Russ SmithSee other Advice articles filed in ‘Used tow car buyer’ written by Russ Smith
You expect build quality and driving pleasure from BMW; it went one better with the E90 (saloon) and E91 (Touring) 3-Series. At launch these were considered among the best cars you could buy. We’re focusing on the Touring estate versions, but it’s the same deal for the saloon.
So, what tow car ability do these BMWs, built between 2005 and 2012, have? The E90/91 was larger than its predecessor, and that extra size was used to good effect inside, although there’s still less legroom in the rear than in a comparable Mercedes-Benz. The ride is firm, especially on larger sizes of alloys, so you might want to avoid cars that have the optional 18in or 19in alloys.
This era of 3-Series boasted a big improvement in fuel efficiency. Even the most powerful petrol engines achieve 30mpg and some of the diesels can better 50mpg in normal use.
The second two digits of the model number relate to status and now only occasionally to engine capacity, as they used to. So for both petrol and diesel options there are broadly two capacities: a 2.0-litre four-cylinder and a 3.0-litre six-pot, but in different states of tune depending on the model. A 318 or 320 is the smaller engine, and you can find the larger units in the 325, 330 and 335 models. Confused? Let’s talk gearboxes then. These are six-speed whether you choose manual or automatic, but there was no auto option for the 320d until September 2008, and the 335d was only sold with an auto ’box.
At launch in September 2005 you could choose between two diesel and three petrol units: 160bhp 320d or 227bhp 330d; 147bhp 320i, 214bhp 325i (which was a 2.5 engine), 254bhp 330i. Entry-level models – the 120bhp 318d and 127bhp 318i – were added in the spring. More engines followed in September 2006: the 194bhp 325d, 281bhp 335d, and a petrol 301bhp 335i. The 318d and 320d got improved engines in March 2007 – 140bhp and 174bhp, respectively – but both posting 10mpg better fuel consumption figures. Later that year the 325i got a 3.0 engine but with the same bhp output.
The range got a mild facelift in September 2008, though most engines were unchanged – just a boost to 241bhp and 384lb ft for the 330d and slightly more torque – 236lb ft – for the 318d. The 335d and 330i/335i models were dropped in 2010, but the rest remained until production ended in May 2012.
Special editions aside, there are base models, the better-equipped ES, then either SE or M Sport.
BMWs fitted with the Teves ABS system can experience a failure of a boost-pressure sensor within the control unit/pump. This may be fixed by a BMW repair kit for £400, but if not it can involve replacing the whole unit at £1600. Cars with Bosch ABS systems are not affected.
Four- and six-cylinder petrol engines can suffer from coil and injector problems, so reject any car that isn’t smooth-running.
Check tyres for uneven wear – the suspension can misalign and the result is exaggerated on cars with larger-diameter alloys. If you go for a car with 18in or 19in wheels, check for hairline cracks, especially around the spokes: it’s becoming a known issue, most often on the bigger sizes.
Timing chain failures are cropping up on the 2.0-litre diesels that have passed 90,000 miles. This is ascribed to long gaps between oil changes – dictated by the service indicator, not mileage. Experts say that any car past 50,000 miles should have its oil changed every 10,000 miles.
It’s worth noting, if the car has Bluetooth connectivity and you sync your mobile to the car, that if the car is left unlocked and without the electrics shut down, it will continue to search for the phone and will drain the battery.
The trouble spots detailed above are pretty negligible by most standards. This car continues to impress as it ages, and as a tow car the E91 Touring range (318 is excepted) offers pulling and braking power, plus stability and decent fuel efficiency. It looks like a good choice as long as your caravan fits the towing limit.
What you need to know
How much will a used BMW E91 Touring cost? We reckon between £3750 and £21,000. Whatever the guides say, there’s very little premium for diesel over petrol models, largely because of supply and demand — more than 80% were diesel- engined. So the starting price for either is around £3750. There are many high-milers about, because they last well, but if you want something with average mileage they’re upwards of £4500. The big step up is if you want a six- cylinder car, because the majority sold were four-pots. You’ll find little for under £6000, and more powerful models like the 330d start nearer £6500.
Now for some vital figures (for a 2008 320d SE):
- Kerbweight 1505kg
- 85% match 1279kg
- Towing limit 1800kg
- Towball limit 70kg
How much is a towball? Speaking to PF Jones, a Witter swan neck towbar will cost £121.44, while a Westfalia detachable towbar is £208.66, fitting extra. And what about servicing? Servicing Stop quoted us £104.30 for an interim service and £139.30 for a full service.