Shortly after my appreciation for cars began when I was young, I discovered the BMW configurator. Not all online car configurators are created equal, but BMW’s has been nothing short of compelling since it first went live, and ever since I knew what it was, it’s been an integral part of my car shopping and fantasizing experience. I’ve built hundreds if not thousands of BMWs on the BMW USA website over the past twenty years, starting with the E46 3 Series and continuing on through to today with the likes of the G20 3 Series, 4 Series, M3 and M4, and the i4, among plenty of others. Throughout those years, the online configurator has played an integral role in stoking my passion and allowing me to dream.
There’s just one problem, which is that I’ve never actually owned one of these custom-built BMW models I’ve spent untold hours obsessing over.
That’s not to say I haven’t made some of my dreams reality. After years of building E46 3 Series sedans on the BMW configurator, I eventually went on to own two of them. The same is true of the E82 1 Series; I’ve owned two of them, still have my second one, and spent years building them online when the 1 Series was on sale in the U.S. I didn’t purchase any of these cars new, however, and because of that, there’s still an itch in the BMW lineup I’ve never scratched—taking delivery of a brand new, zero-mile example that I configured to my liking.
Years ago, there were seemingly endless possibilities on BMW’s website that kept me captivated. These days, it’s significantly harder to find something to my liking, as the lineup has changed over the years, and things like manual transmissions are difficult to come by—if they’re offered at all—and the bang for your buck in terms of how much car you get for the money isn’t quite the same. The base model 3 Series has been supplanted by the 2 Series Gran Coupé, and the M2 has assumed the M3’s place as the only M car you really ever needed—but that’s a topic of discussion for another column.
Nevertheless, even in a world where the 3 Series can no longer be had with three pedals, I still find myself desiring of a brand new, zero-mile BMW built to my preference. The longing isn’t as aspirational as when the E46 was on sale, and I’ve been lucky enough to own various well-kept, low-mileage examples of BMW models I previously lusted after, but I still consider the possibility of skipping the pre-purchase inspection and buying something with no stories or previous owner.
Consistent with where I’m currently at in life but also attempting to scratch what’s become a twenty-year itch, the 3 Series is still my go-to when it comes to configuring a BMW, because it’s still an ideal candidate for the single-BMW solution that I’ve written about here before. Ever since the 1 Series left our shores, the 2 Series has been a close second, thanks to its price and level of attainability, but 3 Series sedan is a better choice if you must have one car in which to do it all. Of course, the entry-level 3 Series hasn’t been available with a six-cylinder engine since the days of the E90, and the model I really want has also used turbochargers since then as well.
Even as the BMW lineup has effectively transformed over the years, whenever I see a relatively new 3 Series out on the road, I wonder about how my life would be if I got rid of the array of cars I currently drive, and replaced them with a single new BMW built precisely to my liking. This fantasy comes with a caveat though. As I’ve explained before on this site, once the current 3 Series has been out for a few years, it loses a bit of the mystique and desirability they have when they’re new. Before long, you’re just another commuter in the monotonous array of modern cars, fighting your way through traffic.
To cope with not wanting blend in with just another boring car, I’ve always found myself something a bit more special and unique than the norm. BMW doesn’t make a rear-wheel-drive 1 Series anymore, but having a modern turbocharged engine in the smallest chassis BMW sold since the E36 keeps things interesting, and so does having something as arcane as hydraulic power steering in a car that also puts power to the ground through a high-tech dual-clutch transmission. When it comes to the 3 Series on the other hand, it’s only a matter of time until they’re everywhere, and what was once new and interesting becomes commonplace and unremarkable.
However, even in the face of considering such options as a CPO M2, M3, M4, or something else just as exotic and compelling, the venerable 3 Series still worms its way into my heart, and into contention. It could all be so simple: One car that does it all, with no ongoing maintenance or modification projects. Just me, the car, and sheer driving pleasure. For this fantasy to work (at least in the short term), the car doesn’t have to be anything particularly special—other than the fact that it’s new, and it’s mine.
The solution to the seemingly inherent 3 Series boredom is to do what BMW wishes we all did: lease the car, and when something flashy and new is available in two or three years, return it and swap it out for what’s next.
This works fine for many people, but as we’ve all likely learned over the past few years, the latest and greatest isn’t always the best—why else would the market assign such values to what we now affectionately refer to as modern classics? And let us not forget about the ever present reality of new car depreciation.—Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]