I want to believe...

Well, the time is almost here for my first "new" (meaning new to me) car purchase in a decade. My 94 toyota truck still runs well but - well
generally it isn't any fun to drive, or look at, or sit in and I'm tired of it.
My price range is $20,000 to $25,000. 25k is an absolute limit and I would REALLY like to keep it closer to 20k.
What I am after:
After researching and driving more cars than I can even remember (meaning, many were forgettable) ove rthe last few months it has come down to these:
2002 330i - with ~50,000 miles
and (no giggling) the 2005 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT with ~20,000 miles
I want a car that is FUN to drive. Fast, good handling, nice interior, nice exterior, etc. I really like to drive and even used to do it professionally a long time ago.
I don't actually drive all that much these days. I telecommute to work and live in largeish city where most things are nearby. Right now I'd say I am driving about 6000 miles a year. But when I do drive, I'd like it to be a good time. I'd like a car that impresses me, my friends, the girls I date, etc (mostly me). Car needs to be a manual tranny and I plan to keep it at least 5 years.
For those not familiar with the Subaru, here are the major bullet points (pro and con):
*Accelerates like a rocket (250 HP and 250 ft lbs) 0 to 60 in under 6 secs. *Has just a touch of turbo lag in the manual *Has all wheel drive (a nice plus but not really mandatory to me) *Handles pretty well *Is not "bad looking" per se, but is not lust inducing by any means *Interior is just "so so". HAs some things that annoy me such as a factory stereo that is more or less impossible to change out (no I am not kidding) *Would be under factory warranty for several more years *Presumably would be very reliable in the long run, being a Subaru *Doesn't hold its value all that well (compared to the BMW) *I see VERY few of them on the road, so even though it isn't a "looker" per se, it is pretty unique when you do see one. *Gas milage is pretty bad. Looks like people who drive one with any verve at all average about 19 mpg *The paint job is not the best
The 330i
*Accelerates almost as fast as the subaru, though it is smoother all the way *The handling... Oh God it's just so nice. I really can feel what it is people mean when they talk about how this car connects you to the road. I took a 330i on a 45 minute test drive in the middle of the day when traffic was sparse and I threw it around like a freak. Amazing... *Does not have AWD (and I think the 330xi is going to be too much $) *Is just absolutely beautiful to look at. I see an "average" number of 3 series on the roads here and every time I do I have to stare at it. When I see one in black that has been nicely detailed I seriously want to take off all my clothes and go lay on it. The shape, the wheels, the paint job... *Not only is it beautiful to look at, it's beautiful to listen to as well. *The interior is nicer. A lot nicer. Better seats, better leather, etc... *Better milage than the Subaru *Lower depreciation
Now the stuff that worries me:
*Would not be under warranty. *As such, if it breaks it is on me to pay for it and apparently parts and labor are not cheap *Long term reliability... Based on thorough research... Well I don't know what to think anymore... Anecdotal evidence through various outlets such as edmunds, CR, epinions and so on would have me believe that BMW reliabilty could possibly be a problem. *Similar anecdotal evidence leads me to believe by and large, even a to-be- driven-hard Subaru like the GT is going to hold up better over the long haul.
So I guess you can see where I am heading with this. My head says Subaru, but my heart says BMW. But I don't want to live to regret listening to my heart 2 years down the road after a half dozen major repairs on the 330 that cost me 6 or 7 grand...
I guess this post was just kind of a stream of consciousness type thing to help me sort out my thoughts, but I would like to hear any and all opinions. I am truly stuck at the cross roads on this.
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Lot of miles

