New Car

Back in January, I reviewed my (then) current car: my Honda Civic Type-R. I also detailed the reasons that I would be swapping it for something else: corrosion, age of components, uncompromising ride, pain in the arse to do basic DIY jobs and so on. I concluded this post by stating that I was looking at the newer FK2 Type-R. However…

The FK2 musing came to nothing in the end. Partly because the cars hold their value so well which would have entailed some sort of finance repayments (which I really don’t want to have again after clearing it all on previous vehicles), and partly because I saw this as an oppurtunity to take a chance on something completely different…a car that I’ve gazed at longingly for several years now, and a car that I felt I should take the plunge with now while a) prices are right and b) it is still possible to run a fat-engined gas guzzler. So this is what I bought:

Now, you probably see these all the time on the roads, but this specific model was actually very hard for me to track down, especially in good condition. This is a 2007 BMW 530i M-Sport, and what that means is that this packs a big 3.0, naturally-aspirated straight/inline six petrol engine. For reference, there are LOADS of diesel models of this E60-gen 5-Series on the market (very well-specced I might add), and lots of “lesser” petrol models such as the 520, 523, and 525, but I specifically wanted this three-litre beastie and the 530i badge was surprisingly difficult to find here in the UK.

Essentially, this is the best model available underneath the (crazy) V10-equipped M5, and the 545i/550i V8 variants. Better still, the six-cylinder in the 530i is miles more reliable than any of those models, requiring only regular servicing and oil changes. In contrast, the V8’s can suffer with pricey valve stem seal issues, and the M5…well, you don’t buy a V10 supersaloon and expect it not to be an expensive, high-maintenance relationship.

The straight-six under the bonnet of this car is known to be one the best ever made, and it won a lot of awards too. It was also the end of an era as BMW began fitting turbos to their six-cylinder cars afterwards. Unfortunately, there was a massive push to get the public to buy diesel cars (a government promotion that has aged about as well as the Gollywog) when the E60 was on the market (2005-2010) which is why the majority of cars in the classifieds and trade ads are diesels, and why I had such a tough time finding a 530i. I also didn’t want to compromise and settle for something like a 520i so I persisted, searching for months until I finally landed on a car with history and low miles. The only compromise I had to make was the gearbox, as this is an auto – something that I’d previously considered sacrilege as a petrolhead. However, the auto ‘box is actually a positive for me, as I’ll explain in a bit.

But what originally drew me to this car, specifically an E60 with M-Sport aero kit, is how the car looks. It’s one of the biggest ironies of my life that the Chris Bangle styling of the E60 struck me as absolutely revolting when these cars first came out, taking over from the attractive E39 generation. Over the years though, my opinion has done a complete 180 and now I can’t get enough of how these cars (and other BMWs from the Bangle era such as the E85 Z4 and E63 6-Series) look. I’m forever looking back at mine in car parks from different angles. Take a look at the last few generations of 5-Series and you can see smart, but safe exterior styling that has evolved at a crawl between model generations. Never again has there been such a radical, sweeping change in aesthetic design as the Bangle era, and I don’t think we will see such a gamble by a car giant like BMW ever again.

In my opinion, it looks superb from all angles, especially with the M-Sport bumpers, skirts, and 19-inch “Spider” alloy wheels (the best-looking factory wheel option in my eyes, though the 18″ MV2s are also nice). The only thing dulling it’s impact is that there are still a lot of E60’s on the road! As more and more gradually shuffle off to the scrapheap, I think the E60 design will only continue to age well and turn more heads.

Inside, it’s all black leather with optional black headlining, and M-Sport steering wheel and sill plates. There is the infamous i-Drive system (which I’m not finding to be the headache that many BMW owners make out) and plenty of luxuries that I never had on the Type-R such as heated seats, parking radar, tinted mirrors, fully electric seats, DVD player, 6-CD changer etc. It hasn’t got all of the options unfortunately (there are so many that I doubt any E60 is specced exactly the same…), but that’s also less to go wrong, right?

The best of it is that waiting paid dividends, as this car has all the service stamps, Continental boots all round (with loads of tread left), and less than 70,000 miles – crazy for a fourteen year-old motor! There’s also evidence of a brand-new air-con condenser having being fitted which would have cost the previous owner a decent wedge. All of this set me back well under £10,000, even less after I’d traded the R.

