I have owned a Hellrot BMW 328i Sport Coupe since November 2010, where it replaced a Eunos Roadster. It is the latest in a long line of cheap sporty cars I have owned – in actual fact, at £1800, this car is the second cheapest car I’ve ever bought (second only to a £900 Golf Mk2 GTI), and when you think that it wasn’t so long ago now that I used to spend over £10k on cars like Clio 182s and Fabia vRS, the BMW is obscenely good value for money for what it offers. Thinking back, I must have been mad to spend that much on a car, when there are so many great cars available for almost nothing.
The BMW is my second rear wheel drive car, and the first car I’ve owned that had more than 4-cylinders – there’s another box ticked! The first was, as said, a Eunos Roadster (RS-Limited for those who know these things). In fact, before the Eunos, I also owned a DC2 Integra Type-R, so needless to say, the BMW had its work cut out to compete with those cars, but you know what, the 328i is the best all round car I’ve had so far.
I wanted a change from the Eunos, although it was a lot of fun to drive, I didn’t really get on with the looks of the thing that much – although it does have a bit of a “Lotus Elan” look about it, but it did feel a little hairdresser for me in the long run – shallow? Quite probably, but that’s just how I felt. I also didn’t really like the engine, a reliable, but coarse and rather reluctant lump. That said, people say MX5s are slow, but I didn’t really think it was all that slow, and the guy who test drove it before driving away in it did say that mine seemed quicker than his old one, so who knows…
Anyway, when I saw this particular Sport, I had to have it. It was in good condition and had plenty of work done in the past, although unfortunately, there is no evidence that it has had a new engine, so I can only hope it doesn’t fall prey to the Nikasil issue. However, it did have a compression test done not very long ago, and it's fine for now, so hopefully it will be OK for a while yet. That aside, I love the look of the E36 Sport Coupe, and it's much more “me” than the Eunos ever was – I feel good about the car, just like I did when I had my DC2 Integra-R.
It definitely has road presence and a certain air of menace to it, and as yet, I am yet to have anyone refuse to let me out at junctions, as is often the myth that goes with owning a BMW (although my own dad said he does this, though he would make an exception for me!). I can only assume it might be as it’s an older car. However, it still looks modern, with its bright red paint surviving the test of time (albeit with some rust bubbles just starting to appear on one of the rear arches), and the design of the car overall has stood the test of time well. The BBS alloys and M-tech body kit really finish the car off, giving it an almost “baby M3” appearance.
Inside, the car has half leather seats, which are very comfortable and pretty supportive, and everything is clearly laid out for the driver. I will say the cabin is pretty gloomy, and unlike the exterior, I personally don’t think the interior has aged well – it looks very dated, and certainly isn’t a patch on an E46, but I’m not too fussed about this really.
I won’t have to say to anyone that has experienced it, but once you’ve experienced an engine with more than 4 cylinders, it’ll be very hard to go back. Suffice to say, the engine is my favourite thing about this car. It’s very smooth and makes a superb noise; kind of turbine like at lower revs, rising to an addictive roar once the revs rise – although this is not a high revving engine, it certainly sounds the part – indeed, compared with any 4-cylinder, the noise of a 6-pot is seductive and exotic, and is certainly feels as though you’re piloting a much more expensive car.
A claimed 193 bhp in an almost 1,400 kg car does not sound particularly impressive, but this thing has 210 lb ft of torque, quite an impressive figure for a naturally aspirated car, and this gives it a turn of pace that belies its bulk. It probably isn’t quite as fast as the latest hot hatches like the Renault Sport Megane, Astra VXR, Focus ST etc, but I’d bet there’s probably not a lot in it once rolling; a lot of these hot hatches are now even heavier than the E36!
The claimed figures, I believe, are 0-60 in 7.3 seconds and 144 mph top speed; however, once on the move, this thing feels every bit as quick as my old DC2 Type-R, which was 197 bhp and 1,090 kg – maybe hard to believe I know, but seriously, it IS just as fast as that was, and that was no slouch… although the paltry 137 lb ft of torque of the Honda at 6000 rpm is probably what hinders it, but to make up for it, it does have shorter gearing. I’d say in to day to day driving, the BMW is quicker than the Type-R thanks to its fat and beefy midrange power.
