Ah, the humble E30: In 2022, it’s tough to turn down the opportunity to drive any car from this golden era of Bavarian magic! With every year that passes, there are fewer and fewer of these iconic cars on the road, so when I was offered the keys to my friend Nick’s E30, I couldn’t turn them down.
However, there is something particularly special about Nick’s E30: It’s an iX. In the past, I had driven only different variants of rear-wheel-drive E30s—an engine-swapped 325i coupe, a 318i sedan, and others. This would be my first true experience with BMW’s first all-wheel-drive system.
For Nick, this car is truly his child. Growing up in Manchester, Vermont, a fifteen-year-old Nick needed a fun all-wheel-drive car to get him to and from high school in the winter and something fun to drive on Vermont’s famous back roads in the summer. The choice was obvious: an E46 330xi. Ignoring the obvious choice, Nick began looking for all-wheel-drive E30s and finally found this, his 1991 325iX.
The interior of Nick’s iX feels, smells, and looks like your standard E30, with nothing other than the badge to tip you off about what lies beneath it. To me, standard E30s feel light and pointy in the front end; in this car, from the word go, I immediately felt that extra weight from the transfer case and AWD system up front. At low speeds the iX steering felt heavy, even lazy at times. This somewhat aligned with my expectations; I knew that it was going to be different, but not to what extent.
As I carried on, I felt myself settling in with the car. Whenever I drive a pre-2000 BMW, it feels like using a well broken-in baseball glove. It’s loose where you’d expect (specifically when it comes to the shifter bushings…), but familiar, all at the same time. It’s like going to your best friend’s house: It’s not your house, but it may as well be, considering how well you know the layout of their pantry.
Once up to speed, the steering loses most of its laziness and becomes more compliant. I wouldn’t call it point-and-shoot steering, but it’s a new type of fun to move through corners. Through the very limited twisties we have in and around Marblehead, you only truly feel the all-wheel-drive system at work in super-tight, hairpin-style corners. On corner entry, it’s easy to feel the front end push slightly, and the car doesn’t rotate quite the same as the other E30s I’ve spent time in. On corner exit, you feel those front wheels pulling you forward—a completely unique experience if you’ve only driven modern all-wheel-drive systems.
As I do with most ’80s and ’90s BMWs, I quickly fell in love. Moving through the gearbox is such a dream; shifting is so intuitive and satisfying when you get it right! The relationship between the engine and gearbox feels so period-correct. It’s like driving a piece of history, but a piece of history that’s just as fun as when it was new.
I think what surprised me the most about this car is the suspension–over 30 years later, I still got the sense that this was a luxury car in 1991. The way it handles regulations and imperfections in the road was honestly impressive. (I do drive a 1995 Land Rover Defender during the summer, so I’m not entirely sure what bias this has put on my sense of road compliance and comfort.)
Nick’s iX has been through the wringer. It was driven daily for years through salty Vermont winters, which did not play kindly with the underside of this particular car. It’s probably time for a new chassis for the heart and soul of this beloved example, but I think that this why I like this iX more than any of the others: It’s been used for the exact purpose for it was designed. I can only imagine the BMW engineers sitting around a table dreaming up this car to take on the Audis of the time–to become the master of inclement weather.
Based on Nick’s ownership, he’s proven those engineers right. His iX has carried him to and from skiing and high school, and it survived years in downtown Boston during Nick’s college tenure. Like a golden retriever, it’s a part of the family. Over the years, this car has taken care of Nick—and Nick has made a promise to return that favor. —Tucker Beatty