I’m dead pleased with it and honestly still can’t believe that I have one of these. I’ve had a fair few strange looks in the work’s car park as I work a (to use the American term) blue-collar factory job so I guess it is odd to see somebody like me in an executive-spec BMW that overhangs the parking bay(s) by a considerable amount!

As for why I consider the automatic gearbox a plus point these days…well, that ties into another reason that I wanted shot of the Type-R: my intermittent back problems. On bad days, those Recaro seats and the rock-hard suspension setup really inflamed the issue, and long drives were just so unappealing with pressing the clutch in after sitting on a motorway at cruising speed for hours pulling on my lower back. Even though the 530i sits on 19″ wheels, the ride is infinitely kinder, and the seats are far more supportive with a lot more adjustment options. It’s no slouch for an auto anyway, and it shifts along incredibly quickly given the car’s size (no doubt helped by the ‘M’ setup). There’s also the option to flick the selector to the left and shift the gears manually too if I want.

So yeah…a completely different kind of car than the one I’d anticipated getting but, so far, I’m enjoying it. Naturally, any big, older luxury German car is a risk as far as potential issues and costs go, but these are still well-made machines with heaps more build quality than the Civic. Besides, sometimes you just have to take a risk and go for something, even if it might not end well down the line.

Car Talk: Bangle’s BMW’s Revisited


What’s that? Oh, sorry – I was just feeling a little sleepy there. Probably as a result of seeing the new BMW 3-Series.

If you couldn’t tell, I’m not exactly a fan of BMW and their car design. I USED to be but it’s difficult to get passionate about the cautious evolution of the likes of the 3 and 5-Series models. Don’t even get me started on their range of gargantuan, obnoxious drug-dealer ‘X’ SUV’s. This is the way it has been for some time now and while there have been some attractive BMW’s in recent times – the F82 M4 and F06 Gran Coupe 6-Series – the majority of the Bavarian firm’s designs are “smart”, “safe” and “uniform” – solid descriptives but not descriptives that set the pulse racing.

Solid and unoffensive but certainly not sexy. [Source]
It wasn’t always this way though. Look at the design evolution between the E30, E36 and E46 3-Series models. All three generations are attractive cars that share similar design cues but – crucially – manage to stand apart from one another. The latest 3-Series doesn’t look massively different to the last one which in itself was just a sharper refinement of its predecessor’s silhouette.

And this is why I want to take a look back at that brief moment in time when BMW entrusted the design of their cars to one Chris Bangle. His designs proved intensely controversial and were rather wild and unconventional after years of conservative car design at BMW. At the time, many resented these weird new BMWs (myself included) but I can’t help but look back at this era now and mourn the time when a heavyweight car manufacturer of BMW’s caliber allowed a designer to rewrite the rules and gave him their backing when the critics were aghast at what they were seeing.

So I thought it would be fun to revisit Bangle’s BMW output with fresh eyes and revitalise our imaginations – stunted by the all-consuming blandness of modern car design.

[Note: Chris Bangle was at BMW for a long time and involved in the design of many cars whether in a hands-on fashion or as an overseer. I don’t want to talk about every single car that was released during Bangle’s tenure at BMW so I’m only going to look back at the cars he had the most involvement with, making a special exception for the original Z4.]

5-Series (E60/E61)

This is the biggie for me because after the graceful E39 5-Series, the E60 arrived looking nothing like what had come before. I remember first seeing these on the roads and absolutely detesting them. The headlights stretching up into the wings took a lot of getting used to as did the pointy rear lights. The E60 is three generations old now and I have to say that my opinion of it has changed completely. I think it still looks incredibly sharp and imposing – making a true statement despite the fact that there are still enough on the roads to make them a common daily sight. Critics and the public were unsure of the E60’s looks back in 2003 but it’s those same looks and that daring design in general that make the car so appealing today when the current 5-Series is really nothing to get emotional about.

