Living in California, not many people buy ‘beaters’ to drive around in. For those that do not know the term ‘beater’, it is essentially a car that you don’t need to care about, so you can beat the crap out of it, to preserve your other, better car. They are popular where the roads get slick, and the salt laid on the road can consume a nice car. In other words, the North-East. Here, in California, where you can look at a map of the state and essentially pick the range of weather you would like to live in, you can drive whatever car you want year-round. That means finding a beater can be a heck of a challenge, and when I was recently tasked to do just that, the pickings were slim.
Due to the area, the cars on the market are either proper sh*tboxes, or just a little too nice to be considered ‘beaters’. I was not shopping for myself, or even for inclement weather use so wet-road handling was not paramount. Due to a friend needing to learn how to drive, he needed a nice, safe, reliable(ish) automatic car to learn how to drive in. If the outside was already a little beat to crap, all the better. After looking at a few newer Hyundai’s and other depressing offerings, nothing was quite up to snuff. Finally, we took a shot on what would become known as the ‘Beater Beamer’ between us, a 2007 328xi E91 Touring automatic, which has a good interior and beat up exterior.
The Car: What it was
The 2007 BMW 328xi Sport Wagon E91—full title—was a premium car when it reached the market. Starting at around $35,000 for the wagon variant, this example almost certainly topped $40,000 when it left the showroom. For this price, you received the 3-series chassis, which is known to be dang good in this generation, as well as a 3.0L inline-six-cylinder engine mated to a 6-speed automatic. You also received such luxuries as heated leather seats, dual climate control, hands-free calling, and a plethora of other niceties. The pre-2008 BMW 3-series is a bit of an ugly duckling compared to the post-facelift version after 2008, but I feel the Sport Wagon body style is a more complete visual package than the sedan or coupe-styles.
While you can get all the same luxuries in a 3-series with a proper trunk, what made this car better than other variants comes in its utility: Not only did it feature BMW’s xDrive AWD system (available on other body styles), it has a massive 61 cubic feet of storage space with the rears seats folded, and a still respectable 16.2 cubic feet with them up. Compared to the sedan’s 12 cubic feet, that extra utility is hard to turn down, especially when it does not cost in driving dynamics, and only a little in weight.
|2007 E91 BMW 328xi Factory Statistics
Engine: 3.0 L 6-cylinder
Horsepower: 230 hp
Torque: 200 lb-ft
0-60mph: 6.8 seconds
MPG: Up to 20 city / 27 highway
Curb weight: 3,770 lbs
Dimensions: 178″ L x 72″ W x 56″ H
Oh boy, but did the buying public turn it down, like all modern station wagons. It is a safe bet, looking at past sales trends, to assume that the Touring body style accounted for about 2% of all model sales. For 2007, this totals a paltry estimate of ~1400 sales. Judging from the closest year where data was available by model—2009, when the E91 totaled 1430 sales—this seems to be a safe assumption. What this means for buyers of this car when new or used, and buyers of the current Touring model, is that not only do they get the more practical choice, they get the benefit of not seeing other copies of their cars as often. This gives the car a unique-looking feel, but since it is simply a 3-series underneath, parts and maintenance costs remain similar to the more popular be-trunked models.
The Car: What it is
Much of the above remains true for current drivers of this car, ourselves included. The main difference that almost 10 years has caused is the accumulation of miles, and the wear and tear that go with them. Our example was picked up at just over 115,000 miles, and is currently a few trips to the store away from 119,000. While 4,000 miles may seem to be a high number for a beater, learner car to have driven in two months, I have been driving it everywhere in an attempt to work out any kinks before my friend is on his own in it. These 4,000 miles were not incident free, and while some of the problems which made themselves apparent were fixed, others were deemed livable. Of course, the exterior remained as-is, because fixing the scuffed wheels or rubbed bumper would defeat the purpose of the ‘Beater Beamer’. I do have my suspicions that the car originally came on 17in or 18in wheels, and that the current 16in wheels are off a RWD model, hence the inboard look in the rear.
