Home » Fell In Love With A Car: 2001 BMW 325i vs 2001 Mercedes CL500

Fell In Love With A Car: 2001 BMW 325i vs 2001 Mercedes CL500

Sbsd 6 18 2024

Good morning! Today’s year of choice is 2001, and I’ve got two enticing German cars for your consideration. And if it wasn’t obvious from the title, today’s musical digression is the wonderfully noisy 2001 album White Blood Cells by The White Stripes.

Yesterday, we looked at two cars from 1983, set to the tunes of The Police’s album Synchronicity. Some of you took one look at the Sentra and thought “O My God,” while others thought that chasing down the Thunderbird’s fuel delivery problem would turn you into the King of Pain. In the end, however, it was the T-Bird that had you wrapped around its finger.

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I have to say that, in this case, I’m Walking In Your Footsteps. The Sentra is an interesting curiosity, but there’s nothing compelling enough about it to make me want to own it. The T-Bird is at least a good blank slate for some fun, but don’t go too crazy, or every move you make, the cops will be watching you.

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Let’s jump forward in time to 2001, and an album I love for a very specific reason. I am, as my friends know, a terrible guitar player. I’ve been playing since high school, but have never gotten serious enough to get any good, so I just bang out some chords when I feel like it and call it a day. I have discovered that, with my trusty MXR distortion pedal, I can kinda-sorta sound like I know what I’m doing when I play along with the right record.


So when I first heard the loud, distorted guitar intro to “Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground,” I was hooked. I was already a White Stripes fan, but White Blood Cells was the album that really got me. (And then, of course, Elephant lost me again.) I love the energy of it. It sounds both way out on the ragged edge and completely in control at the same time. It’s deceptively simple, but I often catch some little nuance I didn’t hear before when listening to it. And if you agree, then I can tell that we are gonna be friends. Let’s look at some finicky, overpriced German cars together.

2001 BMW 325i Touring – $6,950

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.5-liter dual overhead cam inline 6, five-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Santa Cruz, CA

Odometer reading: 193,000 miles


Operational status: Runs and drives well

BMW enthusiasts as a group are a funny bunch. They’ll extol the virtues of their cars at any opportunity, singing the praises of the smooth engines and the finely balanced handling, claiming that nothing else is as good to drive. Ask them about reliability, and they bristle and equivocate: Yes, it’s reliable – if you do the maintenance you’re supposed to do. Ask for specifics on what this “maintenance” entails, and you’ll get a long list of items replaced at what sounds like shockingly low mileage, even to someone used to GM and Chrysler cars. Mention that this sounds like a lot, and the response is a haughty “Maybe this car isn’t for you.”

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Well, in my case at least, they’re right: I have dealt with a BMW 325i of this generation before and was never so happy to see the taillights of any car disappearing after a sale. “Death by a thousand cuts” is the best way I can describe BMW upkeep. We only had it for three months, and I don’t think there was a weekend in that time I didn’t spend fixing something. Still, they are awfully nice cars to drive, and when I see a really clean one like this, in a great color, and a wagon, even, I start to think: Could it really be that bad?

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This E46 wagon is claimed to be a one-owner car, and “very well maintained,” but it’s for sale at a dealer, so I’ll believe it when I see all the maintenance records. And at 193,000 miles, there should be a thick stack of them. It does look really clean, so if it checks out mechanically, it could be a safe bet.

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And it’s a wagon, which is something you don’t see very often from BMW here in the US. That’s a shame, because wagons are incredibly useful vehicles, and BMW makes handsome ones.

2001 Mercedes-Benz CL 500 – $5,300

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Engine/drivetrain: 5.0 liter overhead cam V8, five-speed automatic, RWD


Location: Santa Clarita, CA

Odometer reading: 88,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives well

Now we turn our attention from a relatively simple and straightforward BMW to a nightmarishly complicated Mercedes. The CL-Class was the flagship two-door of the Mercedes-Benz lineup for a couple of decades, and during that time, the folks from Stuttgart threw every technological trick they had at this sleek coupe. This is the “entry-level” CL 500 model, and even it features Mercedes’s notorious ABC active suspension system and more tiny electric motors than a slot-car tournament.

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It sure does make for a nice car, though. The CL takes the concept of “personal luxury coupe” and turns it up to 11, with enough gadgets to impress even the most jaded country club patrons in 2001. And sure, this one isn’t an AMG or a V12 version, but it’s still a slick-looking pillarless hardtop coupe with a powerful and reliable V8 and Mercedes’s excellent 5G-Tronic automatic.

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This CL 500 is also a one-owner car and has a scant 88,000 miles on its odometer. The seller doesn’t offer a lot of information about its history beyond that, though they do say it has new tires. But since the seller is also the one owner, you should be able to ask the right questions, and hopefully receive that coveted stack of receipts in return.

