March 7, 2017, 2:39 pm
I think for any luxury brand the car must have at least a couple of signature attributes. For Lexus it's the ride, overall comfort, and the great reliability. For MB I guess it's the German version of Lexus, with the German engineering thrown in, and the plus of not being the luxury division of another make. For BMW, it seems like they're straddling the categories.
When I sat inside a C300 there was no doubt in my mind that if the price is equivalent to a 3-series (which it is), that it's a better buy. Current sales are bearing that out. The interior is just on another level and I don't think the 3-series makes up for that elsewhere. Audi's A4 has gotten universal praise, and when I build one on their site it comes out to be 2k cheaper than the 3, and with more safety equipment.
So what does BMW need to do with the 3? In my opinion the ride must be greatly improved as the first priority. After all, the base version (which just about everyone buys) is neither very sporty nor very comfortable. Granted, the current base suspension is better than my MY2014, but it doesn't put a smile on your face either. It isn't all that composed and it seems to fight off road impacts rather than absorb them. Add to that the heaving over road undulations and you start to think that BMW has done the near-impossible: they've given you the harsh impacts of a sport suspension and the bobbing and weaving of a lux-o-boat setup! This satisfies absolutely no one. Are the RFTs so bad that they've made the suspension designers' job nearly impossible?
I don't think m-sport is the answer, at least for me. I took an extended test drive in a 2017, and no doubt in my mind it is harsher than the pre-LCI, without a whole lot of handling improvement over the base. The pre-LCI, I thought, was a great balance of ride and handling. Coupled with the Michelins or Pirelli summer 18" tires, road impacts were much better handled than the pre-LCI base suspension. The m-sport steering wheel, while better, still hides instrument cluster information because the steering column shroud is too bulbous.
I sat in an Audi yesterday (got a test drive scheduled for Friday). A few things stood out immediately. First, the sound system volume at 50% is so much stronger and deeper than my car. Once again, I could feel the music rather than just listen to it. Second, I could actually see
the engine start/stop button! Can't do that on a 3-series no matter which steering wheel you've got. Third, it has actual door lock open and close (not toggle) switches located on both front doors. Amazing! Lastly, the trunk release button location doesn't require you to be a yoga devotee. I recognized these things within 5 minutes of sitting in the driver's seat. The graphics on the screen also look quite a bit better than iDrive 5.0, but I don't want to pile on here.
So again, where are the signature items that grab the potential 3-series buyer? Now, in all fairness, I think the engine/trans. combo on this car is sheer genius. How exactly do you give me that kind of power and refinement and still return 36.8MPH on the freeway (my readings yesterday)? Insane. That's a signature item for this car but I don't think it's enough. Come on BMW, give me a suspension at least as good as a Honda Accord, an air conditioner at least as good as my 1997 Camry, and give me some tint on the glass while you're at it. At least give me that purple tint strip at the top of the windshield that my grandpa's 1976 Chevy Impala had.