Like so many of our car-buying decisions, my dad holds some blame for this one. Probably more than he thinks. Just about 20 years ago, he was between company cars, and so was lent the work pool car - at least that's what I remember. The vehicle in question was an N-reg E36 Touring, a 320i in green and it was, technically speaking, a heap. It was only six or seven years old, but seemingly hadn't been given a moment's rest its whole life.
Nevertheless it opened my eyes (and ears) to straight sixes. Up until then I'd only been a passenger in droney four-cylinder petrols and diesels; then along comes a shabby, not-actually-that-old 3 Series making the sweetest, smoothest sound you ever did hear. I'd beg dad to hold that gear longer and change down sooner, because I was a very odd child and just wanted more straight-six.
Not long after that the M3 CSL emerged and, well, you can guess the rest: from then on, I had to have a straight-six 3 Series at some point. As a teenager it was an E21 or E30 (remember when they were cheap?), in my early 20s it was an E46 M3 (remember when they were cheap, too?) and most recently it's been a fondness for non-M Z4 Coupes (only going one way...). Never did I think my first six-cylinder 3 Series would be a Touring, but it's nice for the story to have come full circle.
The plan for this car was simple, as they so often are. My girlfriend Alice and I have a dog, we'd like to start a family and, because it's what everyone in media does, I like to pretend I ride a bike more often than I do - a cheap estate made sense. Octavias, Mondeos, Saabs and Volvos were considered and just as swiftly dismissed - evidently, the two of us had quite different ideas of a what a dog wagon should be. We eventually settled on a Leon Cupra ST, as I like how they drive and Alice likes how they looked. A little more than £15k would have got one - perfect.
Of course that's not what happened. At some point in the car buying process BMW was mentioned by Alice, which seemed brilliant news; we could spend less money and get a great engine as well. The Touring is arguably the best-looking E9x 3 Series and, with high mileage but decent 325is and 330is from £5k, I figured a really nice six-cylinder one could be had for around £10,000.
That plan didn't quite work out. Alice wanted something more modern, which seemed reasonable enough - spend more now and keep what's a newer, nicer car now for longer. Problem being that the last generation of 3 Series Touring (the F31, if you're keen) significantly reduced the number of straight-six options, as it was only available with two 3.0-litre petrol models; the N55-engined 335i was replaced at the facelift with the B58-engined 340i. The earlier car was pushing the budget already (loans are cheap at the moment, FYI) and so a 340i was out of the question, given they're still £25k-plus. A 335i it was, then - we just had to find one...
Unsurprisingly, diesel was popular for these early F31s. The torque suits what an estate is designed for, the 330d and 335d still offered straight-six effortlessness and the fuel was more than acceptable in those carefree years prior to 2015. Plus, well, BMW makes some great diesel engines - it all makes sense. A point proven by the fact that 10 per cent of all F31s were 335ds, a lot given how much it would have cost. Just a few years ago a big, petrol engined 3 Series Touring would have been a niche choice, as our search was proving.
OY64VDO cropped up eventually, a one-owner BMW Approved Used car not too far away. The spec read just fine - Mineral Grey, black leather, 18-inch wheels, 40k miles - but it seemed a lot of money to someone eyeing up Mondeo ST220s not long before. And there weren't any pictures. Viewing cars is tricky at the best of times, and especially now, so a complete absence of images was weird. We rang, and it was having a couple of scratches and kerbed wheels seen to before being photographed. Pictures would be there soon, they said, but there'd already been a lot of interest - the 335i doesn't come up very often...
You can guess what happened next. We did what I'd once vowed never to do when purchasing a car and placed a deposit on something neither of us had seen, not even virtually. We waited to hear when it would be ready, and I can't deny the anxiety one bit. What if it had been smoked in? What if the seat bolsters were in tatters? What if it didn't drive properly? This was 10 times more money than I'd ever spent on a car and I'd done everything wrong. Yes, it was approved used and, yes, it was relatively new, but it still felt like a gamble with the odds far from stacked in my favour. And I didn't want to lose the £500 deposit.
Thankfully, the anxiety was unfounded - this car is wonderful. I'm almost glad the advert didn't come with pictures originally, as it probably would have gone before we had chance. The 18-inch Style 400 wheels (so many seem to have 19s), clear glass (even more have tinted windows), the bigger nav screen and a largely blemish-free interior all count in its favour. Not having heated seats isn't ideal and part of me will always remain intrigued by a manual gearbox, but otherwise I'm over the moon.
We paid £19,500. I don't know what constitutes good value at the moment but that seemed a reasonable price, given what it would have cost new, the mileage and the premium that will inevitably exist buying from BMW. Furthermore, as I've subsequently found out, it's foolish to be too picky on spec, as just 139 335i Tourings were sold in the UK. That's not just automatic M Sports either, but every single estate with the N55 straight-six. From a total production run of 65,000, the 335i was just 0.2 per cent of F31 sales here. Not having heated seats isn't the end of the world.
The car hasn't been driven too far just yet, but I've loved every mile. The engine's silky smoothness, muted rasp and ample power entirely vindicates my six-cylinder stubbornness, the interior is great - how good do those dials look? - and I think the F31 shape remains a stylish one. I'm almost as happy just gawping at it as driving it. At last, I own a six-cylinder 3 Series, and it feels absolutely fantastic.
For now, plans involve little more than driving it around and enjoying it to the fullest. VDO is under a year's warranty as part of the approved used scheme, so there won't be any meddling just yet. When that time is up, and assuming I've saved any money, it would be great to get Bird's limited slip diff and suspension upgrade fitted. It was so impressive in the B3-40i we drove last year that I think it would finish this 335 off just nicely. But there's time for all that - for now I'm happy just to tell anyone in earshot that that 335i Touring right there is mine. Feels worth the 20-year wait already.
Car: 2014 BMW 335i M Sport Touring (F31)
Run by: Matt
Bought: August 2021
Mileage: 39,995 (at purchase, currently 40,472)
Purchase price: £19,500
Last month at a glance: Matt's bought a car!
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