- My 3 main intentions:
- Ok so what car?
- The contenders were:
- The buying process:
- Delivery day experience:
- Driving experience:
- Accessorizing added or planned:
The Dutch are famous to be non-nonsense people who go straight to the matter and get stuff done in the most efficient way possible. And my delivery experience was the most Dutch thing ever.
BHPian G20Rider recently shared this with other enthusiasts.
My 3 main intentions:
- Share my observations on the transport system in the Netherlands.
- Explain the buying experience of a used car in Netherlands.
- An initial ownership review of the car itself and driving experience in a country famous for bikes.
The car in question is a BMW 3 series G20 2021 make. Its a fairly familiar model now with lots of excellent reviews available, hence I will limit the review of the car to my perspective of buying and owning it in this particular country.
We, a family which includes my 3.5 year old girl, has been living in Singapore for the past 7+ years.
We started getting that infamous 7 year itch to have something new, made worse by strict long Covid restrictions on travel in Singapore. Start of 2022, we decided to make that big move and in mid 2022, we moved to the Netherlands.
One of the first order of business after getting here was to get a car, both a want as well as need.
Do you need a car? Isn’t it the country of bicycles? Doesn’t it have a great public transport system?
Yes, The Netherlands has a decent public transport system. How good is it? that really depends on your perspective. Compared with North America, the public transport is top class. It’s efficient, fast and covers almost all of the country well. But when compared to developed Asian countries like Singapore, South Korea or Japan, the public transport is expensive, not perfectly reliable and sometimes inconvenient.
The domestic intercity traffic is served by the NS, the Dutch national rail company. It works like a country wide metro network due to the frequency of trains. In most busy intercity routes there will be a train every 30mins or so. And you can’t reserve a seat, just tap in with your transit card and go in, just like a metro.
Usually there are two classes, Normal (2+2 seating) and Business (2+1). NS app allows one to upgrade your ticket to Business on the fly (within 15mins of start of journey), great feature.
NS trains are modern, sleek and generally well maintained. They usually does 160KMPH. Their fleet is a mix of double and single decker ones. It’s comparable to the current fleet of Train18 being rolled out in India. I’ve been keenly following the developments around train18 and hope to see a lot more of such trains in the IR network.
Few rolling stocks of NS.
The cute Koplopers:
A typical double decker intercity. Great views from the upper deck:
New generation intercity, this one can do upto 200KMPH:
And being in the centre of western Europe, Netherlands is well served with high speed international trains like German DB, French Thalys and now resurgent sleeper services. Currently the OBB Nightjet connects Netherlands with Switzerland as well as Austria. Not to forget Eurostar which connects Europe with UK via the channel tunnel. This makes waiting at a rail station in big cities like Amsterdam a treat for train nuts like me. Its like an international airport with different types of trains arriving and departing from different countries.
Intracity transport is taken care by a mix of tram, buses (including a large number of hybrid as well as electric ones), metros and most importantly bicycles. And all of them are seamlessly interconnected. Even tier 2 cities has well developed public transport system with an amazing cycling network. You are only considered integrated into Dutch society if you can ride a bicycle in freezing winter balancing two kids braving icy winds at 60kmph while eating your sandwich.
A tram in Amsterdam:
What is impressive is, although the trams and buses in each city is operated by a different company, there is a unified payment method using a transit card which works across all of them across country.
One another important factor to consider in car ownership is the urban design philosophy being followed here.
The Dutch urban design is quite different from a car centric design that is more popular in the US or some parts of Asia where you really need a car. Density in cities is quite high and even rural areas tend to cluster houses together. Due to that most of your day to day needs will be met within a few kms radius of your home. And there will always be multiple options to reach from point A to point B within a city. Within those, driving a car will almost always be the slowest, expensive and most inconvenient option. Taking a cycle is usually the fastest and cheapest followed by metro, tram and bus.
I highly recommend the Youtube channel notjustbikes for a perspective of European urban planning from the point of view of someone from a car-centric society.
Another similar channel is Kerleem.
From my personal experience, you can manage without owning a car if below 3 conditions are met:
- You are travelling alone – if travelling as a group, costs can quickly add up. For example an 80km Amsterdam to Rotterdam trip will cost around 15€ per head one way. So a family going up and down will be around 60€. Driving the same route up and down will cost around 24€.
