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      05-29-2012, 10:56 PM   #1
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Thoughts from F30 Drive for Team USA Event (Long post)

Howdy Folks! Long-time lurker, first-time poster. Just spent a few hours at the Drive for Team USA Event at BMW of Mountain View.

The Event
I pre-registered and set myself up for a Tuesday, thinking that turnout would be relatively low on a work day at 1p.m. Well... this was sorta true, but I still wound up waiting to get some time behind the wheel. The event staff were great and after a brief intro to the car (most of which I already knew courtesy of Bimmerpost) and some snacks, I hopped in line for my first test drive. The route was short at 4.6 miles with a brief freeway stint, a wide left-hand sweeper at the off ramp, and stop-and-go on the city streets.

The Cars
Drove everything they had on tap, including:
  • Audi A4 Premium Plus 2.0 FWD
  • BMW 328i (Luxury Line)
  • BMW 335i Sport Line w/ 19s
  • Lexus IS 250
  • MBZ C250

Here are my thoughts, presented in order of my personal "worst to best".

Lexus IS 250
"So how was it?" they asked as I returned from the route.
"Completely uninspired."

I wanted to like this car. The minimalist exterior design has aged well and the 2-tone dark grey over ivory interior make for a light and airy cabin that IMHO captures the Scandinavian ethos better than BMW's Modern Line. The leather is soft and whatever material they used in the A-pillar/headliner is amazing to the touch. Regrettably, the praise only persisted until I drove it off the lot.

It seems Lexus equates "Sport" to providing a surprisingly harsh ride mated to an engine/transmission combination that absolutely hate each other. Dig into the throttle and the transmission will downshift only after you've completed your request forms in triplicate and submitted them to a mean-spirited government worker who's 3 hours late for her lunch break. Throttle tip-in is leisurely and the car just never invites you to drive beyond 5/10ths.

Pros: Beautiful interior, comfortable seats, decent media interface
Cons: Engine/transmission combo, rough ride, no fun

MBZ C250
The last C-class I drove was the W203 C240 Kompressor. Hated it. It sounded like George Jetson's flying car, but without the cool ability to fold into a suitcase. So my expectations were low.

The W204's engine/acceleration handily erased my recollection of its predecessor. It's punchy and meaty and it moved the car nicely while making decent engine sounds. Like the Lexus, the C suffers from an unhappy marriage to its transmission. Downshifts are slow to occur and the transmission occasionally felt unsure of its choice relative to my throttle input. A new transmission or re-programming could do wonders for this car.

As to handling, I didn't really push the C hard since it was my first drive of the day. Seemed to be a good balance of lux/sport, and I preferred it to the Lexus.

The MBZ media interface, COMAND, is button-filled mess. I spent 15 minutes in the car and it took me just about that long to adjust the radio's volume. The knobs/controls, dash, and steering wheel also feel like they shrunk in the wash cycle. Everything feels about 80% of it's "right" size, which is a criticism I had of the E9x cars. I'm not sure what there is to be gained by making the controls so small.

The seats were by FAR the softest/cushiest of all the vehicles, though I wonder if they'd provide effective support on really long trips. The leather is less sumptuous than the Lexus, but better than the Bimmer and the Audi.

If there's one area where this generation loses ground to its predecessor, it's the exterior design. The W203 was a real stunner and the new generation looks far too formal for my tastes. This is, of course, highly subjective.

Pros: Punchy and playful engine, comfortable seats
Cons: Bad transmission, overly-complex COMAND interface, conservative design

Audi A4 Premium Plus 2.0
The best way to summarize the A4 is to categorize the "good", the "bad", and the "ugly".
The good: The steering effort is nicely weighted at speed and seemed to provide the most "road grain". It reminded me a lot of my e46. The seats are amazing and it's easy to find a comfortable position that I could spend hours in. Interior materials and aesthetics continue to be a strong suit for Audi. It feels high-quality and definitely makes a good first impression. The 2.0 engine will get a spot here and in "the bad": It's fun and keeps the "butt-o-meter" happy, but it's a very coarse engine that sounds similar to the last time I got a spoon stuck in the garbage disposal.

The bad: Relative to the latest generation of i-Drive, Audi's MMI just isn't as intuitive. As a matter of fact, I gave up trying to switch from FM to Sirius after about a minute of fiddling with a system that didn't want to cooperate. As mentioned above, while the engine's power feels class-competitive, its sounds are not.