Well to be fair older BMW's were more fun to drive. Modern ones have ABS, ASC, auto boxes etc., so the car keeps you in the envelope that no unexpected reaction of the car to the controls will get you into trouble. OTOH you can still drive into a corner faster that you can get round it [and crash].
A BMW will get you wherever you were going sooner and with less fuss...
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I wouldn't get the subaru with the 2.5 unless you got one of the "phase ii" motors -- the 2.5 is terrible for leaking headgaskets.... Subaru's own "tech paper" on the subject is to use a bottle of their "conditioner" (aka: radiator stop leak) at each oil change....
Have you driven an STi or WRX? You should be able to find those w/in your price range -- and if you thought the legacy was fun....
Maintence? I'm not familiar with the 330i's cost of scheduled & unscheduled; but the subaru (sans the phase i 2.5 engines) are solid. We have a 97 outback that we wouldn't sell at all -- have had 0 problems with it.
--- AntiSpam/harvest --- Remove X's to send email to me.
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snipped-for-privacy@jAssing.com (Josh Assing) wrote in

I've not read of any such problems in this newest incarnation, though I guess it's possible I've missed it.

Bleh. I am 37 years old and those cars are -to me- stupid little boy racer buggies. I guess I left off that I'd like the car I choose to have some level of refinement.

Right. Subaru's long term track record for reliability is pretty hard to beat.
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You can have a LOT of fun for the money you are talking about. I would hesitate to get a used BMW 330i other than the 2002 model year you are looking at. For some reason, 2002 was a sweet spot year for 330i's and it is one of the few BMW model/year combo's that Consumer Reports recommends.
A Subaru WRX would be in your price range and it would be just enormous fun to drive. The thing pulls like a 300 hp Corvette (I owned the latter and have driven the former). An Sti would be even more fun, but I suspect you will not find a nice one for low 20's.
Another, far less expensive, car to consider is a Neon SRT-4. No kidding. These cars are inexpensive, very powerful, excellent handlers and economical. Next to no snob appeal except among people who know a lot about high-performance cars. These eat 330i's for breakfast.

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please, have you seen the crash tests on the neon????? DEATH TRAP.
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Right, I've seen that and it is one of the things helping to push the BMW as a possible option. The 2001 is significantly less money, closer to $20,000 than $25,000 (sport pack) but I think it would be worth it to go for the 2002 for the reliability reason.

I wouldn't own one even if I could. Stupid looking, rough riding car and the insurance rates are absolutely insane. The Legacy OTOH has VERY reasonable rates.
One of the things I left out is how easily modified the Legacy GT is. If I cared enough to bother, for about $1500 it can be taken to 300+HP very easily (ECU reflash, changed exhaust, etc) to produce a car that will destroy most everything out there in straight line acceleration, all the while keeping its "sleeper" look.
But, 0 to 60 isn't everything. All around handling, interior quality and lust factor are higher on the list to me. A 1 second difference to 60mph isn't a huge deal.
I am still very much on the fence, bu I appreciate the responses. Keep 'em coming...
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I was looking at a 330xi, I had a 540. I also looked a a new legacy like you, but I like window frames, and thicker sheetmetal. the car is very nice, but I wanted more than turbo power. I bought a 330xi, 2003 with 50k miles. Sweet car and I am happy. Yes, the subaru is japanese and may cost less to own in 10 years, MAYBE not. But while you own it, if you have taste, you will be happier with the BMW. I now have a '94 540i, and a '03 330xi. I have had an '85 535im and a '87 325e as well over the years.
If I was to do it again, I would but a regular 330i.
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Any reliability issues the BMW might have over the Subaru are minor, inexpensive and easy to fix (JD powers survey results). The BMW might be more expensive to buy in the first place, but the long term cost of ownership will be same/lower unless you are really unlucky. The price of gas is only going in one direction, no need to guess what that is going to do to the resale value of the Subaru. For me this makes the BMW the head and heart choice.
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Sharkman BMW wrote:

Not exactly. Built in Indiana. -- C.R. Krieger (Been there; drove that)
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GRL wrote:

Well, you must be kidding about the name. It is *not* a "Neon". The name appears nowhere on the car nor in the literature. Ask Dodge.

All true ...