The M5 model is a true monster with a 5.0 naturally aspirated, F1-inspired V10 powerplant that stirs the soul and represents the end of an era – the culmination of an arms race that went off in a different, turbo-charged direction thereafter. They also made a Touring version (E61) which is utterly bonkers and surely the best way to haul some crap down to the dump. Alpina editions are dangerously sexy.

Personally, the E60 has matured like a fine wine and I would honestly say that a decent spec example with a manual ‘box (a rarity unfortunately) and M-Sport equipment is one of my most highly desired cars. That’s high praise coming from a staunch follower of everything JDM.

Z4 (E85/E86)

The E85 Z4 is the work of Anders Warming but I’m including it here since I keep seeing references to the fact that Chris Bangle had some sort of input on the design. I’m not 100% sure about that but in any case, the Z4 was certainly a major departure from the Z3. As with the E60 5-Series, I hated this car on release and wondered what on earth was happening at BMW. The front end in particular always struck me as brutish and rhino-like. Today however, the design has matured and is certainly preferable to the nondescript, folding tin-top E89 that followed in the E85’s wake.

My father has the coupe version (E86) and it really is a nice car. The long bonnet and squat, muscular proportions go so well with the swooping fastback shape that gives the car an almost classic sports car look. His isn’t the fire-breathing, ultra desirable Z4M variant but you’d better believe that the 3.0 N52B30 straight-six under that huge bonnet can deliver a massive shove…as well as a big grin on the driver’s face.

7-Series (E65)

The E65 was one of the more shocking designs to emerge from Bangle’s reign at BMW’s design offices. It was a car that looked nothing at all like its conservative predecessor and in that sense, it achieved the BMW board’s wishes to move the design direction of its cars into the future. The controversy was real however, especially at the rear end of the car where the strange (shocking even, for 2001) elongated boot horrified many, leading critics to label it the “Bangle Butt”. As with the E60 5-Series, I too did not like this car when it first launched. The design was just so different and in-your-face. I couldn’t stand the car.

But as with the E60, that bold design philosophy is exactly what has made the E65 7-Series age fantastically in my opinion. I don’t look twice at the current 7-Series or the model it replaced but when I see an E65 cruising by, I can’t help but look. I hated it in period but the current, ultra-safe design direction at BMW has given me newfound appreciation for cars like the E65 and made me realise how lucky we really were to witness these risks being taken. Sometimes though, you can’t appreciate what you have until you lose it.

6-Series (E63/E64)

Another radical design that sported a “Bangle Butt”, the E63 6-Series was as different as you could possibly get from the original, much-loved 6-Series (E24). Big, beefy and with a bruiser persona, the E63 was another controversial design that – again – I felt enormously turned-off by back in 2004. Like the 7-Series, I could only look at it and think “what the hell are they doing?“. It was fugly and struck me as a mish-mash of design elements colliding in the worst possible way.

Surprise, surprise, the E63 has the polar opposite effect on me today in 2019. It turns me on like modern BMWs simply can’t. As I mentioned in the intro to this article, I do like the Gran Coupe (F06) body style of the more recent 6-Series but nothing is a dramatic and statement-making as the E63, especially in M6 mode – a true monster with planet-sized alloys and that masterpiece that is the 5.0 S85B50 V10 engine. Will we ever see such a radical design again? Never say never but I feel that it’s unlikely which is a shame.

Overall Thoughts

To quote myself from this very post:

“Sometimes though, you can’t appreciate what you have until you lose it.”

I feel that this is the best way I can sum up the Bangle years at BMW. Obviously, I am very much aware of the concepts of maturity, rose-tinted vision and older stuff looking a lot better in light of newer offerings but despite that, I’m still fascinated by how horrible these cars seemed to many of us in their day and how fantastic they look NOW. Looking at the German automotive industry today, it’s almost unthinkable to imagine that a giant like BMW – that values consistency and inoffensive design language – would have once permitted a man to wipe the slate and trade in Evolution for Revolution in such a blunt manner. I’m glad that they did though because the cars I’ve covered here have aged superbly in my opinion and make highly tempting purchases on the second-hand market.

What do you think? Have you always hated the Bangle era? Did you appreciate it from the very beginning, waiting for the rest of the world to catch up? Or were you like me and changed your stance over time?