The ugly: Not sure if it's turbo lag or throttle programming, but something is WRONG WRONG WRONG here. I pulled away from a stop sign, went very gently into the throttle, and after about 2 seconds the engine surged ahead unexpectedly. VERY inappropriate behavior that seemed to play out when I accelerated from a dead stop or went from partial throttle to 3/4 or WOT. Lastly, the copious torque steer in the FWD car is a big buzz kill. For the enthusiast Audi shopper, I'd say Quattro is a must.

Having said all this, there's something about the A4 that's greater than the sum of its parts. It's a fun car to drive. In a strange way, the coarse engine note actually adds a bit to the fun factor, especially when compared to the 328's "silent treatment" below 4k.

Pros: Fun to drive, great seats, rockin' stereo, nice interior aesthetics
Cons: Torque steer, throttle tip-in, FWD

BMW 328i Luxury Line
At the risk of getting , I spent a lot of time debating whether I preferred the 328i or the A4. The A4, IMO, has some glaring shortcomings that need to be addressed, but it's FUN. The 328i is a brilliant car and significantly better-executed, but it honestly didn't make me smile the way the A4 did (much to the chagrin of my hosts at the driving event.)

To be sure, the 328i does a lot of things right. Let's start with the N20. It's a sweetheart of an engine and the combination with the 8AT is a marriage made in heaven. I'm a die hard manual guy, but the auto (and not even the sport auto) managed the power band exactly the way I would have in a manually-equipped car. This combo may also be the best implementation of the driving modes, as the engine's flexibility is well-suited to relaxed cruising when wanted, great economy when needed, and acting like an irresponsible hooligan at any time desired.

This particular car was an Imperial Blue Luxury Line with Saddle interior. It felt premium in a way that previous generation 3ers didn't and embodies the best of what I love about my e46 whilst turning up the heat on Audi in quality and aesthetic... except for the leather. The cows who provided their hides for BMW Dakota leather must've been raised in the red light district of Munich and borne witness to unspeakable acts of S&M. There's no other way to account for how unyielding and hardened these hides are. Soften up those hides and you've got a wonderful interior.

So why the predicament of picking the A4 or the 328i? I suspect it has do with the car being a non-sport spec. I can definitely understand why somebody would choose the N20 and have tons of for those of you who did, but for me there's just something missing with this particular configuration. Below 4k rpm, the engine is so silent as to be absent. The seats are comfortable, but not quite coddling. The suspension is willing, but not quite playful. Acceleration is effortless, but there's just something visceral missing. Something I found in the 335i Sport Line.

Pros: Incredible combination of engine/transmission/suspension, big improvements in interior materials and presentation
Cons: Leather courtesy of Folsom Street Fair, N20 lacks visceral involvement

BMW 335i Sport Line
This thing is a BEAST! Of all the cars I drove, the 335i is the only one that actually had me doing and from an unadulterated dose of "Freude am Fahren" that greatly exceeds the recommended daily allowance.

The car wasn't shy about shoving me into the back of the deeply-bolstered sport line seats. Each crisply-executed upshift is met with a marvelously uncultured "burp" from the exhaust. On the road and through a turn, the car has that magical "glued to the ground" feeling that enamored me 11 years ago when I bought my 325i.

Sport seats are incredible and for us "'Muricans" it's a real shame that we can't spec the other lines with the sport seats. The bottom part of the seat in all of the other cars except the sport line was too short for my tastes and I've really come to love the extendable thigh support. Your mileage may vary.

After reading some initial reviews here and on the interwebz, I was concerned that the F30 may have lost some of its "BMW-ness", but after today's test drive I'm convinced that the M-Sport 335i will be a more than worthy successor to my e46 and remains a class-leader relative to its competitors. Long live the king!

Pros: Me likey. Me likey LONG time.
Cons: Waiting until next year to get one.
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      05-29-2012, 11:02 PM   #2
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nice reviews! tell me about your 11yrs in your e46. I loved my '01 e46 coupe.
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      05-29-2012, 11:07 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by matt_335Ci View Post
nice reviews! tell me about your 11yrs in your e46. I lived my '01 e46 coupe.
Hey Matt,

Thanks, man!

I've had my '01 325 for 11 years and 192k miles. Even after driving the rocket ship that is the 335i, I recognize what an amazing accomplishment the e46 generation is. It still puts a smile on my face every time I drive it, I can't help but look back at it after I've parked, and it's such an enduring and beautiful car that my dad wants to buy it when I get the F30 next year. Talk about role reversal!
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      05-29-2012, 11:58 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ZMM_OMG View Post
Hey Matt,

Thanks, man!

