Ask the Best and Brightest: What's the Best '03 – '08 3-Series?

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
ask the best and brightest whats the best 03 8211 08 3 series

A TTAC reader named Don has requested a semi-private audience with our Best and Brightest. Don wants to purchase a used BMW 3-Series. Here's Don's dilemma: "I'm looking for a 2003 to 2008 model four door. I am replacing a 1994 Lexus SC400 and I want to experience BMW's great handling and road feel. 80% of the time I will be driving alone or with 1 passanger, but 20% of the time I will have my wife and some or all of my 3 kids along with me. I am undecided as to an automatic or a stick shift. My main priority is handling and feel and I am hoping for good reliability (are BMW's reliable?). Power, speed, and fast acceleration are not that important to me. Is there a superior model year in my range (I think that a body style/size change took place around 2006) or have the characteristics that I am looking for slowly evolved and improved each year?" Feel free to think laterally here, lady and gentlemen. But remember: most of the time people buy what they want to buy regardless of anyone's advice. Or, as my beloved wife reminds me (to no avail, obviously), no one ever got into trouble by nodding their head. At least not straight away.

Join the conversation
4 of 42 comments
  • Shortthrowsixspeed Shortthrowsixspeed on Jul 24, 2008

    i would personally look into an 04 or 05 330 with the ZHP package. do not be fooled by people who say it's the same as the sport stuff. upgraded flywheel, suspension, alcantera tiller, and carbon fiber dash . . . to name a few. plus yuou get a tastedul "M appearance" on the front facia. i think the previous body style BMW was much nicer than the "new" version . . . not to mention it's lighter. if acceleration is not your main focus the 230 odd hp you get in the 330ci/i is more than enough. the new twin turbo v6 is exceptional, but that's if you're into hp wars . . . id much prefer to go sub 3000lbs. than 300+ hp. but that's just me.

  • JJ JJ on Jul 24, 2008

    If possible, I would always go for a 2006, eventhough the E46 is an incredible car that really set the benchmark for many years when it came out in 1999. The E46 was launched in 1999, and today you want the technological advancements they made in the meantime, especially in terms of safety and arguably reliability. For that reason, the E90/91 (2006-) is the way to go. I'm not completely sure about the US engine range for the 3, because in Europe it's quite different, but the I6 petrols are always good IMO, I believe the 330i is the same as the European one and that's never a bad option, probably one of the best engines ever built. Since it would be used as a family car I would say a Touring might be nice, although I believe in the US you can't get a 330i Touring for some reason...If the children are tall you might even consider a 5. They usually aren't that much more expensive used because of the huge popularity of the 3 series (at least that's the case in Europe). Anyway, unless you are in a snowy area I'd not go for the xi models. Although BMW did a good job to limit the effects of AWD to the driving experience, it's a BMW, and you want that pure RWD experience, no traction interference in the steering feel. Plus it adds a little weight and lowers mileage. Also, it's a BMW, and you must honour that by getting a stick shift. One last possible advice; they just launched a facelift of the E90 model, so maybe you can use that as some extra leverage to pick up a pre-facelifted used one.

  • The Flexible Despot The Flexible Despot on Jul 24, 2008

    I drive a 2004 325i, 4 door sedan, manual transmission, with 60,000 miles on the odometer. No complaints whatsoever. There was a an ignition coil recall, replaced for free under warranty. Needs new rotors and pads on front and back about every 40,000 miles. Otherwise, just scheduled maintenance. My driving conditions give me about 25 mpg each tank. On highway travel only, it will get over 30 mpg. Car still looks good and get lots of compliments on it. I recommend it without reservation. Can't comment about other years, though.

  • Ricky Spanish Ricky Spanish on Jul 25, 2008
    andyinsdca Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 10:44 am Whichever one doesn’t have their gawdawful “run-flat” tires. The BMW OEM tires are horrible - poor treadlife, not great handling (don’t even ask about wet-road traction) and very loud on the road, especially grooved pavement, which is what lots of the freeways in California are. In fact, they are so bad, that if I knew 7 months ago what I knew now about the car, I would have never darkened the doors of a BMW dealer Can't agree more - I was SO happy to return my 2006 Z4 and repeatedly kicking myself for not getting an S2000.