Car Talk: The 2019 Toyota Supra is just a fake

Is that a harsh statement to make? A blunt assessment perhaps? Well I don’t particularly care. Remember which blog you’re reading here. After all, I am petrolhead amongst other things and a big lover of Japanese metal at that. The A80 (1993-2002) Supra from Toyota is the car I’ve always lusted for the most but good luck acquiring a nice condition manual car here in the UK without some good money in the bank. I’m not the only lover of Toyota’s winged beast either and fans have been eagerly anticipating the A90 follow-up for eons. We’ve had to make do with countless rumours, concepts and prototypes in the meantime, none of which ever amounted to anything concrete.

Until now.

Except…the car is just a fucking BMW with a Toyota shell on top of it. Now I’m not knocking BMW as they make some fantastic cars and you’d better believe that several have made it onto my wishlist over the years. You will be getting a well-engineered product for sure but it’s not Japanese, not a Toyota and certainly not a real Supra.

It’s like an attractive German lady wearing a kimono and playing at being Japanese. The European facial features and German accent are impossible to conceal however.

The Supra exists on a BMW platform. It has a BMW interior with that instantly recognisable steering wheel shape/design and large tablet-like screen. Even the HUD and menus look the same as you’d find on a BMW’s. The biggest sin is reserved for the engine bay however as Toyota have again borrowed from BMW, using their 2.0 turbo’d four cylinder or a turbo’d 3.0 straight-six. There’s no manual ‘box option either. The BEST part? Probably the Supra badge on the rump that uses the same font as its predecessor’s. That’s a pretty crappy realisation.

It’s a Supra in name only as far as I’m concerned. A generation of car lovers has grown up on the likes of Gran Turismo and The Fast and the Furious, eagerly awaiting the day when Toyota release a new Supra for their generation to buy and enjoy. This is, in my opinion, a sorry excuse for a final product but it’s not really Toyota’s fault.

Y’see, the market has changed since the 90’s and early 2000’s. Estate cars, saloons, coupes and sports cars have all been killed off by the rampant SUV disease. All that consumers appear to aspire to these days are big, blobby, artless crossovers that foster a superiority complex with their jacked-up driving positions. Ugly, nondescript boxes that all look the same (regardless of manufacturer) and are leased on popular PCP finance deals. Add to this the growing number of drivers that have no interest in cars and treat them as mere appliances and you hardly have an ideal environment for sports cars.

You can’t blame Toyota for supplying what people are buying. It’s business after all. So it’s a miracle that the 2019 Supra exists at all and if it wasn’t down to Toyota president, Akio Toyoda and his love for sports cars, then nobody else would have forced the project through to production. The cost was grave though and meant that money needed to be saved hence the collaboration with BMW and use of their engines. Even so, the Supra is still unlikely to turn a profit for the company (from what I’ve read at least).

Welcome to the new BMW Z4…sorry, I meant SUPRA. [image:]
So we have to be thankful that we are even at this stage then. But who is going to buy it? Show-offs and trendy types possibly or buyers who genuinely don’t realise that they are buying a BMW Z4 in drag. Not everybody looks into these things after all and your local Toyota dealer is unlikely to tell you that it’s a BMW you’re buying. Many will doubtlessly buy it for the name or to be different to the M-car crowd which is irony on a gourmet scale.

I can’t see true JDM diehards salivating over this though because there’s no way you can drive this thing and continue to profess a love for Japanese cars. Go back to the 90’s and if you were to choose something from Toyota’s sports car range – be it the Supra, Celica or MR2 – then you KNEW that you were buying a car that was designed and engineered by Toyota with a Toyota-built engine under the bonnet. You could legitimately pin your colours to a flag. If the A90 Supra at least had a 3JZ engine and a bespoke interior then we’d be talking.

In summary, it’s good to see the Supra name back again and the BMW DNA means that buyers WILL get a good car. I have no doubt that it will drive well and perform stonkingly too. To deny this would be pretty moronic. However, if you want an authentic Japanese designed and built sportscar that does the legacy of the country’s 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s output proud then this isn’t it. The sad truth is that we may NEVER see such a thing again if boring shit like the Qashqai and CH-R continue to bring home the bacon.