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Flash Back Review:1993-1998 BMW E36 316i

Flash Back Review:1993-1998 BMW E36 316i

This is definitely a flash back. A friend of mine recently had his 90 something E36 BMW 3 series fixed up and I thought it might be a cool idea to review the car. The car has gone through some level of restoration as quite a few odds and ends have been replaced but the car is mostly original. After a few runs in it, I have to admit I am thoroughly impressed and I feel rather inclined to get one for myself.

To be honest I really hate classic cars pre-dating the 90s. I really don’t think that the golden era of motoring has yet passed as many classic car enthusiasts claim and if it has I believe we are experiencing the platinum age which started around the 2000’s and will probably top out by next year, that’s my analysis on things anyway.

Classic cars suck, they are hideous apart from the Jaguar E-type which came between 1961-1974.With the 90’s however we saw a couple of cars come up that changed motoring probably forever. The BMW 3 series was one of them, being manufactured predominantly throughout the 90s.

Our test car is grey in colour and without any scratches or dents anywhere as far as I can tell. It still has that classic BMW boxy-like look that defined BMW for so long. The rear lights are new and the front lights originals. The doors still intact and am assuming the tyres are also new with the rims being the originals and not customised imports which bode well with me.

In the interior the seats are made of clothe and even though the car has obviously seen quite a lot of years the seats are still intact and haven’t lost form, really amazing. The interior is still okay apart from the roof upholstery which appears to be falling apart from the right rear. The seats are comfortable and there is enough interior space to fit four adults comfortably. The grey theme does continue in the interior with the upholstery being grey and the seats also. Planting my bum firmly in the co-drivers seat I can’t help but feel a subtle sportiness to this car as the seats are so low you feel very close to the ground. Talk about “ground effects.”

Aerodynamically, probably because of age and perhaps one or two other things beyond about 120 kph there is some scuttle shake which becomes worse as one tries to go faster, perhaps there is something unbalanced on the wheel, or some dodgy engine mount.  Sadly we aren’t that brave in the few runs we’ve had in this car and the engine simply doesn’t have that much grunt. Perhaps our confidence will increase after another visit to the mechanic.

To try to give you a power and torque figure would be absurd as the engine’s been to surgery (of the re-constructive type) several times. This being a BMW 316i the original engine had 75kW of power at 5500rpm and 150 Nm of torque at 3900rpm. This unit clearly doesn’t have the fanciful figures and I have doubts as to whether it will hit 100kph from a standing start in 12.7s.

Coming to the engine it’s a wonder that it works at all. There is a horrible clicking noise that the mechanic promised would go away after a couple of day’s worth of driving. At rare moments when the clicking isn’t so pronounced one can hear the engine’s note which is that classic BMW sound that is still prevalent in even the present 1-series 118i. It’s just raw engine sound which beats any exhaust note conjured by oversized mufflers. That’s a good thing.

The gear knob isn’t an original but is lovely to behold. The centre panel is also quite interesting as all the buttons for the windows are located here. This is quite unique and convenient. The original music player is out and the replacement doesn’t work for some reason. I notice the car has a dual zone climate control albeit a manual one. For a 90’s car this is quite impressive. I should mention however that neither the fan nor the air conditioning work. So let’s pretend we are hardcore enthusiasts and we’ve gone the lotus way where simple luxuries are costly options and the excuse is that we are saving on weight for better handling and acceleration or something.

Moving to the instrument cluster the gauges (speedometer and rev counter) are a bit too old school for me, I think they look terrible. They are just not pretty and I am pretty sure the Japanese equivalents of the three series in the 90s had much better instrument clusters. I’m thinking Nissan Sunny, but perhaps I’m biased as my exposure to vehicles as a child leaned more to Japanese cars. The one cool thing though is that the car has a small digital display at the foot of the speedometer which tells you the average consumption of fuel in litres per 100km.

When it comes to the driving this is just one of those cars that you just have to be glad is moving. The suspension is useless and it feels like you are on a wooden raft going down some gentle stream and trying to steer using a pole of some sort. Believe me I don’t mean this in a good way. The steering input is also not very direct. The nose of the car isn’t very responsive and there is a several millisecond wait as one turns the steering wheel to the nose actually responding. One more thing to add to the list of things which need to be reassessed by the mechanic, sigh.

The one thing that is still working properly is the digital read out of average fuel consumption. When new the 316i had a rural consumption of 7l/100km, an urban consumption of 10.1l/100km and a combined cycle average of 8.5l/100km. Well done to the guys who built this thing as we always seem to manage 7l/100km possibly 14-19 years after this car was built. Certainly a gentle hand clap is from the men of old who wore twin tail coats and gloves are expected at this point. Bravo BMW.

Clearly we have found a bench mark to every modern car coming out. There we have it, the E36 BMW 316i. If any of you beloved readers are planning on buying an old car either for the school run or for family trips to Franschoek and back to Cape-town. This is the ideal low budget car. Just make sure you check the suspension and get a proper mechanic to check out the engine.

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