Plenty of Get Up and Go Have Fun
By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 11, 2007; G01
My flight arrived from Las Vegas in the middle of a mild winter storm. Such storms are normal for Chicago. Local snow-removal crews are ready for them. And this storm barely left enough snow to remove.
But planes were stacked at O'Hare International Airport like models on a display shelf -- frozen, immobile, undergoing or awaiting de-icing. The Las Vegas flight arrived several minutes late at an already occupied gate, leaving its pilots no choice except to taxi around runways until that gate became available.
In such moments, when I have no control over what is happening, I find solace in memories of when I was master of my fate. I did not have to look back far. A week earlier in Virginia, I drove the 2007 BMW 328i sedan -- a superbly engineered and crafted automobile, a total joy to drive.
It was "crimson red," a bright red color named by designers who think "bright red" isn't descriptive enough. It had a sand-tone interior augmented by judicious applications of burl walnut trim. The seats were covered in optional Dakota leather -- a grain more supple and bottom-friendly than many animal hides used in cars and trucks.
But the thrill was in the driving, an assessment shared with my assistant, Ria Manglapus. We both took long turns at the wheel, accumulating 427 miles of road running between us.
It was the sheer smoothness of it all -- the ease with which the 328i consumed highways, its dance-like nimbleness in city traffic. The car went exactly where pointed -- no wavering, wobbling or hesitation, just excellent directional stability at any speed.
We both fussed with the reverse gear of the 328i's manual six-speed transmission. But we figured it out, pushing it down a bit and then shoving it left and up. We became accustomed to it, fell in love with its rhythm and feel, and wondered why we ever thought we had a problem with that lever.
But, yes, the matter of control. . . . Nothing compares with getting into a well-engineered car and driving for hours on end, going where you choose often at the speeds you choose to travel. The developers and designers of the 328i understand that happiness and have given us the perfect automobile in which to pursue it.
It is not so much a luxury car as it is a driver's car bereft of clich?. Nearly all new automobiles in the $30,000 range have pleasant interiors, reasonable overall good looks and a host of amenities, such as heated seats. But not all of those cars beg to be driven. Not all of them feel as wedded to curves, as stable on high-speed straightaway runs, or as remarkably agile as the 328i in emergency maneuvers.
And not all of them provide the peace of mind afforded by the 328i on steep inclines.
For example, many drivers of manual transmission cars dislike steep hills because of what can be called "back slip" -- the tendency of many manual cars to roll backward on such terrain.
"But this one had no back slip at all," Ria said. "Wow! I love this car!"
I tried it myself, deliberately finding and climbing the steepest hills, stopping, and then shifting to first or second gear. No back slip -- none, zilch, nada.
I could prattle endlessly about the rear-wheel-drive BMW 328i's many technical attributes -- its in-line six-cylinder, 230-horsepower engine housed in a strong, but lightweight magnesium-aluminum block; its five-link, five-beam rear suspension that contributes to superior handling, even on dicey roads; its variable valve timing Valvetronic system that helps deliver more horsepower and improve fuel efficiency.
But all of that would be meaningless in a car if it did not deliver on the road. The 328i delivers, which is more than I can say for the air-travel system that brought me here with its multiple delays, irritable flight attendants, repeated reminders to be suspicious of everyone in airports for fear of terrorism, inexplicable unavailability of an arrival gate and lost luggage.