Dan Trent: BMW 330i – my ultimate BMW unicorn

13th February 2018
dan_trent_headshot.jpg Dan Trent

Seems there’s a gang of local toerags breaking into houses to steal car keys and then drive off in whatever was parked outside. For reasons best known to themselves old Subarus seem to be on their hitlist and they had a (thankfully) unsuccessful attempt at our back door to swipe mine.


Sleepless nights have followed, as you might expect. Perverse as it sounds one of the things keeping me awake is what I’d have replaced the Subaru with, had they got lucky. I know, it’s a morbid train of thought and I’d be furious if they had been. But for the classifieds addict with an itchy mouse finger even the darkest of inspiration can be turned into an excuse for a bit of virtual tyre kicking.

Like the Subaru any replacement would need to be both practical and interesting to drive, basically meaning estate body and petrol engine. I’ve always liked BMWs but never owned one, the E46 3 Series Touring one of my favourites from the back catalogue. Indeed, I’ve written about this car before. But that was a version they never actually built, so I’m indulging myself by returning to the subject and one I actually could buy.

Or thought I could.


If it’s a BMW it’s got to have a straight-six, preferably the biggest and most powerful available. 330i it is then, this understressed, silky smooth and characterful 231ps 3.0-litre six very much a definitive BMW motor and perfectly matched to the rear-wheel-drive chassis with a nice six-speed manual. Half a second brisker 0-62 than the automatic, a little lighter and also slightly more frugal on fuel it’s got to be the thinking man’s choice. Only problem being this combination seems nearly as unattainable as that M3 Touring BMW never actually made, given those in the market for 3 Series Tourings with big petrol engines inevitably chose automatics.

Eventually I turned up a rather delightful looking, low-mileage 330i saloon with a manual gearbox for a smidge under £5,000. Lovely. But it has to be a Touring. This later E91 generation 330i is a rare manual and looks pretty tasty at £6,000. Nice colour too. It has the same fundamental appeal as the E46 but I just like the more compact dimensions of the older car and its slightly more classical styling.

Disillusioned, I chatted online to someone I know in the business who recently swapped from a much-loved Audi S4 Avant into an E46 330i Touring. His is the auto and it’s got a Sport setting with manual override but, even as a huge fan of the car, he admits it’s a bit of an old-school slusher. So it’s got to be a manual really.


After some real scraping around I finally found a car for sale, albeit on a drifting forum with just a single picture, admission the interior was a bit worse for wear and a price of… wait… £600? Perhaps not the dream ticket but a tantalising hint a manual 330i isn’t the complete unicorn BMW I’d feared. This ad for a car sold at £4,750 is further proof they are out there, this one’s odd combination of Alcantara sports seats and polished wood perhaps not my preferred choice, ditto the sight of a rusty tow-hook under the rear bumper. It would seem beggars can’t be choosers though and if I ever track down a car that’s still available I guess I’ll have to move fast.

What’s that? The crooks have a particular taste for prestige German cars, as well as old Subarus? Maybe I’ll also have to budget for a stronger back door if I strike lucky. That or a really angry dog.

Photography courtesy of AutoTrader, and

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