- it actually works. ie no cancellations – NS is hit with labour shortages and last minute cancellations are very common. You can be waiting on the platform waiting for the train to arrive in next 15mins and suddenly it’s cancelled. You can be in an intercity train travelling and suddenly the train is terminated at an earlier station.
- You live and primarily travel within the city – you don’t need a car, period.
For me, all of above 3 conditions were not met. I mostly travel with family, I faced cancelled trains a lot and I usually travel intercity. Ohh and most important, I wanted a car. So even if all 3 conditions were met, I would have bought a car anyway.
Ok so what car?
I thoroughly enjoy the process of buying things that I love (cars, bikes, any tech gadgets etc). I spend hours pouring over internet comparing models, watching reviews etc.
So naturally I started my research long back before I started packing my bags.
This even caused slight alarm to my wife since there was a housing crisis raging in this country yet I was busy finding the right car.
First few words on the Dutch car market.
Dutch (and Europeans in general) loves their hatch backs. From a popularity point of view it’s Hatch backs > Station wagons > CSUVs > Sedan > SUV > Trucks. It has to do with small city roads and super tight parking lots that is common is Europe. A few American trucks on road (RAM 1500 seems relatively popular) really does (literally) stands out.
And the Dutch market is shifting decisively to electric cars, partly because cars are taxed based on CO2 emissions and also because lot of people has solar panels installed on the roof. So combining both gives you a low capital as well as operating costs for e-vehicles.
Additionally parking spots in cities usually entails waiting months on a waiting list. Electric cars get preference there too. Go to any manufactures website and you will have to dig deep to even find gasoline powered cars.
I choose to got with a pure ICE engine based on below factors:
- Thanks to work from home arrangement, I choose to live in a green suburb of Rotterdam (although my office is in Amsterdam) and parking was not a problem here.
- I live in an apartment, so no benefits of solar panels for me.
- From the looks of it, this is the last decade of ICE engine (EU will phase out ICE engines by 2035) and these engines we get today is the pinnacle of ICE, simply because companies have stopped investing in them.
- My primary use is for intercity use, and intend to use the car to explore large parts of Europe. And electric cars are simply not yet ready for such touring purpose unless you want to plan your vacation around your car.
The contenders were:
BMW 3 Series G20:
My first choice, always wanted one, don’t ask why, but could never afford it in Singapore where it costs ~ $250K. So this was the benchmark and all others were compared to it.
- A real wheel drive low slung sedan. I’m a fan of such body type. And the reputation of being a drivers car. G20 has got good reviews in that department.
- I love the overall styling in and out. Fortunately BMW has not yet installed the huge bugs bunny grill. I especially love the sharp rear. Interior quality is vastly improved compared to F30. Modern, simple and good quality. Although the digital cockpit is no where near nice as Audi’s implementation
- Right size – not too big or small. I considered some bigger cars (Octavia, Kodiaq) as well as smaller cars (Audi A3 Sportback). Big ones made me feel like a chauffeur and small ones would have been too uncomfortable to get my 3 year old girl in and out of the baby seat. But I do feel it’s a bit big for the super tight parking lots of Europe and sometimes envy the ease with which the popular Fiat 500s parks in and out.
- Relatively good reliability record of the B48 series engine. It’s a 2L turbo charged petrol engine available in various state of tunes and has great reviews. I personally found it super smooth and refined.
- Availability – 3 series is popular here which meant more options in used car market as well better resale value (I intend to keep it long and hence not a big consideration for me).
- High powered version (330i) carried a big premium due to the tax structure here. This also meant lesser choice’s and deals in used car market for such models. Combined with crazy price’s of used cars in 2022, my choice was essentially between a high mileage, older 330i or low mileage, newer 318i/320i.
- Hard suspension: Definitely one of the hardest suspension I’ve been in. It’s common in Netherlands to have brick paved roads near residential areas and you can really feel the hard edge. Not uncomfortable, but different from what I’ve been used to in Japanese and Korean makes.
- Digital cockpit: I don’t mind the style and it has grown on me, but really lack customisation. This leads to massive waste of the 10” screen space.
This was a car that was a polar opposite to the G20. Comfortable, luxurious, not sporty. Honestly this entered into my list just because of how it look.
