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With BMW E36s reaching the end of their depreciation curve there has never been a better time to buy BMW’s flagship saloon. Like the E30, the E36 is fast becoming an icon of its time, and comes in so many different guises that its hard to find one that doesn’t suit your needs. Subtle exterior styling and steeply raked windscreen has aged well, and still has a very modern feel despite its age. The sleek ergonomic interior takes styling cues from the hugely successful E30, such as the driver-biased centre console, still recognisable in the latest incarnations of the marque.
Entry-level 316is are often the best cared-for and least abused examples, as their lack of out-and-out performance never hardened drivers. Good examples are cheap and plentiful, and are also economical and practical, especially in four-door guise. For those with performance in mind, the 323i, 325i and 328i have it in spades, without losing any of the practicality of the rest of the range. With E30 prices rocketing, now’s the perfect time to buy the best E36. With more boot space, legroom and economy than its predecessor, it’s getting difficult to find something not to like.
With so many different engine and styling options, there really is an E36 for everyone, whether you are after a rocket ship for the track, a Sunday cruiser, or a practical everyday runabout. Base model 316is are relatively underpowered, but can be entertaining, especially in the wet. Rear-wheel drive and good weight distribution can be great fun in the hands of a capable driver. At other end of the spectrum the 328i provides 193bhp and near M3 performance, but with much more usability in the real world, with the 140bhp 318iS offering a good compromise on performance and economy. All variants use the same body shell and come in both coupe and saloon guise. Both variants have ample space for four, colossal boot space and tasteful interior trim.
By now the car’s quirks are well documented and will be no mystery to the nation’s BMW specialists. Providing you are aware of the cars weak points you will find it relatively easy to get hold of a clean and reliable example which, with correct maintenance, will be capable of covering up to 250,000 miles in fine style.
Due to the huge success of the E36 and long production runs, there are a vast amount of cars available to suit any budget, most of which are still running due to legendary BMW build quality. With E30 values reaching astronomical levels, it’s only a matter of time before the E36 follows suit. Performance models are getting increasingly hard to find, particular manual versions, so buy now before sellers get speculative.
While they don’t have the same caché as earlier BMWs, they are now over two decades old, so will be reaching the end of their life and are becoming more rare. Because of this, well cared for examples are a sound investment, and providing they are kept in good condition will lose very little value. Whether looking for a show piece or daily runner, buy it, drive it and enjoy it.
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