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European vs. Japanese Cars: Why I switched From BMW X3 to 2018 Mazda CX-5

There are many reasons to switch from a European to a Japanese vehicle. Here is why I switched from the BMW X3 to the 2018 Mazda CX-5.

Five years ago, I bought a BMW X3. I knew it was my time to buy a BMW as I had family members who drove BMWs for many years and loved them. It was my first SUV so I really wanted something special. Test drive was like a dream. Not only the ride was smooth but the engine was so quiet (That’s how I remember my dad describing a good car engine many years ago). You could feel the strength of engine and responsiveness both during acceleration and steady speed. The interior was solid, unfussy, made of quality materials. It was your typical no-frill German styling which I had no problem with.

BMW Reliability

Shortly after I took ownership of my BMW, I was on the highway and the electronics went wacky. My windshield washers went on and would not shut off and my tailgate opened while my toddler was in the back seat. I had to stop and make a panic call to BMW. After stopping and pulling to a safe place I got my child out and then the car locked itself and would not reopen. The car was towed and the resulting shop time took days and the car had other reliability issues as well. For example, the coolant light came on at one point. The new BMW needed coolant. I called BMW for advice and they said to add water. However, the manual specifically said not to do so, but rather special BMW coolant. I went to the dealer and they simply poured tap water in. This left me not trusting the car.

Another odd thing happened. While the car was still under warranty at about 35K, a light came on and said I needed brakes in front. I took the car to the dealer who gave it back me and said they were “all set.” However, the light came back on again after 50K and my local shop said the brakes needed to be changed again after just 15K miles. I suspect BMW did not change them, but simply reset the alarm somehow.

The last straw was a tire pressure monitoring failure. Not a sensor in one wheel, but the main computer at about 55K miles costing me $600. I fixed it and went shopping for a new car. I estimate that over the five years I had the BMW between brakes, expensive tires, the TPMS thing and other things I had to pay for I spent about $2200 to keep the car running. And one of the reasons I bought it was the maintenance was supposed to be included for four years.

BMW Run Flat Tires vs. Mazda’s Conventional Tires and Spare Tire

My vehicle was the one featured in one of Torque News’ most read and commented on stories, We Test BMW Run Flat Tires and Give Them a Thumbs Down. When I got a flat with my X3 on a Sunday the dealers at BMW could not help me. I was able to make it home on the run-flat tires, but then had to search for a tire in stock. It took up a working day to do this. Worse, the run-flat tires were extremely expensive compared to conventional tires. As the BMW X3 aged and I replaced the tires due to normal wear I estimate I spent nearly $1,000 more on run flats than I would have if the tires had been normal tires.

BMW vs. Mazda Dealership Experience, Service, Network

The people at BMW were good, but I never felt like anything was special at BMW. I asked for a loaner when I had a service done that would take a few hours and was told to take an Uber. The second time, when the TPMS thingy quit, there was no loaner so I arranged a ride. Where is the premium experience in that?

BMW was also hard to get to. I live north of Boston and the closest dealers are both out of the way for me. However Mazda has two dealerships near me, and both were easy to get to.

European vs. Japanese Vehicles Value and Features

I am not a car expert and I didn’t realize when I bought my 2013 BMW new that almost every affordable car had a backup camera. My BMW didn’t and I missed that. It also didn’t have adaptive cruise control, doors locks that open when you grab the handle, or any driver aids like my new CX-5 does. All these things are expensive add-ons for the BMW. How is BMW a luxury car if it does not come with things like this standard?

European vs. Japanese Vehicles Conclusion – Why I Switched From BMW to Mazda

Having been born and raised in Europe, I always thought that European cars were somehow the best or better. However, having owned many brands now including Honda, Cadillac, Ford, Mercury, and now Mazda, I don’t see it that way. Over the years, I have come to realize that mainstream brands may well meet and exceed your premium expectations when it comes down to quality, reliability, comfort and value.

Bonus! Check out the 30K Update Story Here.

Author Note: Hande H. Tuncer, M.D., is a past contributor to, a partner publication to Torque News.


David Bernstein (not verified)    February 8, 2018 - 4:43PM

One lousy experience with a BMW suddenly means all European cars are awful? And how does BMW represent all European cars and how does Mazda represent all Japanese cars? I feel this article is written with some heavy bias.

Over the last 20 years I have owned two BMWs and a Mercedes and they have not been reliability nightmares. They started up, they brought me to work and back home and they were dependable cruisers for numerous road trips across the Midwest. In fact these cars have been more reliable than the low mileage RX450h my wife drives, which has needed two (!) transmission replacements, a new navigation system at only 40k miles and even developed sludge issues despite her following the manufacturer oil change intervals. Maybe I should I buy her a 2013 BMW X3...