- Perfect size, packaging and smart stance. Driving position is high and SUVish. One of the best looking compact SUV for me.
- Similar to exterior, interiors quality is amazing and loved the design. The portrait orientated infotainment screen looks more practical too.
- Underwhelming driving experience : Soft Suspension tuned for comfort. Engine’s didn’t feel as refined or eager too. Fact that hybrids has 3 cylinders didn’t help. Basically a relaxed cruiser. A deal breaker.
- Quite expensive, both new and used. It’s popular and prices of used ones were hazardously close to new ones. Volvo has positioned their vehicles at the premium side. Another deal breaker.
- Loved the 2022 styling. While subtle, design changes on 2022 facelift made it much more handsome. Very clean lines, boxy and smart and understated. This design will age well.
- The 1.5L TSI engine with 150PS of power combined with DSG on a not so heavy compact SUV provides for a strong driving experience. Suspension is tuned well too.
- Value for money proposition with new ones starting at ~35k euros (XC40 starts from 45k).
- I didn’t like the pre 2022 version’s styling and that ruled out used options. New ones had a waiting time of 8+ months and I was not ready for the wait. The deal breaker.
- Underwhelming interior design, feels outdated especially in comparison to above mentioned vehicles. Not a deal breaker.
Audi A3 2018-2020 versions:
- Sharp and tight with clean straight lines. Small size suited for the cities here. Audi digital cockpit is excellent. This was seriously considered but bad experience from Audi dealers was the deal breaker.
- Prices: A3 is very popular in Netherlands and there were lots of used options available at good prices. The sportsback body style was especially popular. To be honest the good prices on used A3 were its biggest attraction.
- Power: The 1.5L TSI engine with 150PS of power combined with DSG on a small sedan provides for a strong driving experience. Suspension is neutral.
- Official Audi Dealership experience: Bad! Once appointment for a test drive was not honoured. In another instance, a car vertical report found a record of accident that happened in poland for one of A3 I was looking at. Dealership intially denied it and on pushing accepted an “incident” but declined to give me any more details. Lost trust in the brand and the deal breaker.
- Cramped interiors, a tight fit for people at the back. A child seat will make it worse. After being used to Honda City and Suzuki Ciaz, it felt like a downgrade space wise.
- Pre 2021 models interiors design was from the 2012 and it showed. Dashboard design was super boring and the small pop up screen was not looking so great in 2022.
- Just another Volkswagen? It’s basically a Golf underneath with better interiors. Why not just get a Golf then? Thankfully used A3 prices were attractive enough.
Few other cars which were in the back of my mind but was not seriously considered:
- Teslas – Im not a fan of Teslas. I’ve been in them few times (Lot of Tesla taxis around Amsterdam airport) and the interior is bare-bones basic. Its as if current interiors has been designed by keeping in mind the future fantasy were all cars are self driven and people just summon the next available car.
- Audi A5 sportsback – the drop dead gorgeous look. Unfortunately in Netherlands this model is not so popular for reasons unknown to me and hence used ones were either high mileage (100k+ kms) or very high priced. New ones were out of my budget.
- BMW 1 Series – Prices were good and good deals on private lease. I liked the looks, and even has a BMW badge but a Mini for all practical purposes.
- Mazda CX-5 – I had driven Mazda 3 extensively in Singapore and had positive memories. Unfortunately Mazda 6 is not sold here, 3 is too familiar and small. So flirted around the idea of CX-5. Never really loved the bulbous rear end and there was this desire to try a European car after driving Japanese for ever.
- Skoda Kodiaq- Pricing was tempting, but a 7 seater suv made no sense for my use case. Same for Octavia, selling point was the huge space and boot, both I didn’t need.
- Other continental manufactures – VW, Citroen, Peugeot, Fiat, Seat etc. Lots of options, but none appealed to me.
After evaluating my options, decision was made to go with the G20. And next up was choice of:
New or used – BMW has a “premium selection” used cars. Basically used BMWs sold by official BMW dealers after checks and backed by 2 year BMW guarantee. I decided to go with the premium selection for the peace of mind. It was 2022, the worst possible year to buy cars, hence there were no sweet deals, just decent ones and bad ones. Still I was able to land a 15 month old G20 for 70% price of a new one. Not bad.
