January 6, 2006
Last month I dropped by the dealer to schedule an appointment for an oil service. While there, I spoke with my mechanic and brought up the issue of the sloppy 1->2 shift exhibited by the "new" transmission we installed a bit over a year ago. He asked me to schedule with a loaner so he could do a bit of driving to see what was up.
I brought the car in today. Later In the afternoon my mechanic informed me that the oil service went off without a hitch as usual, and that he was able to duplicate the 1->2 shift problem easily. He rendered an accurate description of the problem for the BMW tech center, and they ultimately suggested the next course of action -- tweaking of an adjustment band and replacement of a solenoid. The necessary parts (a pan gasket as well as the solenoid) are now on order. He asked me to bring the car back as soon as the parts come in -- probably early next week. He also mentioned that if this didn't fix the problem, the next step was another new transmission -- under warranty, of course.
The highlight of the day was getting to drive an E90 325i loaner. I developed fairly strong feelings about the car almost immediately. I can tell that if the E90 coupe is anything like the E90 sedan, it's going to be a love-hate relationship. This isn't an E90 site (yet), so I won't go into incredible detail about this, but I'll say a few things just in case anyone at BMW is reading.
Good things about the E90
- Just when you think BMW can't improve on the silky smooth marriage of engine and transmission, they do it. This is the nicest-shifting auto transmission I've driven. Period.
- The car handles about as well as you'd expect a BMW to handle. Although the standard suspension is as isolating as ever, it does not sacrifice handling to the extent the E36/E46 stock suspensions did. The E90 took turns almost as fast as my E36 sports suspension with only a minor amount of body roll and sliding.
- BMW appears to have (mostly) fixed the annoying delay associated with the fuzzy logic on the E46's drive-by-wire throttle. The E90 throttle responds with an almost imperceptible delay, but the E36 throttle pours on the revs far faster than the newer vehicles. No surprise, of course -- that's what a direct linkage does best.
- The key fob has lost the "key" and gone electronic. It's about time. The traditional metal key exists but is integrated with the key fob and is not used in the ignition. The E90 has a security interlock system combined with a starter button, which is definitely cool for effect if nothing else. I think Mercedes did this about 10 years ago (yawn), and even VW has had a retractable key fob for the past 5+ years, but at least BMW got it right this time.
Bad things about the E90
I don't like the exterior of this vehicle any more than any other Bangle design, but I could probably get used to it over time (much like I have grown to appreciate the E46). However, the one thing I cannot excuse under any circumstances is the interior. The people who designed (and approved) the interior need to be kicked in the nads and shown the door. Some cases in point:
- The single most unforgivable flaw in the design is that BMW has moved away from the driver-centric "cockpit" design and the industry-standard DIN chassis based "avionics rack" radio & climate control design a la the E36. Why would ANY designer do this? After all, BMW's own propaganda suggests that the car is the "Ultimate Driving Machine". So now I suppose it's the "Ultimate Passenger Comfort and Consideration Machine". Screw the passengers. I am the driver. I am the most important person in the vehicle and should be treated as the center of its "universe".
- There are far too many hard-edge lines on this car in general, and the interior is the worst offender in this regard. The X3-inspired sloping armrests are hideous and the lack of a driver's-side door handle is both odd (where's the symmetry?) and just annoying (the 45 degree sloped door handle falls to hand far more easily than the little "pocket" we're now forced to grab).
- Interior wood trim was once tastefully and applied as an accent. It now dominates the look of the dash and loses much of its desired effect.
- The cup holders are integrated with the dash rather than the console where they should be (a la E36 and E46). I predict many people will find themselves shampooing rugs and replacing very expensive electronic dashboard components when the cup holders start spilling top-heavy drinks under acceleration.
- The window controls are positioned on the door armrests rather than the center console (like the E36 and E46) where they belong. Why should they be in the center? So when I drive with my left hand I don't need to take my hand off the wheel to control the windows and locks. Putting the controls in the center console is so "common sense" it's ridiculous but BMW now follows the rest of the dysfunctional automotive design community. What's worse is that the controls are mounted in the armrests so far forward I have to lean uncomfortably forward to actuate them. And on the passenger's side I have to awkwardly reach around the door handle to get to the window switch. Oh my GOD, how did THAT get through the design reviews?
- While we're on the subject of window switches, I positively hate those "push down/pull up" switches. The flat switches used in the E36 were a hell of a lot easier to keep clean. And they worked (and felt) better too.
- The radio produces decent sound and nicely integrates a satellite radio receiver, but BMW dropped the ball on a couple design elements. I'm a pilot and I wear polarized sunglasses when I fly and drive. In my E36 I can see the LCD displays just fine. In the E90, I can see the climate control and gauge cluster LCDs but I have to look over/under my lenses to see what I'm doing with the radio because the display is polarized in the opposite direction and appears totally black. How BMW could overlook such a significant design detail is beyond me. The tuning knob is also too far to the right, but that's clearly one of the many consequences of the non-driver-centric interior design. The icing on the cake? Turning the tuning knob cycles through the presets by default rather than doing what EVERY OTHER RADIO IN EXISTANCE does -- change the frequency in 100 or 200Khz steps. Uh, DUH!
The single biggest exterior design issue I have is the disturbing lack of protective side moldings. This evidently follows a disturbing trend in the auto industry to have form override function.
Do BMW designers think we live in a perfect world in which everyone is courteous enough to avoid slamming their doors into our cars? Where shopping carts don't become possessed and hurl into our vehicles at Mach 1? Or where I'm perfect enough to NEVER open my door too far in the garage right next to that metal structural support? I mean, BMW has intentionally screwed up the cosmetics of the car anyway...the least they could do is help us prevent ACCIDENTAL damage.
If you're wondering why I'm considering dropping $5K or more to refurbish my eight year old E36, now you know. Something tells me that truly great BMWs built by common-sense engineers are a thing of the past.
Parts $46, Labor $38. Total $99, Mileage: 123621.