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Of course, although it’s in great shape now, future troubles and their associated repair bills could strip the bloom from the rose in short order. This is a shockingly complicated twenty-three-year-old German luxury car, after all – not a vehicle for the faint of heart.


Though it isn’t explicitly stated in either ad, I’m sure both of these cars have pretty good stereos in them. Back in 2001, I think you would have been hard-pressed to find anyone driving around in either one blasting “The Union Forever” (“What would I like to have been? Everything you hate”), but time and depreciation have leveled the playing field a bit, so either of these pricey Germans could be your personal Rosebud for a lot less than they cost new. You can choose between a private-school-ready wagon and a senior executive’s chariot. Which will it be?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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23 days ago

If I didn’t already have a 2001 325 wagon in that bland shade of blue I’d go with the Benz. The wagon’s gonna have the nasty overboosted steering and a DSC computer that won’t play nice with the newer steering racks. No sunroof or sport package either. I’d take the Benz.

Of course I already have an E46 wagon that I daily. I’d take the wagon and swap over the nice bits from mine and chuck the carcass in the dumpster.

This is the power move though:


Nicer exterior color. Sunroof. Lower miles. Lower asking price. Spare parts.

Micah Cameron
Micah Cameron
23 days ago
Reply to  FunkMoose

I’ve swapped a yellow tag steering rack into my 07/99 E46 build and I have no issues with the DSC. The purported problems are widely overblown, although my DSC does lack a parameter to change the steering ratio coding value. That doesn’t seem to matter in the real world.

I like the slicktop as I freaking hate sunroofs, but the one you linked is awesome. A non-AWD LCI E46 estate is really hard to come by.

23 days ago
Reply to  Micah Cameron

Yes, I’ve run the “ZHP” rack in a Mk20 323 and am currently running it in my Mk60 325. It’s *very* intrusive unless you never take corners at speed (in which case why buy a BMW). There’s about a six month production run of DSC units that are coded for the proper steering ratio – and it’s a worthwhile swap but not for the crowd that clutches their pearls over replacing wear items on a 25 year old car. Wait until they see how much oil an M54 burns.

Want an e46? Get a sedan or coupe. They’re cheaper and offered in more desirable configurations (bigger engines, more of them have the less boosted steering, etc.), ride/handle better, and you won’t pay the wagon premium. Want a wagon? Get a W203 or P2. Both are way better as wagons and the RWD V6 is an indestructible drivetrain. If that’s too boring you can drop in a factory boosted V8 in the Benz.

The e46 wagon is great for someone who wants an e46 wagon, but the Autopian crowd seems a bit anxious about owning something out of warranty. In that case it’s really not worth it.

Last edited 23 days ago by FunkMoose
Micah Cameron
Micah Cameron
23 days ago
Reply to  FunkMoose

See, although my MK20 DSC does engage going around corners rapidly, I don’t notice it happening any more than when I had my old, original steering rack installed. I (and some other E46Fanatics forum members) really feel this is a case of confirmation bias – maybe the DSC does engage a bit more with a quicker rack, but we’re talking going from 3.2 turns to 3.0 lock to lock. It isn’t a huge difference. I can only say that, in my experience, the benefits of the quicker ratio (and, in my case, lack of play) from a yellow tag rack greatly outweigh any potential issues with the MK20 DSC.

I feel that the estate version of the E46 is the most beautiful body style. I had my heart set on getting an estate. I can see why they are so beloved. Ultimately I couldn’t stomach the estate tax here in the US, so I ended up with a sedan. I’m quite glad I did as I saved a lot of money, and I was able to source an electric rear sunshade I retrofitted, which is one of my favorite features (had it in several Mercedes). I also picked up a 6-speed manual LCI E83, which does “wagon” duties better than an actual E46 estate due to it’s higher cargo area ceiling.

Honestly the W203 in general is a more reliable car than the E46, but I really don’t like them, not even the estate versions. The interiors feel so cheap, the ride poorly, and I don’t like the exterior styling either. I had a P2 Volvo V70 that I thought I would absolutely love. Mine was in really excellent condition and it was so easy to work on! I ended up hating the 2.5T engine, didn’t like the transmission, didn’t like the ride, found the seats incredibly uncomfortable, etc, etc. I ended up selling it just 6 months after I got it and replaced it with the E83 that I adore. The P2 platform is very different from the German options. Super cool cars, but they work better for some people more than others (honestly the P2 is probably way more appropriate for most of the crowd here than an old E46!)

23 days ago

I voted BMW, because wagon, but also because I’m from Santa Cruz and I’ll be visiting family there in a couple of weeks. Not that I would anything crazy, like actually buying a finicky, overpriced German car.

23 days ago

ill take the CL even with its two tone front bumper to body paintwork

Micah Cameron
Micah Cameron
23 days ago
Reply to  Ricardo

Good eye! I usually pick up on stuff like that. Makes you wonder if the CL has been in an accident. With that low mileage, it seems unlikely it would have been repainted simply due to rock chips.

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