Body style – I was surprised to see that wagon/estate style very popular in Europe. And the preference of wider population do have an impact on individual tastes. After seeing all these good looking wagons driving around, I started seriously considering them. European market has some very desirable wagons on sale. For example the super hot Audi RS6 (way beyond my budget) or the smart looking 3 series touring. I finally decided I don’t need the huge boot and stuck with the sedan.
Choice of engine – Due to the way cars are taxed in Netherlands, the 330i is expensive. This also meant there were limited options of such models in used market. With my budget, choice was between a high mileage older 330i or a low mileage younger 320i/318i. I intend to keep the car for long, so I decided to go with a low mileage (Max 50k kms, post 2019 models). While 330i performance is next level, I couldn’t feel any significant performance difference between the 318i and 320i from my test drives, so I decided to choose based on the best deal.
The buying process:
Pretty straightforward. Go through the BMW premium selection website with all filters of age, mileage and max price enabled. But finding that perfect car which meets all the requirements while fitting inside my budget was harder than I thought. There was always one or two sticking points. Finally it all boiled down to two.
One was a grey 2019 model 320i run for ~50K kms. Another was a blue 2021 model 318i used for 25k kms. The 320i had some additional accessories. By virtue of being almost new, 318i was slightly more expensive. It was a difficult decision.
Anyway to make it easier, I soon got a message that 320i is reserved by another buyer and honestly I was relieved that choice is now clear. The blue 318i it is.
I travelled to the BMW dealership which was in another city 45km away. A short PDI and test drive followed. Car looked and felt perfect, almost as good as new.
I checked the history of car via the RDW (RTO equivalent) as well as purchased a car vertical inspection report and everything checked out. The BMW dealer was also very helpful and provided me with a full service history with details. Also being a 2021 model, car still had 2 years of factory warranty left along with 3 years of APK validity.
Checked for any discounts and my sales person (lets call him Mr M henceforth) came back with some.
So everything was done, I signed the sales agreement and was promised delivery the next week.
A note about APK, in the Netherlands, you need to do this test (similar to the fitness tests we have for commercial vehicles in India) on regular schedule. For a new petrol car it is 4 years after the purchase and then every year.
A special mention about the experience with the BMW dealer (Renova Netherlands). Mr M was very mature, honest and helpful in all his communications. He even picked me and dropped me back to the nearest rail way station every time I visited the dealership for test drives and delivery. Interestingly he himself drove a 5 series electric and was using it as his personal vehicle.
Also a note on car vertical, I found their inspection reports to be very thorough and useful. They are able to pull out a fairly comprehensive history of the car, any workshops visits along with estimated repair costs and also nature of usage such as if it was used as taxi etc and also a mileage history. Best part is it seems to be able to pull data from all over Europe. It cost around 35€ but well worth it considering what’s at stake.
Delivery day experience:
The Dutch are famous to be non-nonsense people who go straight to the matter and get stuff done in the most efficient way possible. And my delivery experience was the most Dutch thing ever.
Delivery was fixed to be on a Friday between 2 to 4PM. My previous experience with new car deliveries were all in India and every single time delivery was delayed by hours. With that in my mind, I took a half day off from work and set off to the dealership which was around 50kms away from my home at around 12pm. Wife was working so I went alone and expected to be back by 6pm.
The timeline went as below:
- 01:10PM – Reached the railway station near to dealership
- 01:15PM – picked up by Mr M
- 01.25PM – Arrived at dealership, Mr M has all the papers ready. I go through everything, sign at a bunch of places and I swipe my debit card at the card machine. Biggest purchase I made with card by a huge margin. The car is mine.
- 01.45PM – Mr M drives me to the nearest RDW (equivalent to RTO in India). Place is practically empty. We go in, Mr M shows my license, residency proof, the unique 9 digit registration code and immediately the car is registered in my name.
- 02.15PM – We arrive back at the dealership, the car is driven by Mr M to the exit gate. Mr M spends the next 15mins explaining me about the car, iDrive etc. At that moment I discover the car does not come with reverse camera, but only has sensors. I had assumed a simple rear camera will be a standard feature in a car occupied with front cameras to read traffic signs, emergency breaking and lane assist. Consoled myself saying even if I had noticed I would have gone ahead with the car anyway.
