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02Pilot Dork
7/29/17 8:44 p.m.

Did a 300 mile road trip in the 128i today and I thought there might be interest in a few observations.

The car is very comfortable on the highway for the most part. The suspension is very well-composed (I'm sure the Bilstein/Eibach setup has a lot to do with this, but the basic character of the design seems sound), and it's nice and quite (70mph is 2500rpm in 6th, which is 500rpm lower than top gear cruise at the same speed in my 525i). The one negative compared to the E39 is the effect of the short wheelbase, which makes the car a bit more, um, lively, on rough patches of pavement. Jarring would be overstating it, but it's definitely noticeable.

The manual sport seats are astonishingly good. Once you figure out how to make them fit you properly, they're wonderful. I got out of the seat after 2.5 hours and felt no discomfort, no stiffness, nothing. These are absolutely worth holding out for if you're shopping one of these cars.

The power delivery of the N51 (and the N52 - they're virtually identical) is very different from my past BMW engines. Where the typical BMW inline engine likes to be up in the top third of the rev range to make best power, the N51 is much more linear. You don't need to downshift nearly as often, but you miss out on the fun of hitting the power band as you wind the engine up. The 6spd is really, really nice. Well-defined gates, short throws, very communicative.

Controls are typically BMW logical. Everything's where you expect it to be (the E39 was the same way, as are most BMWs without the iDrive setup or whatever they're calling it now). It is a small cabin. For two, it's perfect; more would be a bad idea unless you have no concept of or need for personal space. The trunk is pretty small too, but again it's not an issue if you consider it a two seater.

No big surprises, but maybe useful to someone shopping for one of these.

dannyzabolotny New Reader
8/1/17 2:48 p.m.

Even though I'm disappointed in you leaving behind a perfectly good E39, a 128i is a worthy replacement. Manual, NA, RWD. It's still a classic BMW in that sense.

02Pilot Dork
8/1/17 3:20 p.m.
dannyzabolotny wrote: Even though I'm disappointed in you leaving behind a perfectly good E39, a 128i is a worthy replacement. Manual, NA, RWD. It's still a classic BMW in that sense.

I'm somewhat disappointed in me too. I talked to a long-time friend who might be interested in the E39, so hopefully I can place it in a good home.

02Pilot Dork
10/27/17 10:01 p.m.

So time for a three month update. I've put about 4k miles on the car in that time, including a 600+ mile round trip weekend to Maine. No unpleasant surprises, and the positives have been generally reinforced. It's a more competent and comfortable highway car than I expected it would be, given the wheelbase and the Bilstein/Eibach setup on top of the M-Sport suspension; much of the credit goes to the sport seats, which I just can't say enough good things about. The trunk has proven more practical than its small size suggested it would - we easily fit three bags in for the weekend trip, with room to spare for the usual stuff that lives back there (bike gear, inflator kit, tool kit, hiking backpack). The folding seats make it easy to load my 60cm road bike in the back with just the front wheel removed.

I replaced the water pump and thermostat preemptively, as well as the accessory belt, idler pulley, and tensioner assembly, engine air and cabin filters, and the engine oil. So far, it's been pretty straightforward to work on - the water pump is a pain, but it's not the worst job I've ever done. Other than these maintenance jobs, I've done nothing but drive it. I did add a nice OE rubber trunk liner and the factory Euro warning triangle with mounts in the trunk lid (I like little things like that). I'm planning to get a set of Weathertech floor liners before winter, and the snows (16" Pirelli WinterContactSIs) will go on in a few weeks.

All things considered, I'm really pleased with the car. It's compact, well-mannered, more than fast enough (it's very close to the E36 M3 in power-to-weight ratio), and utterly civilized without being detached and overloaded with intrusive technology like so many modern BMWs.

lnlds Reader
10/28/17 1:06 p.m.

Since you've mentioned it's a n51, any plans to get a tune to take advantage of the 3-stage manifold?

02Pilot Dork
10/28/17 4:23 p.m.
lnlds said:

Since you've mentioned it's a n51, any plans to get a tune to take advantage of the 3-stage manifold?

Not until the 15 year/150k mile warranty on emission-related parts runs out. If this thing ends up needing cats or some other expensive bits in the next ~43k miles, I'd rather it be on BMW's dime.

Hotspur New Reader
10/28/17 9:39 p.m.

