The Lower-Case i’s Have It: 1992 BMW 735i vs 2000 Infiniti i30

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Good morning, Autopians! It’s Thursday , and this will be the final Shitbox Showdown for the week. Tomorrow, we’re trying something a little different with the three winners. Today, we’ve got a pair of faded sporty-ish luxury-ish sedans to look at, but first, let’s see which manual you wanted to save:

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Narrow, but decisive: Saab remains undefeated. But if everybody loves them so much, why did they go out of business? That’s a question for another time, I think.

For your consideration today are two executive sedans: one established German, and one up-and-coming Japanese. Neither one is really a luxury car, but they’re both nice and comfy. And neither one could be considered a sports sedan, especially with automatics, but neither is a slouch when it comes to acceleration or handling. And both are well-built enough to still be worth considering at over 200,000 miles. And, both feature a lower-case “i” in their model name.

1992 BMW 735i – $2,350

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.4 liter inline 6, 4 speed automatic, RWD

Location: Palo Alto, CA

Odometer reading: 237,000 miles

Runs/drives? Very well, according to the seller

The seller of this E32-chassis 7 Series has it listed as a 735iL (L for long wheelbase), and the badging bears this out, but the rear doors of the L always looked awkwardly long to me. Looking at a comparison photo, I think this is a standard 735i, and the seller doesn’t know what the L they’re talking about. If I had to guess, the trunk lid has been replaced with one from a 735iL; note how the pinstripe stops at the lid.

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What we do know is that this car is powered by a good old M30 inline six, as a BMW should be. No overly-complex V12, no V8s that eat their own cylinder liners, just BMW doing what they do best. It’s backed by a four-speed ZF automatic transmission, but that’s no great surprise, especially in the US. I think I’ve seen exactly one manual E32 here ever.

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For being well north of 200,000 miles, this old BMW looks to be holding up remarkably well. There are a few tears and popped seams in the seats (regrettably patched with what looks like masking tape; maybe they thought it was the right color), but the emerald-green paint looks quite nice. And since it’s a simple car, at least compared to BMWs ten years newer, there’s a good chance most stuff works, or can be fixed.

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A laundry list of new parts is encouraging as well. This car actually looks like a hell of a deal, the more I look at it. It’s not terribly economical, but it could be a lot worse, and you could probably break 300,000 miles if you take care of it.

2000 Infiniti i30 – $1,995

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.0 liter V6, four-speed automatic, FWD

Location: somewhere outside Modesto, CA

Odometer reading: 212,000 miles

Runs/drives? nicely, the ad says

Infiniti has gotten a lot of mileage out of a simple formula: take a Nissan, wrap it in a fancy designer dress, and sell it for more money. No complaints here; my wife’s car is an Infiniti QX4, which is a Nissan Pathfinder with delusions of grandeur, but it is a really nice car. It’s amazing what some leather seats and a little extra soundproofing can do.

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This car, like several Infiniti models, is based on a Nissan model that was not otherwise sold in America, in this case a Nissan Cefiro. It’s very similar to the Nissan Maxima, maybe too similar; I don’t think many buyers felt the Infiniti badge was worth the premium. And you could get a Maxima with a manual, which made it the enthusiast’s choice.

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The i30 is powered by a three-liter version of Nissan’s VQ six-cylinder engine, which saw duty in everything from Altimas to Z cars over the years. It’s a good sturdy engine, if a little rough around the edges, and here puts out a respectable 227 horsepower. But sadly, an automatic was the only available transmission.

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Condition-wise, this car looks pretty good at first glance. But comparing the underhood photo to the interior photo shows something concerning: I’d like to know why the firewall and inner fenders are maroon, while the rest of the car, including the door sills, is silver. Something is hinky here. The ad says the car has a clean title, but I’d like to know what color the inside of the trunk is.

Neither of these cars is quite on the up-and-up, but both run and drive well, and for around $2000, that’s not nothing, these days. Which one is a better deal? You tell me.


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46 Responses

  1. I would have to agree with most and vote the BMW. Though the 2 beemers I’ve owned had insufferable electrical issues & kind of gas hogs.
    But the Infiniti is quite the boring non-headturning car out of the two. The 1st cousin removed of the Maxima.
    The BMW is old but the average Joe or Karin are still impressed by it.

  2. Either one of these will need wrenching on to keep going, and there’s no engine bay more miserable to work in than one with a transverse V engine in it. Plus the Infinity is uggo. I’m not a BMW guy, but gimme the BMW.