First, the problems that remain. The side mirrors feature an auto-leveling feature, so when reverse is selected, they angle themselves to the best reversing-angle. Or rather, they did have this feature. The interior is a little aged, but is entirely livable, with hardly noticeable wear, although the rear-driver’s side window likes to remain in the door if rolled all the way down; partial distances are fine. Lastly, the speedometer is wrong by about 10% at speeds over 45mph, which while annoying, is easy to adjust to and is nullified with the use of a GPS (as we have added) or a speedometer app on your phone. On a day to day basis, most of these problems don’t even manifest, and when they do they are easily ignored or adapted to. Because of that, these issues will likely remain issues.
Now for the more serious problems which required attention. The valve cover gasket needed to be replaced, and at the same time we replaced the eccentric shaft sensor as well due to oil on the old one. This was the only issue with the engine, and was mostly a precautionary action, and it now runs tight as a drum, sealed shut. The front brakes required a full rebuild, because for some reason the calipers were sticking open. We took this opportunity to put stainless steel brake lines in for a firmer pedal, and to reduce the number of rubber components to wear. Lastly, while the previous owner did put new tires on for us, an entire set of tires they chose cost just $123! I was not about to put any faith in such a budget offering, and put on a surprisingly affordable set of Continental ExtremeContact DWS. While I normally run summer/winter tires on my cars, I have been pleasantly surprised with this rubber. Overall, while more money than most would spend on a ‘beater’ (about $3000 in repairs including tires, about $6500 for the car), due to the educational nature of the car, we felt some reliability and safety were necessary.
As a note of caution, the cup holders are the worst things ever. Read about them here.
Once the car was had and repaired, we could start putting miles on it. While I am sure my friend who is learning to drive doesn’t think much farther than the next 250 feet while he drives at this point, I have been exploring the local back roads, feeling out the car. I had zero hopes for a very dynamic feeling car, because despite my personal love of station wagons, the whale-ish nature of the vehicle sucked me into assuming nothing about it. The first left-right quick corner took those thoughts out of my head. Despite small, all-season tires, the BMW simply sticks. Due in part to the chassis, and mostly to the AWD, the ‘Beater Beamer’ is simply impossible to overpower, allowing faster-than-expected cornering speeds. Once I realized it could hold its own on a twisty road, this unassuming nature of the car became much more appreciable. While proper cars like Porsche’s, sportier BMW offerings, and many others will slap the car down, more “normal” sporty cars cannot keep pace. Cars like the FRS/GT86/BRZ triplets, Civic Si’s, and the odd Z car are often left in the dust around a corner. Although it must be said with only 230bhp, 200lb-ft of torque, and almost 3,800lbs, most of those cars will catch right up given a straight-away.
|2007 E91 BMW 328xi Current Stats
Engine: 3.0 L 6-cylinder
Horsepower: 230 hp or probably less
Torque: 200 lb-ft or probably less
0-60mph: 6.9 seconds
MPG: 19.1 city / 29 highway
Curb weight: 3,770 lbs
Dimensions: 178″ L x 72″ W x 56″ H
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how fast, efficient, or good-looking the car is, if it fulfills its mission of teaching my friend to drive. That is the beauty of the ‘beater’ concept: Not caring is the best attitude to approach used cars with. And fulfill it, it has. Not only is he improving his driving skills every time he gets behind the wheel, the car gets him home each of those times as well. While happy he has a fully functional car, he got even luckier, and is starting to grow to like the car. He enjoys the simple, non-digital gauges, the nice open view out of the cabin, and the smoothness and solid-ness of the car: and he should. The car is fantastic, for the goal. Not only was it fairly affordable—about $10,000 all in—it is a pleasant place to be. For a car to learn how to drive in, a pleasant interior and a care-free exterior make it ideal. For a car as a car, it is equally functional and pleasant. Due to this, I actually really want to purchase it from him, if it survives my lessons and his driving. Instructing someone to drive has never had such a good incentive.
Saying all of that, I feel I should mention that every used car is a unique proposition, and an exactly similarly equipped 2007 E91 328xi may be miles better than this, or a rotting pile of junk only good for scrap. Always properly inspect (or have inspected) a used car before purchasing. Remember to like, comment and share! Want to hear my plans for modifying this automatic, family hauler into something fun and quick in a corner? Let me know!
I recently recieved a degree in History from the University of Nevada, Reno.