I did the 3 stage swap on an 06 325xi (first gen E90) and again on an 09 328xi.  I did the first one with my Dad's help (and garage full of tools), but after moving out of state, I just paid AWE Tuning to do the swap for me.  Both times I used the tune from Active Autowerke out of FL.  It's a fantastic swap, and is essentially a 40hp boost for a bit under $2k if you buy all the parts new.  And it's all stock parts!  

I will say, I waited too late on both cars, I only ended up with it tuned for 6-12 months each, but life's timing and other repairs dictated upgrading.  I now have a '15 335xi with the MPPK, and it's fantastic, but I miss the linear nature of the N52, and I miss how simple the 2006 was.  


If you, or anyone else wants the parts list to set up eBay alerts...  :D

11617559523 Intake Manifold

11617559530 Vent Hose  (may or may not need, depending on specific engine variant, and it's like $70)

11617579114 Adjustor Unit

11617560538 Adjustor Unit 2

11617547242 Gasket set

11617535850 x2 Screw 50x35

11617535849 x5 Screw 50x20

11617535851 x1 Screw 50x66

13547522361 throttle body seal ring

02Pilot SuperDork
11/18/18 9:33 a.m.

For no particular reason, after a year or so and ~15k miles since the last one, I've decided to post an update to my 128i DD experience.

The short version is that I'm still very happy with the car in the ways previously discussed in this thread. It's supremely confident, comfortable, and does whatever job you throw at without complaint (within reason - this is not the vehicle to go pick up drywall at Home Depot). Concerns mentioned above about steering feel have proven to be unfounded - it's still a hydraulic rack, and it is in fact quite good. If there is anything that could be a bit better it's the fuel economy - mixed driving gets me around 23, while pure highway usually sits around 28; this is at least in part due to the impossible-to-resist urge to indulge the constant temptation of the throttle.

I've done basic maintenance and that's it (well, almost - more on that in a second). The giant underbody tray has a little door for access to the oil pan drain, but it's messy and inconvenient, so I installed a Stahlbus valve, which solved that problem completely.

My long-standing rule is not to modify daily drivers except when a part has failed and replacement with an improved or upgraded part is not substantially more expensive. Had my car not come to me with Bilsteins I'm sure I would have installed them by now. Though the PO did the dampers and the springs (Eibachs), he did not do the bushings, and they were starting to show their age. For those not familiar with BMW suspensions, it's usually best practice to just replace the arms; you don't have to press the bushings, and you get new ball joints as well. I decided to do everything at once, and ordered a full set of TRW M3 control arms. These upgrade to aluminum from pressed steel in the rear, and up front you get inboard ball joints on the lower control arms instead of bushings, plus about 3/4 of a degree of negative camber. For the most part the install was incredibly simple (the front LCAs are a tight squeeze in the subframe for whatever reason). While I was at it in put in a set of polyurethane rear subframe bushing stiffeners from Whiteline (those bushings are a major job to replace).

The M3 suspension (with a street performance alignment) really livened up the car. Turn-in is much crisper, feedback is improved, and the overall balance is excellent. The upgraded arms make it feel as though you can take full advantage of the chassis. The rear subframe bushing inserts effectively address the softness of those bushings, which was a problem from new on these cars; no longer can you feel the rear subframe shifting as you turn in. This is an upgrade that any enthusiast with an E8x- or E9x-bodied car should do.

The sum total of the last year's experience is to vindicate my choice of this car as a DD. It does everything I ask of it, and well. Commuting, road trips, back roads, sun, rain, snow, whatever. I've felt exactly zero need for the additional power that the turbocharged 135i would offer; even the NA 3.0 has more than enough power to get me in a lot of trouble. I couldn't be happier with it.

Indy-Guy UltraDork
11/18/18 9:54 a.m.

In reply to 02Pilot :

Thanks for the update and tips

OldGray320i Dork
11/19/18 12:01 p.m.

In reply to 02Pilot :

I hate you.   In the friendliest of GRM ways, mind you. 

I love daily driving the Miata, but have really wanted a 128i, for some reason. 

I'm afraid to go drive one (Well, assuming I could find one, hard tops with a manual seem as rare as hens teeth).

FuzzWuzzy Reader
11/19/18 12:20 p.m.

It amazes me how your 128i gets roughly the same MPG as my 530xi wagon.