However, almost impossible to live with if one needs to drive on actual streets. Thing has a ride very similar to a Conestoga wagon. There is virtually *no* suspension compliance. I'm pretty 'hard core' compared to most (my preferred driver is my E28 535is on Eibach sport springs & Bilstein HDs). Only a hard-core autocrosser will want one of these - and the smart ones will tow it to events. The WRX is downright refined compared to the Dodge. If you want to impress a date, you'll leave the SRT/4 at home and take a bus. -- C.R. Krieger (Been there; drove that)
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Adam wrote:

This decision is way too easy... Life is too short to drive boring cars, especially one relegated primarily to recreational duties. Once the buzz of a turbo wears off, your stuck with an Asian car...
Go with your heart, man, even if it costs you a few more dollars. You (probably) deserve it, don't you? One word of warning, though... If you do buy the BMW you will probably never be willing to consider buying an Asian car again.
--
-Fred W

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I bought a BMW 323i ( 2.5L I6, 170HP, Manual ) over 6 years ago sport-premium pkg - it now has ~64000 miles on it. I have enjoyed every moment of driving it. I haven't driven another car that gives me the same 'feel' or inspires the same level of confidence. I have had to change the thermostat ( under warranty ) once, but it hasn't given me any maintenance heartache yet. I'm bracing myself for the next service - due in about 1200 miles or so - I'll have to change my front contol arms ( bad alaskan roads to blame - shimmy over 75MPH $1100 P&L plus a full mounting and balancing $250 ) and my final stage resistor $300 P&L ( varying cabin air circulation fan speeds ).
We got a barely used 8-months old 2005 Subaru Outback Wagon XT Ltd ( 2.5L H4 Turbo, 250HP, Auto ) for the wife. It had ~4000 miles when we bought it and since then we have put another 1000 or so. Great car - AWD, Leather, dual moonroof,okay stereo ( no mp3 ), effortless acceleration, gas mileage closer to 16.5 ( winter and all ). No problems so far.
The BMW with super straight torque line coupled with a silky smooth manual makes driving more fun any day of the week, as long as it is not one of those glazed-with-black-ice days ( DSC helps me quite a bit here with all-season tires on ) - since AWD is a nice-to-have on your list, I'm guessing this is not much of a concern where you live. In my opinion, any post 2000 BMW will cost you a bit more to maintain than a close-to-new subaru. By how much is the question. Or whether you want to foot the extra for that occassional 2500-6000rpm trip on the second gear on a twisty back back road that goes up and down.
Adam wrote:

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snipped-for-privacy@home.com (Adam) wrote in

why not drop some cash on a classic? You could find a very nicely restored 1970-76 bmw 2002 (model not the year) or 2002tii for about 10 grand that would blow your socks off.
If you are only driving 6k a year i'd consider a restored older car that has a lot of personality and is really fun to drive. The modern cars with all the gizmos and crap are fine, but you can't beat a 2002 for a seriously fun drive. Or maybe an older m5 (or the old m6) if you want a larger car -- or for slighly more modern an e30 m3. A built 2002 though is still the most fun.
check out http://www.bmw2002faq.com and join us 02ers .. you won't regret it
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Yeah you know it's funny you said that...
Once I sat and really thought about the fact that I really drive so little in a given year it occured to me my choices might open up a bit to cars that ordinarily wouldn't be considered for a "normal" person who drives 15,000 miles a year.
I've started investigating the possibility of the M3 (but the E36, not the E30) a car I've always loved (I know, who doesn't).
I could take the money I'd save over a 330i (possibly as much as 7 or 8k) and just "hold" it for maintenance / repairs as they pop up, which I assume they will. It would probably be worth it for that car. Any E36 M3 owners have any reccomendations on the best year (if there is one) of that model, what I should look for, etc?
I'm looking at some pics of a black sedan right now... *drool*

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snipped-for-privacy@home.com (Adam) wrote in

That sounds like a plan. Likesay if you are only driving once in a while you should get something you really like driving!!!
check out http://forums.bimmerforums.com/forum /
There are a lot of e36 owners over there who'll talk your ear off.
DOn't know where you live but I'd start checking craigslist.org and start test driving different cars -- one will jump out at you as THE CAR!
best of luck

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If you are looking for a car "to impress" on 6000 miles a year and an M3 of any vintage is in budget thats got to be the way to go. It's a super car on an executive car budget, I dare not drive one myself as I do 20-25K miles a year which forces me into a deisel (UK).
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