I've had my '01 325 for 11 years and 192k miles. Even after driving the rocket ship that is the 335i, I recognize what an amazing accomplishment the e46 generation is. It still puts a smile on my face every time I drive it, I can't help but look back at it after I've parked, and it's such an enduring and beautiful car that my dad wants to buy it when I get the F30 next year. Talk about role reversal!
very impressive, I assume you have had a stellar track record with reliability/maintenance? pics??
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      05-30-2012, 01:01 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by matt_335Ci View Post
very impressive, I assume you have had a stellar track record with reliability/maintenance? pics??
I've been pretty diligent about keeping up with the maintenance. As we all know by now, Bimmers do not happily suffer a lack of it. It's had the usual e46 stuff happen: control arm bushings, cooling system replacement, tail light shorting, final stage resistor went haywire. Other than that, it's been remarkably reliable and the drivetrain is still rock solid.

As requested, a couple of pics for your viewing pleasure.

How about you? What was your e46 config? How're you liking the F30?
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      05-30-2012, 02:03 AM   #6
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One of the sharpest E46s I've seen lately. I drive a 2002 Z3.

I did the drive last month and I agree completely with your assessment of the 335. I was planning a 328 until it was time to put in my order. I was all about the 328 for many reasons: I won't have the chance to use the extra power often here in the US, the price increase, the increased demand and profit margin requirements, and the better fuel economy.

Three things changed my mind:

1) The revised EPA fuel economy numbers. It wasn't a deal breaker, and I decided to stay with the smaller engine.

2) I did the Drive for Team USA, and the increase in power and fun was noticeable between the two. Even still, I still decided against the 335 and to stick with my 328.

3) The deciding factor: Even though the ED discount is completed negated for me because of the Team USA cash + the New Grad Cash on a US delivery, I have decided to do an ED anyways. Since I am doing an ED instead of a US delivery, the smaller allocation issue and increased profit demand no longer matters and I can get either of them for the same dealer profit.

In the end, I finally broke down and I just ordered my 335 EBII MSport today. My drive vid:

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      05-30-2012, 07:33 AM   #7
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Thanks for the thorough review! I'm looking forward to participating in the Drive for Team USA event. Of course, I've already ordered the '13 328i, but I'm mainly curious about what improvements have been made to the MB C-Class since I last drove one (W203), although I know that there's no way that I would own one.
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      05-30-2012, 09:02 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ZMM_OMG View Post

As requested, a couple of pics for your viewing pleasure.

How about you? What was your e46 config? How're you liking the F30?
Thanks for sharing, your e46 looks great! Here is my 46. The F30 is great, gobs more power and tech compared to my e46 325Ci, but since then I have had a few turbo charged BMWs - e89 and e92 both with the twin turbo inline 6. They were even more fun to drive, IMHO coupes and roadsters are more fun than sedans.
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      05-30-2012, 11:18 AM   #9
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Thanks for the feedback guys!

Justin: I was initially thinking 328 for the same reasons: fuel economy and similar performance. But when I did what you did in your drive vid, I pretty much knew that I was ordering a 335. Looks like we'll be ordering similar cars too: EBII 335i M-Sport FTW!

shoptb: Enjoy your drive! As I noted above, the Benz was a pleasant surprise. At my event, the event staff kept asking if anybody in line wanted to take it or the Lexus and that poor little Benz really wasn't getting any love, so I took it for a spin.

Matt: Sah-weet coupe! Can't go wrong with TiAg, and those Type 44 rims are classics!
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      05-30-2012, 11:42 AM   #10
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Can you give a more detailed description of the route? I'm very familiar with Mountain View so I'm just curious what the course was. I'm scheduled to do the event this weekend at Peter Pan and I'd like to really "test" the car...
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      05-30-2012, 12:22 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by soopra View Post
Can you give a more detailed description of the route? I'm very familiar with Mountain View so I'm just curious what the course was. I'm scheduled to do the event this weekend at Peter Pan and I'd like to really "test" the car...
Sure thing. From the dealership:

-- Right on to El Camino
-- Right onto 237 (brief freeway stint)
-- Exit Middlefield and turn right onto Middlefield
-- Stay left on Middlefield toward Mary Avenue (left-hand sweeper)
-- Right onto Mary
-- Right onto El Camino and over 85
-- Right into dealer's parking lot

If I were to take a guess at the Peter Pan route, I'd say:
-- Right out of the dealer onto El Camino
-- Right onto 92 East
-- Right onto 101 South
-- Exit Franklin Pkwy
-- Left at Saratoga Dr
-- Right at Hillsdale
-- Right at El Camino
-- Right into dealer's parking lot