It’s terrible that your experience with BMW was not great, but I am certainly loving my reliable and pleasurable BMW 5er. It drives like a dream and it’s never let me down, even though it’s been out of warranty for over five years. European cars are better than you may think and their reputation as “unreliable money pits” is in my experience uncalled for and simply not true.

Dups (not verified)    March 19, 2018 - 2:17PM

In reply to by David Bernstein (not verified)

BMW = broke my wallet, even thought there is some bias in the article the point still stands.
Show me a BMW with 400k and I will show you a Lexus RX450h with more than a million on it.
Most euro cars have nothing on the Toyota reliability, this is a fact.

Joey (not verified)    February 23, 2020 - 2:34AM

In reply to by Dups (not verified)

I agree with you and this article 100%. While nice to drive and look at, BMW's reliability on their CBS system is the reason we can no longer trust that their cars will get us to where we need, and want to be without breaking down. I hate taking my car to BMW, because it's idling like it's about to shut down, only to be told that it runs like it should and the car shows no faults, or to be told that they cannot change my transmission fluid at 75k, because it is lifetime fluid. This run 'til failure style maintenance is not attractive to people, who care about their cars. I will never own another BMW, unless I win the lottery and lease one every three years or so. BMW is no longer worth the trouble for those of us who want to own our cars beyond 100k.

Shiv (not verified)    July 29, 2018 - 7:25PM

In reply to by David Bernstein (not verified)

I own both .. a 2015 BMW X3 330d and a Mazda CX-5 sportnav 175 hp
Mazda is definitely better value for money. However, I find the BMW much better to drive. Seats are more comfy, sat nav is way ahead of the Mazda. BMW’s standard audio seems par with Mazda’s premium Bose speakers, which btw is no match to my 2004 Audi TT Bose speakers.. it seems like Bose have have gone downhill..

And yes, RFTs are expensive, but my Michelin primacy 3 cost me £250 per tyre but they lasted for 25000 miles i.e. two years.. so, can’t complain.
In terms of safety, whenever, we have storm or heavy rain or any sort of bad weather, my wif requests me to drive my BMW and doesn’t want to drive the Mazda CX-5 as she feels more safe on the X3 and that says it all to me.

Don’t get me wrong, CX-5 is a nice car, but is nowhere close to BMW X3. Having said that I do agree that 15K more for the added luxury is a bit too much. In hindsight, I wouldn’t buy an X3 again, but I wouldn’t replace it with a Mazda CX-5. I would rather buy a 3series or 5 series estate with xdrive which will do almost everything as good as the X3 and will be much more fun to drive on countryside twisty roads.

Billy S. (not verified)    November 14, 2018 - 12:12PM

In reply to by David Bernstein (not verified)

All vehicles break at some point. They are made of thousands of different parts which may go wrong at any given point whether your vehicle is new or old. The best way to buy a car is look for what you value most, analyze your options, then make a decision from there.
Working as a tech for both German and Japanese brands I can vouch that lower tech vehicles are much more reliable and cheaper to maintain than higher tech. A BMW much like a hybrid Lexus has far more new and unsubstantiated technology pieces that not only have a tendency to fail, but areuchore complicated to fix. Although a Mazda, Honda, Toyota, Ford all have the ability to fail at the same rates, they are generally much easier, cheaper to maintain.
Working for BMW for more than 6 years, I have found them to be extremely rewarding to drive. When your $50k BMW goes down, especially for non-drivetrain related issues, it can be a nightmare to 1) get it to a dealer or to someone qualified to repair 2) diagnose said failure as they are electrical nightmares 3) wait sometimes months for CORRECT parts from Germany.
I started working with Mazda as a tech in 2006, left for BMW in 2012 and although it had been extremely financially rewarding, taking money from people is not my goal in life. I live driving my BMW, but I am fully aware of the upkeep this vehicle must have in order to make it reliable and I fully understand that preventive maintenance does not keep my electrical system from failing, as it has on 4 separate occasions. My car is just 1 year old.
The moral of the story? Educate yourself. Buy what you love to drive. When you stop loving it, sell it and buy something else before you give up maintaining it, letting fall into disrepair.

Hans (not verified)    June 13, 2020 - 10:26AM

In reply to by David Bernstein (not verified)

I'm replacing my 2011 X5 35d by a new Mazda CX-5. The BMW cost me a compact car in repairs over the last 3 years. A turbo replacement, reversing camera and sensors gone (I don't repair them), check engine light for last 3 years, and so forth. Besides, the German electronics are retarded compared to Japanese. The worst GPS system I have ever seen anywhere. Repairs are a fortune too, due to parts. I rather invest elsewhere. And it's not just BMW, I sure had a lemon. My daughter purchased a new Mercedes GLA250 in France. 2 years old and 12x in the garage for electronics failures. The garage is incapable to make a lasting repair. I had 3 Audis prior, which were better, but still costly repair bills. My friends with simple Japanese boast how little their cars are in for repairs. I don't trust European cars any further than anything else. Are they better? My X5 is an excellent car when it runs. I know when I leave home, but I don't know when I return. A bit like Jaguar in the old days.