- 02.45PM – Mr M wishes me all the best and leaves and I’m in the car myself. All done in less than 1.5 hours with no fuss.
A note on the 9 digit registration code. It is confidential and you need it to register a car and has to be provided to the buyer by seller after payment is made. Every time a car is registered, a new 9 digit code is generated and sent to the new owner by post.
Another note on driving license. One is allowed to drive for 6 months with his/her foreign DL upon arrival in Netherlands. You need a local Dutch license after that. Those holding certain visa is allowed to exchange a foreign issued DL irrespective of the country of issue, and this allowed me to exchange my Indian DL to Dutch one.
Few pictures of the car:
2 litre B48 series engine:
A typical parking lot, notice the small hatches which is uber popular. Fiat 500s are very popular here:
Once I took the delivery, I was as excited as I was nervous. Fact was I’ve never driven in a right hand driving environment other than the short test drives I had. Now I was faced with a 50km drive back home by myself.
I had been pouring through Dutch driving rules and regulations the previous few days. Armed with confidence from those lessons and waze, I start my drive back home.
The drive was mostly on expressways so I didn’t have to deal with the complicated city road of Netherlands. I was misjudging the width of the car and was driving too close to the right hand side. I was made aware of this by lane assist which vibrates and tugs the steering back to keep me in lane when it detects that I was drifting out of my lane. That happened multiple times during my drive home and it spooked me first few times it happened.
Car masks the speed so well and the 8 speed ZF transmission is unbelievably smooth that I was constantly going above the 100 kmph speed limit. Cruise control is your friend here.
Now I’ve done around 3k kms in last couple of months. 30% city and 60% expressway.
Performance is more than adequate for my driving style, car accelerates pretty well to triple digit speeds. Although turbocharged, there is no distinct surge in power at any point, it’s just a clean linear build up. At the same time there is no explosive performance of a 330i. While 330i does 0 to 100kmph in 5.5s, 318i takes around ~8.5s
It’s there, but I rarely use the interface other than for some basic settings of the car, mainly because the wireless Apple CarPlay is just so intuitive.
I tried the inbuilt navigation and it’s fine, but no where as good as navigation apps like Waze. I do like the feature where a list of petrol stations with price is displayed when fuel level falls low. Useful since price of petrol vary pump to pump:
Apple Car Play:
This is good. It’s wireless, seamless and easy to use. Moment you enter the car, it’s connected and ready to go.
Im a big fan of Waze for navigation, especially due to its ability to suggest the exact lane to keep in big interchanges. Then there is Spotify, YouTube music etc which also gets integrated via car play.
IMHO, car manufacturers should stop spending effort into building and maintaining their own in car entertainment software. They simply cannot match the technology capabilities of Apple/Google.
What I feel is once wireless CarPlay / Auto becomes standard, most people are simply going to use it.
One disadvantage when using navigation from Car Play is that the map doesn’t get shown in the digital cockpit. That’s reserved for the inbuilt navigation system. And thanks to lack of configuration options, I’m forced to look at a huge blank section in the middle of the instrument cluster screen while driving. Could have been better.
Map shown in middle section when using built in navigation:
The empty middle section when using any other navigation:
Sound and speakers:
Car is equipped with BMW Hifi system. It comes with additional tweeters, woofer and amplifier compared to base system. I found it to be very good and meets my requirements. Good mid range with crisp audio without any distortion at higher volumes. Won’t be doing any upgrade.
BMW Connected professional:
This is a subscription based service, and Ive a couple of years left before needing to renew. It basically keeps an online link to the car via an embedded sim and enable remote services like USB Map Update, Real Time Traffic Information, BMW Online, Personal Assistant Service and On-Street Parking Information etc. But for me the most useful is the my bmw app, which lets me keep an eye on the status of the car.
Auto hold function:
This is a neat feature. Once enabled, a firm press on the brake pedal engage the park brake. and when car detects accelerator input, it disengages the park brake. Very useful as I can simply pull up to a traffic light, press the brake pedal fully and take my feet off. and when its green, just drive away.
Driving in Netherlands:
Netherlands has a world class road network system which is toll free! This country has the world highest density of roads and expressways. Driving is easy on expressways and motorways, but long drives can be boring due to monotonous natural scenery as well as speed limit of 100kmph on roads that are capable of much more. The limit used to be 130kmph until very recently, but was reduced to limit emissions.