Any plans on truly modifiyng it at a later date or will this stay as a DD until you want something different?

racerdave600 UltraDork
11/19/18 2:06 p.m.

I'm 8 months into my 128i ownership and concur on everything you said.  Mine is totally stock and going to remain that way.  But it is an outstanding daily driver, probably the best I've had in that role.

02Pilot SuperDork
11/19/18 2:39 p.m.

Racerdave, even if you do nothing else to the suspension, installing a set of the rear subframe bushing inserts I mentioned is really worth it. For an hour of your time and $50 it makes such an improvement on how the rear of the car feels, and with no trade-off in ride quality.

Fuzzwuzzy, it's going to stay a DD. I don't know how much your wagon weighs, but the 128i is relatively heavy for such a small car (~3200lbs). The aero isn't great compared to longer and lower contemporary BMWs, and as I said it's hard to be light with the throttle. I have the 2002, which is already quite heavily modified, for a play car. Not that I'm not tempted to make a few changes, but that's a slippery slope I don't want to start down, and it's so good as it is it's pretty easy to be satisfied.

OldGray320i, if you ever find yourself in the NY metro area you can take mine for a test drive. You are right to worry, however, because I can virtually guarantee you will want one even more. As I said in my initial post, I test-drove an NC Miata before I bought the 128i - it was great and I could easily have ended up with it as my DD. My initial offer was rejected and I walked; the seller called me a few weeks later to say he would accept my offer, but by then I'd found the 128i and I knew it was a better fit for my needs, so that's the way I went. Which version of Miata are you driving?

racerdave600 UltraDork
11/19/18 3:23 p.m.

When I bought mine I was shopping for a Boxster.  I found one I had intended on buying and had driven it three times for several hours total.  I liked it, but....  I just happened to see an ad from a local dealer with the 128 so made an appointment for a test drive.  I knew within the first few blocks I was going to buy it given a clean inspection.  It's one of those cars I bonded with instantly.  I wish I driven one before I bought the 370 or BRZ.

02Pilot SuperDork
11/19/18 3:35 p.m.

Yeah, my experience was similar. I found mine online (private sale) in VT, and drove close to 3hrs each way to see it. My test drive was short, but it was long enough to have basically the same reaction you did; granted, I've been driving BMWs for a long time, so it was comfortably familiar in many ways, but I've not had the same feeling about the same generation 3- and 5-Series cars, so there was something special about the 1. After I drove it the seller produced a huge folder with basically every service record from new, which sealed the deal - I didn't even haggle on the price (partially because it was already very reasonable, and partially because I didn't want to risk missing out on the car).

Funnily enough, had the 128i search not panned out when it did, an FRS/BRZ was next on the list to check out. Boxster would have been but the IMS bearing things scared the bejeezus out of me in a DD, and finding one with it done seemed difficult. Plus I really wanted a hardtop, and Caymans are out of my price range.

OldGray320i Dork
11/19/18 4:37 p.m.

In reply to 02Pilot :

Driving an NB.  I test drove an NC, really enjoyed the car, actually reminded me in feel of my Z-cars, stock for stock (the real ones, not anything after 78... smiley).  I was ready to go find one to drive as a DD. 

Dealer had an 18k mile NB, not ready for a test drive, figured I should drive one in case it might be worth a shot. 

Went and test drove the car I now own, got out and asked the kid how much he'd take for it. 

Groats New Reader
11/19/18 8:32 p.m.

How do these compare to the E46 ZHP?  Having driven neither, but looked at the numbers they appear to be pretty similar in specs.  There's a lowish mile 03 ZHP for 6.5K on the local craigslist that's been calling my name. 

02Pilot SuperDork
11/19/18 9:42 p.m.

E46 is a generation older, and without having the specs in front of me, I'd guess a little bigger in every dimension. M54 engine is good but has its quirks. If it's clean, rust-free, and has records it might be worth the asking price, but it would have to be damn near perfect for me to consider it without a significant price drop. I don't know how much the ZHP package affects the value, but at this point I'd assume the whole suspension needs to be done anyway, so I wouldn't pay much of a premium for it.

z31maniac MegaDork
11/20/18 7:30 a.m.

Can concur with the E82 chassis being excellent to drive. Although mine is the 135i and has the DCT transmission.

If I had realized the power potential of the 128i, I may have gone that direction. But then again, I've had the 135 since the beginning of the year and have decided to leave it stock.

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