Finding the right One

BMW135i012_49b8eab8a222c-lightboxMy Alfa GTA has been a fun, faithful and stylish companion for the last two years, taking such things as frigid Russian winters in its long-legged stride. And at 4 years (and 45k miles) or age, it’s not that old. However, it felt like a good time for a change and also to try and rationalise the fleet somewhat. So the GTA and E500 were earmarked for redundancy and I embarked on the never dull task of finding a suitable replacement.

Since this needed to be my “sensible” car (which basically translates as “car with more than two usable seats and reasonable boot space”), that ruled out lots of interesting motors which otherwise came within my £30k budget. In fact, until I drove it, I was quite set on the idea of the Audi S3 Sportback, which seemed exactly suitable, if fitted with the optional magnetic dampers. However, whilst it is certainly very quick and handles quite well, it is dull to drive and really should have had the V6 from the R32. As it is, the four-pot engine just doesn’t cut any mustard for me. So that was the lead contender out of the way.

R32? Certainly not – awful styling. Scirocco 2.0T – nice-looking and a nice drive, but I was realising that I needed more than 4 cylinders and the one I tried was hamstrung by a ghastly DSG gearbox (why people like these, I cannot fathom). So that ruled out lots of 4-cylinder hot hatches. Mercedes C55/CLK55? Lovely but only available as an automatic, highly thirsty and getting a bit old (I really wanted a new car). Mercedes C350? Surprisingly nice to drive but just too staid an image and very expensive if specced properly. Alfa Brera 3.2 S (the 2WD Prodrive version)? Well it’s certainly lovely to look at and sit in, but sadly even the Prodrive version feels slow and a bit unexciting compared to my GTA (I drove them back-to-back), and crucially doesn’t sound as nice. Plus the rear seats are a bad joke – for double amputee children only. Audi S4 and RS4 saloons are getting attractively cheap but my father has an RS4 Avant and I just didn’t fancy having largely the same car as him. Seemed a bit unoriginal.

Hmm. What about a BMW? Well, I toyed with the idea of an E46 M3 and an E39 M5 and then rejected both as too old. The first BMW dealer I went to was convinced I should buy an E92 335i coupe, so I tried one, along with a 335d. Both were lovely in their own way, but just a bit too normal and a bit too slick. Plus they are……..about £7k more than a 1-series with the twin-turbo straight six…

I’ve never been much of a 1-series fan but the second dealer I went to, Sytner Canary Wharf, persuaded me to try a 130i MSport 3dr and it was a revelation. I thoroughly enjoyed flinging it around the Essex countryside and it was the first test-drive I finished with a big indelible grin on my face. “Well”, said the salesgirl cleverly, “if you like that, you’ll love the 135i coupe version”… And so it proved – it was a fabulous car to drive and was exactly what I was after – small but adequately commodious and very potent with a fantastic growl. Plus Sytner, who were a genuine pleasure to deal with, came up with a very attractive discounted deal for a new car. In essence, the car’s had the kitchen sink thrown at it by me in terms of the options list, for free.

Finally, the fateful day arrived in early March and my new toy arrived, looking absolutely as I’d hoped in dark metallic Monaco Blue with (and this was a bit of a gamble) a lovely Terra brown leather interior. And I’m smitten. It needs to be run-in for the first 1250 miles (no more than 4,500 rpm or 100mph), which is a chore, but I’ve got a plan for dealing with that!

More details on that (and driving impressions) to follow in the next entry…

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Jonathan Malim