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Driven by the Love of the Drive
My Weekend With The “Ultimate Driving Machine”
February 2, 2011Posted by on
I still intend to own a BMW one day, but after spending a weekend with the “base model”, I realize I need to be a bit more picky about exactly which one.
So long story short, my mom was out-of-town for four days, which meant me daily driving the BMW for those days (with permission of course). For those who aren’t familiar with me, I am probably one of the biggest BMW fan-boys this side of high-school graduation. I’ve always loved their mantra of building driver-oriented cars, and with the limited time I’ve spent driving them, it’s something you really can feel behind the wheel. You know all those guys who maintain that nothing feels like a BMW? They’re not just waxing lyrical, trust me. There’s just something about how they feel behind the wheel, the way the steering feel, the way the brakes feel, the way the power is delivered. They just have that distinct feel to them, and it let’s you know that this was a car built for people who put driving-feel high on their priority list when it comes to cars. It’s one reason I love BMWs so much. I’ve driven Audis and Benzs, and yes they have their own strengths, but neither can match a BMW as a drivers car.
Now this particular BMW is a 328i, yes the lower trim. I used to maintain that I loved the feel of BMWs so much, that I’d be content with a bare-bones 328i. After spending a few days living with one though, I’m starting to go back on that statement a little. Yes, the driving feel is there. But when I drove it on a daily basis, a lot of little niggles started to pop up. One was the fact that no matter how I tried to adjust the seat and steering wheel, I could never find a completely comfortable driving position. It was always too high, too forward, too leaned back, or too leaned forward. And the seat belt, no matter what I did it managed to choke my neck and become a constant annoyance. The Germans must be a tall people, because this clearly wasn’t designed for my 5’6 frame. And while the leatherette was nice and comfy for the first few miles of a journey, it began to grown hard and uncomfortable after a while. If I were specing my BMW, it’d have to include the sport seats in real leather.
And while indeed it has a drivers-feel, you can’t escape the fact that this car is slow. Well to my perspective anyway. I always popped it into manual, and let the engine sing when merging onto the freeway. And while the 3.0L straight-six sung a very beautiful tune, you look down at the speedo and realize you’re not actually moving very fast. I will say though that aside from the lack of power and more importantly torque in the 328is motor, it does seem to love to rev and does so quite smoothly. I also should point out that the 6spd ZF auto-box is by far the best torque-converted automatic transmission I’ve come across. Sure, it lacks the immediacy of a double-clutch box, but it still shifts much faster than any auto I’ve used prior. Of course in the end given the choice I’d choose the row-your-own manual 80% of the time, but if I were forced to live with the auto it wouldn’t dampen my spirits much.
In the end though, there was one big issue I have that would keep me from buying this car. Yes, for the millionth time it is a brilliant drivers car, and a wonderful machine to live with everyday. Despite the small issues I really wouldn’t mind using it everyday (after all I’m sure if I played around enough I could find the perfect driving position). But there’s one big advantage my two WRX has over this car: personality. Character. The BMW feels good, but in the end it also felt like a really nice, convenient, and flashy appliance. It’s something I can’t quite put my finger on, but I’m sure you can understand somewhat. It just lacks that factor that makes me happy everyday I drive it. And my WRX has it. The BMW is by far and away the better car, but the WRX manages to put more smiles on my face. I can tell you this much after four days, I won’t be trading my WRX in for a 328i any time soon.
Now I know what you’re thinking and we’re on the same page trust me. I’m sure that I would find that missing character in at least a 135i/335i, preferably with the M-Sport pack. And if not those, there’s always the M cars. But I can’t afford any of those any time soon. Well I can probably afford a used one, but those one will be out of warranty. And as much as it pains me to admit it, because I feel that people who discount cars because of reliability are spineless-cowards, the what-if would always be in the back of my mind. It’s not so much WHEN something goes wrong, it’s IF it goes wrong HOW MUCH will it cost to fix? That fear wont be enough to stop me buying one in the future, but at this point in my life it’s something I have to take into consideration whether I like it or not.
So in the end, I’ve learned that even being a fan-boy isn’t enough to sway me into going out and buying the cheapest in-warranty BMW I can find. Yes, I still intend on owning a BMW, but I think I’m going to have to go more than a few years before I’m ready to look at one. And I’ve also realized how much I love my WRX. Sure, I hate the fact that it’s not a hatch, but I can’t see that from the inside. At least the seat belt doesn’t try to strangle me…