A map of expressways and their numbers, one can see how dense the network is:
On Dutch urban roads, you as a car driver is basically last in the pecking order. Bicycles, pedestrians, trams, buses etc all get the higher priority than a car. Hence driving in urban areas can be quite stressful. Priority is defined by white triangle markings on roads (commonly called shark teeth). So if the teeth is pointing at you, you yield. They are also complemented by road signs designating a road as priority.
Shark teeth marking on road:
I find turning right as well as exiting round-abouts to be challenging since you need to mindfulness of bicycle/e scooters/ mopeds etc going straight at good speeds. I find it very difficult to get a clear view of the bike lanes to my right while turning especially with a co-passenger blocking your view out.
A typical round about with cycling lanes and pedestrian crossing:
Some road signs can also be confusing. For example below shows means U turn prohibited, but many foreigners are used to seeing a crossed out U and assume it to be U turn allowed:
Another interesting rule is vehicles coming from right has priority. That means even if you are going straight (on a non-priority road), you need to yield to a car merging to your road from right. and there are priority uncontrolled junctions which are 4 or 3 way junctions which do not have traffic lights or priority markings. Throw in some tram lines too and I dread encountering them especially at busy times.
And evidently, its not just me who is confused with uncontrolled junctions, check this reddit thread and comments below is a good example.
Combined with the fact that parking in cities is very limited and expensive, I try and avoid driving into the city and try and use “Park n Ride” facilities where you park your car in a metro station in the outskirts of a city and take a metro for rest of journey.
Kitna deti hai:
A very relevant question with prices per liter of petrol touching 2+ Euros. I use the app Fuelly to track and the average is 13.2KMPL over the last 2.5K kms. Not bad:
Costs of owning a car:
Having a car really shrinks this country down due to the small size (Netherlands is almost the same size as Kerala) and its excellent highway network. No place is more that few hours of drive away and this allows you to explore the whole country over the weekends. But all this convenience comes at a cost, especially for ICE cars, which I will break down below:
- Purchase tax- VAT at 21% plus another tax called BPM, which is based on the particulate matter emissions of the car. For a new G20, BPM alone comes to around 7,000 Euros. In comparison a fully electric car will pay 0BPM!.
- Insurance – This is a major expense especially for someone like me with no insurance history (no claim bonus). I currently pay around 130 Euros per month. This will come down over time, esp if there are no claims.
- Road tax – its calculated based on parameters such a weight, fuel, emissions etc. For G20, it costs me 77 Euros per month.
- Fuel – Petrol and diesel is taxed heavily and 1L of petrol costs around 2 Euros. Fuel efficiency I get now is around 13KMPL which translates to around 0.154 Euros a month. With an average running of 1000km per month, thats around 150 Euros per month.
- Parking – Free for me, but wildly varies. One friend living in Amsterdam pays 150 Euros per month for parking, since he has no on street parking option.
So overall, one is looking at 350 Euros per month as just operating costs. If EMI is involved, total monthly expense can easily touch 1000 Euros per month. And one can easily see how buying an electric car combined with solar roofs makes lots of financial sense here. I expect these costs to slowly increase over time as government tries to make fossil fuel less appealing and push an all electric future.
Accessorizing added or planned:
Dash cam – Viofo A129 plus Duo Dual WiFi:
Ordered it from Amazon for 180 Euros and did a basic installation myself. It consists of two modules, one each for front and back. So the wiring has to be done from the front unit to all the way back to rear windshield which was easy since the included cable was long. its powered from one of the USB-C ports.
Video quality at day and night is quite good and I’m quite satisfied overall, although the screen could have been a bit bigger. It also includes a park mode where camera continuously runs when the car is parked, but the footage is only written when there it detects an impact. But that requires the camera to be hardwired which I intends to do later.
A very simple mirror attached to the top left corner of the windshield, super useful to hold conversation with my chatty 3.5 year old girl without turning back.
Black front grille (yet to be bought):
I do not like the current chrome one and feels a black grill will fit better. Installing it seems an easy enough DIY and plan to install one after winter.
Thanks for reading.
Keyword: Buying & living with my preowned BMW 318i (G20) in the Netherlands