  3. I would not touch that Infinity with a 50 foot pole. Dodgy electrical is the least of your worries.
    Sill plates are untouched and have never been removed, and are over silver paint. Door jambs are silver and show no sign of repaint. Which means the only way you get a maroon front clip is if the entire firewall forward was taken from an entirely different car. There’s not nearly enough overspray in the engine bay, or enough exposed maroon in the other areas to convince me this was just a shitty respray.

    Plus the BMW’s in the good color.

  4. If I wanted a 4th Gen Nissan Maxima, I’d just go buy one.

    I’m not really a BMW guy, but I know what I like. And I really like the looks of the E32 7 series. Always have. Possibly even more than the E23 7 series. For some reason, the looks of the sharp, chiseled front fascia evinces the presence of something predatory, avian, or raptor-like. I dig it. The exterior styling carries presence with understatement, while the interior mirrors this, along with the nostalgic materials and construction of the period we as a collective know (and love) so well.

    BMW E23 7 series.

    1. ‘Excitable boy, they all said..’
      This was a puzzler.
      Infiniti: Was ready to skip ahead and vote for this; but the maroon engine bay gives me pause..
      BMW: with that many miles and years, gotta be on borrowed time. Expensive repairs waiting to roll down in an avalanche. An avalanche down the mountain.
      to Infinity and beyond!

  5. The BMW was a $50+ grand car when new, the Infiniti was $30+ ten years later. BMW is RWD, Infiniti is front. BMW has classic BMW style, the Infiniti has amorphous blob early 2000s style, not really ugly, but just kind of their.

    Anyway, the BMW looks worth the time and investment to keep running and maybe even make nicer. The Infiniti is a car you buy and run on as low a budget as possible until it does (and no one mourns it’s inevitable passing)

    BMW is the easy pic, and, although the BMW specs may not match today’s luxury cars, you can say that about most any 30 year old car. It was very much a luxury car in it’s day.

  6. I don’t care for BMW hype, and yet I still like this 735i.
    Ran the VIN, it’s an i not an iL, and I still like it better than that Infiniti.
    On the i30 the inner fender tops are maroon, which to me says respray, … maybe the entire front end was replaced? And that scares me, A LOT, even more than a well aged BMW!
    And that beemer ad sucks less too! 😉

  7. Great color, great styling, very nice interior, albeit the masking tape is certainly a turn off. Fix it with some Gorilla tape in the nearest color match. To me at least, the whole car expresses understated luxury with BMW’s much vaunted handling.

    The Datsun’s grungy steering wheel, dirty engine, opaque headlights make it a loser right out of the gate.

    BMW all day every day, and I hate BMW drivers!

  8. Never truly was impressed by either offering here. But if forced to take on one of these, well it’s BMW. Because you will always find some other fool to deal with it when you are ready to give up. The other one, not so much.

  9. No contest. That Bimmer is still a gorgeous car 30 years later, while that Infiniti looks like the beat up, crunchy steed of your local Tony Montana wannabe.
    $2350 for that 7 series is pretty much F-it money for most of us.

  10. The i30 is one of those cars where whenever I see it I go “huh, an i30, I’m surprised to see that.” It’s up there with the Eagle Premier and the Kia Borrego in the “unremarkable cars I always notice because I’m convinced nobody bought one” stakes.

    Anyway the BMW is at least nice looking when it inevitably breaks – I might even argue for it being the handsomest 7er – so that one, obviously.

  11. I’m a total BMWphobic but that’s a nice looking car that’s old enough that it might be worth the trouble.

    As for the Nissan? I had a similarly aged Pathfinder, it does not endear me. And that paint situation under the hood? That is not a place of honor. No highly esteemed deed is commemorated there.

  12. This really isn’t a fair fight. A fancy Nissan against a true luxury car that’s built like a bank vault and still has a presence to it after 30 years? One car screams “Connoisseur” while the other screams “I steal catalytic converters for a living”. The BMW wins by a kilometer.

  13. Worked as a service writer for a couple years. From my experience, Nissan based cars of the early 2000s-2010 just had shitty electronics. Saw several customers just nickel and dimed to death by them. Power window here, power lock there, HID ballasts, just little stuff that would take a couple hours of digging

    No thank.

    Besides, RWD > FWD

    1. The Bimmer all fay every day. Yes it may have issues over time, but you know if maintained that inline 6 will eat miles with smooth style.

      Caveat: I watch M539 Restorations, so I feel like I can handle a Bimmers vagaries well.

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