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328ci/Steptronic test drive: disappointing. Why? (archive)

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Posted by Randy G on October 21, 1999 at 01:38:44:

So I test drove a new 328ci the other day, hoping to get some glimpse of this great handling I've heard so much about. I realize that a 328ci is not an M3, and I will try to get my hands on a recent M3 for comparison. However, I have to say I was disappointed. I absolutely hated the Steptronic transmission--as far as I could tell it was an automatic transmission. Yes, under some circumstances it would let me change to a different gear, but it was much too quick to make up its own mind about what gear to be in. Shifts felt like any automatic, and I had that annoying feeling I always do when driving an automatic, that power was not available when I wanted it, and that smoothness was taking precedence over performance. Bleah.
Handling was ok, seemed relatively neutral with no strong tendency toward over- or understeer, but again, not what I had hoped for (do need to consider the fact that on a short test drive I'm not going to push too hard, even with the dealer not in the car (he wasn't)--very embarassing to wind up at the bottom of a hill upside down). Steering effort seemed on the heavy side, and the result of having to yank hard on the wheel was a reduction in feel--i.e., it felt numb compared to what I'm used to. I really wanted to like this car, but I'm afraid I found it a rather boring ride.
Now: I am *not* *not* *not* trolling for flames here, I was just surprised that the car seemed so un-sporty, considering the high regard in which BMW is held by people who should know. If someone has some *reasonable* explanations for why the car felt the way it did, I'd love to hear them.
I'm used to driving Hondas and small Acuras. I am really, really, not trying to diss BMW here, I'm still intending to buy an E46 M3 when they come out, and I know that FWD is the "wrong" thing, handling-wise, but I can't ignore what my senses told me. The Honda cars seem to have better steering feel, reasonably neutral cornering, and in general seem to do a much better job of inviting me to throw them around with abandon than the 328ci I drove the other day. I should also add that these Honda products are 1988-89 vintage, from back when cars were built much lower than current models--seems like everybody's trying to make their cars look like SUV's nowadays, unless you go for an out-and-out exotic.
Again: I am *not* trying to attract flames, and believe me, I was as surprised as anyone. Maybe there's just that much difference between the regular models and an M3? Do the automatic cars have the suspension detuned, or something? ???

-Randy


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