You’re sixteen and have been studying tirelessly for your driving exam the following morning. To give yourself a break, you turn to Craigslist and scour forums in search for the perfect first car.
This is what my best friend Jimmy McCarriston did when it came time to buy his first “real” car. Already a few years removed from his license test, Jim sold his hand-me-down Jeep and was ready to buy. After a number of fascinating candidates, he stumbled upon a relatively pristine black-on-black 2007 E92 328xi. Due to some complicated owner history—including Alaska plates—Jim was able to shrewdly negotiate the car down to a fair “first car” price.
The car had everything a young enthusiast owner from the Northeast would want: all-wheel-drive, a six-speed manual gearbox, two doors, and one set of roof rails for maximum Vermont scene points. While it doesn’t get nearly the notoriety compared to its N54-powered big brother, the 328xi certainly isn’t boring.
The E9x generation of 3 Series is the last great “simple” Three. Yes, there are a million sensors that break constantly, but almost everything that needs attention is a driveway or home-garage special. With E46s becoming more difficult to find in daily-driver shape, and F30s needing a computer to diagnose nearly everything, the E9x is a happy medium between the two.
McCarriston and his dad have completed nearly every piece of maintenance (aside from control-arm bushings) in their home driveway. For a first car, this is critical. Having a car with which they can get their hands dirty and build a knowledge base for basic maintenance will set young enthusiasts up for a lifetime of mechanical fun.
To drive, the E92 is comfortable and quick around town. The famously linear power band allows for plenty of torque throughout the rev range, a definite upgrade over the previous-generation E46. The gearbox is an upgrade, too; compared to the five-speed unit in my wagon, the shorter gearing in the E92 further emphasizes the added torque.
As McCarriston and I proved during our winters living in Burlington, Vermont, the xDrive system is able to handle just about everything. Furthermore, the rear-wheel bias makes for some fun if an empty, snow-covered parking lot happens to present itself.
In the looks department, the car hasn’t lost a step, either. While this category is wildly subjective, I still find this era of the 3 Series as handsome as ever. It might have something to do with those daytime-running-light halo rings.
I also find myself appreciating horsepower in the car. By today’s standards, the 230 horsepower from its naturally aspirated N52 may seem low, but it provides plenty of fun if used properly. Driven flat-out, the car is certainly not fast; however, if you drive the E92 with momentum in mind, the back-road twisties never seem to get old.
This low horsepower is another reason why this is a great first-car candidate. It has plenty of power to get you in trouble, without wrapping yourself around a distant pole. If you happen to find yourself looking for another “first car” or just a great future modern classic, consider taking a look at the oft-overlooked 328xi.—Tucker Beatty
[Photos courtesy Tucker Beatty.]