German steel a steal

Dr Sherman Lee (left) with his BMW 330Ci and Dr Roy Ong with his Audi A4 3.2 quattro in Australia.
Dr Sherman Lee (left) with his BMW 330Ci and Dr Roy Ong with his Audi A4 3.2 quattro in Australia. PHOTO: KONG YONGYAO

Doctor duo drive sporty BMW and Audi models for under $20,000 each

Car ownership overseas can be an intriguing prospect, especially for Singaporeans who grow up thinking that a set of wheels usually costs an arm and a leg.

Dr Sherman Lee, who is based in Australia, shares his experience with Life via Skype from his suburban home in Melbourne which he shares with his good friend, Dr Roy Ong, a fellow Singaporean .

Both men are 27.

Behind Dr Lee's swivel chair is a little white door leading to a garage where his beloved 2005 BMW 330Ci sits dormant but seemingly alert.

He bought the silver coupe in 2012 for a mere A$18,000 directly from its previous owner. When asked why he chose a used BMW, he says: "In the spirit of kiasuism, I wanted to maximise both car and cost."


  • • Both keep medical books and equipment such as stethoscopes

    • Roy also keeps car-washing supplies and a few bottles of water in case of an unexpected long journey

    • Sherman also carries a breakdown triangle

An equivalent BMW 428i today costs A$85,000 (S$84,700) new. As there is no certificate of entitlement, a used car in Australia does not expire and hence offers exceptional value for money.

Dr Lee adds: "I can drive a sports car with my budget. So why not?"

The car has had its share of mechanical gremlins, as is to be expected of a 10-year-old European machine.

It has thus far suffered a blown gasket and coolant leak, among other expensive faults.

Dr Lee says the faults shake his confidence somewhat, especially when he is contemplating a long drive - and in Australia, long drives are really, really long.

Yet, his eyes light up when describing how the car drives. "It's superb," he coos. "When the inlinesix roars, life's worries dissipate."

There is a pregnant pause. "Then, you go back to wondering if you've caused more oil to spray out of the engine."

Overall, however, his description of driving in Australia is positive. "For obvious geographical reasons, you get the chance to skirt real bends on mountain roads here. You get nothing close to that in Singapore," he says.

Dr Ong, who bought a 2006 Audi A4 3.2 quattro in late 2013 for A$18,500, effusively describes navigating the Great Alpine Road, calling it "absolute liberation".

One thing the two motoring enthusiasts miss about Singapore roads, however, are the road signs.

"They are impeccable and appear well before the exits," Dr Ong notes. Australian suburban road signs are too small and emerge way too late. "They might as well be printed on an A4 sheet in Times New Roman behind a leafy tree."

As the pair discovered, mountain roads can be as hazardous as they are scenic and liberating. During a recent road trip to an off-season ski resort, Dr Ong met with a horrific accident.

It happened on a picturesque summer's day, when they were driving in a convoy of five. Going downhill, with the mountain's face to the right, Dr Ong's all-wheel-drive Audi struck an embankment and ricocheted towards a cliff.

He remembers "a sinking feeling" as he approached the edge.

"What happened was a bit of a blur," he says. "My instincts to steer and keep the car on the road were to no avail. I could remember only tree branches breaking apart on the side of the car. I'm surprised I was not impaled."

The trees stopped the car after a 3m to 5m drop, saving him from free-falling the rest of the way.

He was unhurt, but his Audi sustained serious damages. Shaken, the convoy completed the rest of the journey at a slow crawl.

The two doctors have families in Singapore and may yet return home in the future. What wheels would they get if they do come back?

Buses and trains, they echoed. "Cheap and efficient," Dr Ong laughs.

The writer is an occasional contributor to Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2015, with the headline 'German steel a steal'. Print Edition | Subscribe