So you could say I am impressed with the performance. If there’s a down side, it seems to be that this will be one car that could get you points on your licence without any effort whatsoever. I will say, that it doesn’t feel quite as urgent at low revs as I was expecting, but then other 6-pots have also felt similar – perhaps my expectations are not realistic in this respect though – however, I do feel as though it doesn’t have much go until you have about 3000 revs on the clock, once you do though, it shoves you into your seat and thunders down the road at a surprising rate. This is most noticeable in top where between 50 and 70, it doesn’t really go all that well, and 4th is a better gear – not that this is a chore – it has a nice gearbox with a positive throw, and you get to hear more of that fabulous engine note!
The gearing is good in my opinion, quite tall, but it allows for easy overtaking – 2nd gear is good for 65 mph, and third is good for 95 mph, and both make superb overtaking gears. At almost any speed under 3 figures, it makes very short work of overtaking slower traffic on A-roads. To be honest, driving around in the 328i has made me wonder just what an M3 must be like with 50% more power – astonishing I’d guess.
Performance is nothing without control, and the 328i, for what is, quite a large car, handles really well. It does have 50/50 weight distribution, and the correct wheels are driven (rear!), and with those 17” BBS alloys shod with huge tyres, the car has a huge amount of grip in the dry, and will cover ground at an obscene rate of knots. The wet is a different matter though; I’ve noticed the car will oversteer very easily in the wet! I wouldn’t be trying to chase that hot hatch down the twisties when it’s wet! You’ll probably either have more fun, but be slower, or end up as part of the scenery!
In fairness though, the car has very little body roll, if any, and despite its low stance, it has a firm but well-judged ride – it’s very rare that the car feels too jarring. It hides its size well, and seems to handle like a smaller car than it is, in some ways, but there’s no denying (especially after an MX5) that it is a relatively heavy car – it doesn’t have the agility of a smaller car, and you can feel the effect of that weight when going around corners. Compared to my other cars, this is definitely more GT car than B-road blatter, but then you can still have lots of fun in the twisties – the car is definitely a jack of all trades and an excellent all-rounder.
The brakes are positive and give plenty of feel, however, again, due to the weight, I do feel that a lot of tight twisty roads, which involve a lot of speeding up and slowing down, could soon induce brake fade, so if one was to take it on track, I’d definitely recommend at least some form of brake pad upgrade over standard. However, in normal usage, it does have strong, re-assuring brakes.
This is not a particularly cheap car to run, but then you wouldn’t expect it to be. You can expect around low to mid 20’s MPG in mixed use, although it’s possible to get up to 40 MPG on a (gentle) run. That said, I certainly don’t drive it with economy in mind – with a car with this performance, that engine, and such sweet handling, it’s a waste not to “make progress” pretty much every time you go out in it! Besides it's no worse on fuel than my old Eunos Roadster; this is mad, because that car was 400 kg lighter, and only had a 1.8-litre engine!
Insurance group is an 18, so for me, it’s about 500 quid give or take to insure (I’m 31 with 6 points). To be frank, I’m not really expecting the best reliability from it either compared with the Japanese stuff I owned before, but so far, it’s been OK. Oh, and those tyres, 17” 235 tyres that are currently adorning the rear are eye wateringly expensive (£85 for a Falken, god only knows how much for the Continental tyres that are currently on it) compared with the 15” 195 tyres that were on my Eunos! (£28 for a Toyo T1R).
Overall though, I have to say I am very pleased with this car. The best way to sum it up is that it is an excellent all round car that can be used in a variety of situations. It is practical (can carry 4 adults in comfort and has a large boot), it’s refined, but yet it can also be fun when you’re in the mood (which for me, is always), and it’s more interesting and challenging to drive than a hot hatch. The balanced handling, great looks and gorgeous engine noise make it feel as though you are driving something a lot more exotic than your average car, even if it isn’t really THAT exotic. Add to the fact it’s as cheap as chips to buy, and you really can’t complain. Even if the Nikasil issue did arise, it’s hard to be angry when it only cost £1800 to start with! Overall, it’s a superb car.