Februrary 18, 2006
For the last two days I got to drive an E46 330i loaner while my E36 was in the shop getting a transmission replacement under warranty (if you have to ask, read my earlier reports). I have to tell you -- I really enjoyed driving this car, particularly after driving the E90. Did it necessarily take corners better than the E90? Not exactly. What I so much enjoyed about it was the relative lack of irritating design flaws. The traditional driver-centric cockpit design just "works" better, the center console-based window controls fall to my right hand as my left hand keeps the vehicle out of the weeds, the entire interior seems to have that distinctly German conservative feel to it, and the overall look of the car just seemed to mesh with what I'd say makes a BMW a BMW. Pretty amazing. When I wasn't cursing BMW designers I found I could actually focus on the pleasure of the driving experience again.
I don't know what was louder -- the squealing of the tires as the car took corners like it was on rails, or me...squealing in delight as I "rowed" the steptronic through the gears and listened to the beautiful symphony that is the BMW exhaust note. At that point, I had an epiphany. BMW has spoiled me. If the mechanicals were the only concern, I sincerely doubt I would ever care to own anything other than a BMW -- high maintenance costs and all. This is probably due in part to the fact that as I've grown older, I've come to appreciate that I have only one ticket to ride this little merry-go-round we call life, and life is too short to tolerate anything less than the highest quality in everything. Now if I can only convince BMW that its exterior and interior design groups need a refresher course on what it means to design a distinctly German automobile.
This evening I walked out to the service lot to find my faithful companion standing proudly -- new transmission installed, freshly washed and ready for action. As I drove home, I quickly concluded that the sloppy 1->2 shift was gone. Indeed, the transmission shifted better than it had in years. I also reflected on the fact that the car is now 8 years old this week, but you'd never know it by driving it (or looking at it for that matter). Good design never ages. Corollary: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. BMW design group: are you listening?
Incidentally, while I was at the dealership I decided on a whim to talk to one of the owners regarding my concerns about the E90 -- after all, I have to do my part to save BMW from spending millions on marketing surveys to tell them what I could for free. In a last gasp for some positive news regarding BMW's new design direction I asked "so, when is the new E90 coupe coming out?" Answer: "Your guess is as good as BMW's. We believe it's been pushed to either late this year or spring 2007." My follow-up question was "If I want to buy a coupe right now and E46 coupe allocations are halted, what are my options?" The answer surprised me. I'll keep you in suspense until my next report, but suffice it to say that if it comes to pass, it will have a profound effect on my vehicle ownership.