I just recently just vented about all the things I hate about driving an old car. My E46 3 Series doesn’t feel particularly old to me, as I remember when they were new and it doesn’t feel like that long ago. Except it was and my E46 is old, getting on 18 years old now. If my car was a person, it’d be able to vote. And with that age comes a lot of annoyances. But it can also be incredibly rewarding.
If I’m being honest, there are more things I like about driving an old car than things I don’t like. So while I do miss some modern features, and bemoan the more frequent repairs, I like the fact that I drive an old car and there are very few new cars that I’d choose instead. With that said, let’s take a look at my favorite aspects of driving an old car.
This needs to be mentioned first. While not all older cars have the same excellent steering as my E46 3 Series, most older cars — BMWs in particular — have better steering feel than their modern counterparts. What’s interesting is that my E46’s steering feels slow compared to modern, ultra-sharp steering. It takes quite a bit more steering lock to get the same response. However, the actual feel; how the wheel transmits road feedback to my hands; is better.
Through twisty turns, the front end of the E46 feels alive, perfectly communicating what it’s doing, and makes the car so much more rewarding to drive. As absurdly capable as modern BMWs are — such as the new M3 — driving an E46 is far sweeter.
No Tech, No Fuss
One of the most annoying aspects of driving a modern car is all of its tech. While some of the tech is helpful and enjoyable, the totality of it can feel overwhelming. In some modern cars, you can turn the infotainment system screen off and I always do because it’s nicer on my brain without the giant screen always in the corner of my eye. In the E46, which has only a dot-matrix radio display, is so much easier on my brain and my eyes. It isn’t a computer on wheels, it’s just a car.
Sure, sometimes I miss things like Apple CarPlay and satellite navigation, but I can use my phone in a mount whenever I want my music or some nav. When I don’t I can take it down and put my phone in my pocket. It’s better that way.
Without question, older cars have more character than newer ones. It isn’t just the steering feel or the chassis communication, there’s an inherent feeling of the car being alive. You can feel it breath, how it interacts with the road beneath it, and how it reacts to your inputs. With modern cars, especially BMWs, there’s so much NVH insulation that you can’t really feel what the car is doing. Modern Bimmers are infinitely more capable but they feel so much more clinical and synthetic.
I love that I can feel if my engine is running a bit rough from the cold through my right foot and, once all the oil gets nice and warm, it smooths out and runs beautifully. I love that I can feel even the paint markings in the road through the steering wheel. And I love that my E46 tells me what it needs, if something isn’t quite right, simply from how it feels, not with any sensors or lights.
Owning an old car is so much more rewarding than owning a newer one. Well, in most cases. I’m not saying my E46 is more rewarding than a new Porsche 911 GT3. However, apples-to-apples, owning my E46 brings me more joy than almost any new BMW and I think that goes for most older enthusiast cars. So as annoying as it can be at times, I love having such a classically cool sedan in my driveway.