The <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/01/bmw/index.html">BMW</a> 3-series recently won our 2006 Automobile of the Year award against stiff competition. Having driven it on some entertaining rural roads in Michigan and Ohio, we decided to find out what this latest iteration of the 3-series would be like over the course of a year. Will it be as rewarding to drive in the grind of the daily commute as it is on twisty two-lanes?
We carefully trawled the list of available equipment for our titanium silver 330i, because it's quite easy to outfit BMWs with a lot of alluring (and expensive) options. We first settled on the cold-weather package, since seat heaters are vital when you hop into a car on a frigid Midwestern morning. Next up was the sport package, which includes a sport steering wheel and seats along with eighteen-inch wheels and tires. (The latter seem to be a prerequisite if you want a Bangle-era BMW to look its best.) The big wheels will have to wait until spring, however, because we had the car delivered with Dunlop SP Winter Sport M3 DSST snow tires mounted on seventeen-inch rims. The final option we selected was BMW Assist with Bluetooth telephone connectivity. This feature allows a Bluetooth-equipped cell phone to operate through the car's audio system, turning it into a hands-free device.
We passed on the navigation system, not only because it's pricey but because it saddles you with iDrive. We also skipped BMW's active steering system--we prefer the feel of the standard rack. Finally, we decided to stick with the standard leatherette seating rather than splurging for real leather.
So far, so good. Everyone who has driven the Bimmer loves it, and there haven't been any complaints about a lack of equipment from our more sybaritic staff members.
172 miles Executive editor Mark Gillies steals the 330i within minutes of delivery. "It's mine, and no one else can have it. The engine, steering, and ride quality are all fabulous, and it has the best seat heaters on the planet. BMWs might be expensive, but I'm glad people are prepared to pay for quality."
3855 miles Complaints begin to creep into the 330i's logbook: "It's annoying how the indicator and wiper stalks reset to the neutral position after each selection." "The confusing power seat controls and lack of adjustable lumbar support make finding a comfortable position difficult." "The design of the back seat makes it nearly impossible to properly install a rear-facing child seat." Unsurprisingly, the niggles aren't enough to dull our enthusiasm for the popular sedan.
6525 miles Copy editor Rusty Blackwell prefers "the slick gearbox in any <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/01/honda/index.html">Honda</a> over this rubbery, long-throw stick shift. The clutch is too eager to return and does not match well with the awesome steering, powerful and refined engine, and firm brakes."
7223 Creative director Eccleston: "At first, I thought our 330i lacked the presence of previous 3-series BMWs, but the clean lines make this the best-looking model in the current Bimmer lineup."
10,026 miles Contributor Ronald Ahrens is in love: "What a superb engine. It winds right up, continually punches the bag, is instantly serene on liftoff, and produces sounds that make me wonder why anyone needs a radio. If I had to choose one car for the next several years, this would be it."
10,776 miles Tramlining and high-speed wandering afflict our Bimmer, so we make a service appointment. But the dealer's alignment rack is broken and will be down for at least a week.