura and Lexus models are a different story, but the rwd only feeling is still lost. If you really like the cornering of a strong rwd sedan, IMO, BMW for the money, is the best choice.

Personally, I would look at an Awd Subau legacy sedan with the 6 cylinder too. You may be very pleasantly surprised as Subarus have rwd drive bias in their system, and feel like a good rwd car in normal handling. And, even though you are getting Awd, it’s still cheaper with a record of lower maintenance costs.

“Subarus have rwd drive bias in their system”

That’s only true with the 6-cylinder models.
But, between that rear bias and a generous amount of torque, those sixes are a lot of fun to drive.

At least when I had a Subaru 4 manual, all their standard trannies were set up that way. Changed ? But, I still recommended the 6 in the Legacy. It’s a much better handler when I tried one out, even in the auto.