Enjoy!
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      05-30-2012, 12:42 PM   #12
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dang! those e46 pics looked like they were taken from a brochure
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      05-31-2012, 05:42 AM   #13
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Same situation here. The head said the 328, but the heart.... oh my heart... it sang for the 335.
i test drove both at the dealers and while I was impressed by what the 328 had to offer, after the 335 had whispered its 6 cylinder love-note to me, i was taken.
i knew that if i had taken the 328, each time i see a 335 go by, i would yearn and regret, and would end up hating the 328 that i was sitting in.
that's of course, not saying that the 328 is a bad car. NO, not at all....but it just felt more "together" in sync with me... so today I'm driving an Alpine White, F30, 335i
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      05-31-2012, 09:30 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by speckie1
Same situation here. The head said the 328, but the heart.... oh my heart... it sang for the 335.
i test drove both at the dealers and while I was impressed by what the 328 had to offer, after the 335 had whispered its 6 cylinder love-note to me, i was taken.
i knew that if i had taken the 328, each time i see a 335 go by, i would yearn and regret, and would end up hating the 328 that i was sitting in.
that's of course, not saying that the 328 is a bad car. NO, not at all....but it just felt more "together" in sync with me... so today I'm driving an Alpine White, F30, 335i
Exactly! The 328 is a great car and a great choice, but the 335 was the "Goldilocks" car; it fit just right.
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      05-31-2012, 09:41 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shoptb View Post
Thanks for the thorough review! I'm looking forward to participating in the Drive for Team USA event. Of course, I've already ordered the '13 328i, but I'm mainly curious about what improvements have been made to the MB C-Class since I last drove one (W203), although I know that there's no way that I would own one.
I see you have ordered 2013 F30 328i, but when i inquired at Mountain View BMW the sales guy told to come by July for ordering. Can one order a 2013 F30 now??
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      05-31-2012, 01:55 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sarosbmw View Post
I see you have ordered 2013 F30 328i, but when i inquired at Mountain View BMW the sales guy told to come by July for ordering. Can one order a 2013 F30 now??
Absolutely. My '13 F30 order was placed on 05/24. Your BMW Dealer should already have allocation slots available that they can assign.
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      05-31-2012, 04:18 PM   #17
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Great review!

It is a low blow for them to get the FWD for Audi as a comparison though. The combination of FWD with CVT is a total buzz kill. When I was selling Audi's I would actually talk people out of buying those, especially in A6 or A4 3.2 FWD (yes, they actually made those)...

We are having our event in San Francisco June 8th and 9th, should be fun...
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      05-31-2012, 11:00 PM   #18
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Was at the event also, drove a 328 baseline with the works in options, kinda strange. Loved the way the car drives, practically leaps when you step on the pedal, and even though it has been repeated many times the steering while not terrible is somewhat lacking a "feel" for the terrain.

The one thing that stood out of my experience is that while I love the HUD, especially where it helps keep track of how fast you are already going, the NAV kept asking me to take the exit to the freeway instead of heading back to the dealer....
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      06-01-2012, 12:47 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ikanayam View Post
Was at the event also, drove a 328 baseline with the works in options, kinda strange. Loved the way the car drives, practically leaps when you step on the pedal, and even though it has been repeated many times the steering while not terrible is somewhat lacking a "feel" for the terrain.

The one thing that stood out of my experience is that while I love the HUD, especially where it helps keep track of how fast you are already going, the NAV kept asking me to take the exit to the freeway instead of heading back to the dealer....
Yeah, the 3ers were loaded to the gills with one exception.... I don't think any of them had the HK stereo upgrade. I found that a bit odd. I liked the HUD but found the lane departure warning very distracting; I definitely wouldn't want that in my car.

Given how long people had to wait to get in the 335, I wouldn't be surprised if some people followed the NAV's advice and just kept going past the dealership!
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      06-01-2012, 12:49 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by micosilver View Post
Great review!

It is a low blow for them to get the FWD for Audi as a comparison though. The combination of FWD with CVT is a total buzz kill. When I was selling Audi's I would actually talk people out of buying those, especially in A6 or A4 3.2 FWD (yes, they actually made those)...

We are having our event in San Francisco June 8th and 9th, should be fun...
I did the Komen drive at BMW SF a few years ago. The route they used gave a nicer feel than the short route in Mtn View, but oh well.
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      06-01-2012, 01:12 AM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by micosilver View Post
It is a low blow for them to get the FWD for Audi as a comparison...
Makes sense though. If they had a sport or S Line A4 with quattro, the 328i might not seem as great in comparison. I have to admit I'd never be considering a 328i touring if Audi hadn't stopped bringing avants (allroad doesn't count) to the US.
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      06-01-2012, 07:25 AM   #22
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Really great review!

I love my E46 as well, but looking forward more than ever to getting my 335i Sport!
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