Lately the following comparisons have gone down:
325i vs A4 2.8q (Car & Driver)
330i vs IS300 vs MBZ C320 (Automobile)
740iL vs S430 vs Jag VDP vs A8 etc. (Car & Driver)
M5 vs Jag XKR and E55 (Car & Driver)
In all of these comparisons the BMW has won. Obviously the automotive press does have a slight bias to BMWs but their perpetual victories have shown how good a car a BMW is. Even the latest reviews of the E46 chassis, which chastise the company for lightening the steering, still place the car above its competitors. They have criticized the new M3 for deleting the delightful oversteer that came with the E36 in favor of safer, but less fun understeer. Despite these changes that the newer BMWs have undergone, they still have been universally praised in the enthusiast automotive press. They (BMW) continue to pull in a surprisingly large age group given their high price. They have ventured into new markets (exotics like the Z8 and hopefully upcoming Z9) with surprising success. Despite claims that newer BMWs lack the soul that older ones possessed, the new BMWs still show their heritage more than any other mainstream car on the market. Historic/exotic marques such as Ferrari, Lotus and several small British makes still carry on this tradition, but we see some marques abandoning their rich heritage. Porsche comes to mind as evidenced by the fact that used very good condition 993s (last 911) continue to sell at prices comparable to new 996 (current 911). Volvo has abandoned its distinctive look. In fact its new S60 (successor to S70) is too modern looking inside (esp. the man shifter setup) to be a real Volvo. At least MBZ has kept with much of its look and their cars still remain elegant yet modern and true to their previous design despite the technological developments within. I guess what I am getting at is that BMW has managed to encourage brand loyalty, build a car for enthusiasts and the wealthy alike and keep all sorts of people walking into showrooms. As much as we all say we love our E34s and how they are more soulful than the E39, one day we will almost certainly find ourselves in a new BMW, and isn't it comforting to know that the company will still be providing us with a lot of what attracted us to the marque in the first place?
Thanks guys for listening, kinda had to get up on the soapbox there, hope it provokes some good discussion.