J. Ortiz (not verified)    March 14, 2018 - 10:06AM

As a owner of both a BMW X3 and a japanese SUV I can sympathize with the author’s point of view regarding better reliability of Japanese cars however the lack of premium options on the X3 should’ve not been a surprise, any well informed shopper could notice that by doing some online research in advance.
Being a DIY mechanic with extensive experience I can share with you that I have a preference for the X3 because there is plenty of information available online for the repairs and the breakdowns seem to be very consistent on when they occur so I honestly look forward to the next repair. On the Japanese SUV I never know when to expect a problem so predictability is non-existing and I have barely repaired anything on this car after 100K miles.
For me the biggest reason to keep the X3 is the smooth I6 engine and the solid feeling at the steering wheel. I would avoind the I4’s. FinallyI also believe the X3 has high safety ratings.
For a reference, my japanese suv is a full body on frame Nissan.

Cathie (not verified)    September 6, 2018 - 1:18PM

In reply to by J. Ortiz (not verified)

AHHH the body on frame SUV, is it the 4runner? I love those, I much prefer the body on frame over the boat like drive feel of crossovers.. Just waiting for them to revamp the now almost 10 year old model. anyway...

Every car has problems, just google car model+problems and you'll see a shit ton of complaints. It all boils down to how much and how often you want to spend on repairs/maintenance.

I'm looking for luxury and decided on the Volvo XC90, which are not known for their reliability, but I love the SUV and thats what I'm going to go with.

Just an FYI we do all the recalls for VW/Audi, Toyota/Lexus, Honda/Acura... and can tell you we send out SIGNIFICANTLY more recalls to the german brand owners. Working on one right now- Engine support bolts.

So my thoughts match the writers- Japanese have better quality control/more reliable.

Scott Johnson (not verified)    August 27, 2018 - 12:17AM

I also have a BMW 550i xdrive twin turbo, and it also burn a lot of oil. Going to have it checked out. Let you know if BMW gives me the runaround. Love the car. I'm going to how much it will cost to fix.

Connor (not verified)    February 23, 2020 - 9:41PM

In reply to by Rand (not verified)

I am looking at this article as I research Mazda as a replacement for my BMW 328i. Granted, it is a 2009 with 68,000 miles, but over the 3 years I have owned it, it has had probably about 3 or $4,000 in work done on things like suspension replacement, oil pan and valve cover gasket replacements, and window regulators breaking. It is currently at the dealer with a coolant leak, and I am waiting to hear the cause. The 3 series is definitely known for being the most needy of the BMWs, and judging from the other cars I see at the dealer, mine may have just been a really bad generation, but it is definitely my first and last BMW. My parents have had far less problems with Mercedes, and I have decided that I will probably avoid European cars in the future. They are an absolute blast to drive, but it just isn't worth all the time it spends in the dealer and the money that costs. They also suck up their premium gas.

Dave (not verified)    June 14, 2019 - 5:41AM

Here in switzerland owning a BMW is truly special. I have a 435i and going to service is awesome. They treat you like a VIP, serve you coffee for free in a cool lounge, sometimes they have someone there cleaning your shoes for free. The experience there is awesome. Not so sure if every dealership here is like this, but that one is very cool. Also, when the Air Conditioning of my car didnt work, my car had just 20k miles on it. They fixed it and it cost me nothing. It wasnt covered by warranty or anything. they just said that something like this should not happen to such a new car so i had to pay just like 20 bucks or so.

All in all i am very pleased with my BMW

John York (not verified)    March 28, 2020 - 10:37AM

If you want info re the reliability of the different makes of vehicles I suggest the J.D. Powell site. Over many years this site has consistently reported the superior reliability of Honda, Toyota/Lexus, Kia, Mazda etc. JDP sample 1000's of owners and report results generally known to mechanics who have exposure to a wide range of cars.
I used to be a motor mechanic and in the Mercedes Benz service workshop in Sydney, Australia. I have noticed that the expensive European cars have turned service into an art form, designed to relieve you of as much cash as reasonably possible. Generally they are way more expensive that the Asian designed cars to purchase and maintain and just do not compare where reliability is concerned. Of course some owners have experience at odds to this however one cannot argue with the overall statistics.
For shear driving pleasure however some cars such as BMW and Benz do have the edge and the image and will therefore continue to be attractive to a segment of the market.
In the 50's we refer referred to the first Asian cars as 'Jap crap' however over the years they have improved at an amazing rate; that is part of the Asian philosophy and I'm sure it will continue and will bring us even better vehicles on the med time frame.