Let me just come right out and say it: the BMW 330i is a great car.
I could end the piece right there, go home and be entirely accurate. But my main point is that the 330i is so rock solid, so fun to drive, so practical it serves as the poster boy of superlatives.
Like many, I greeted the new 3 Series and its 'flame-surfaced' panels with skepticism. It lasted all of a week. To say the new shape has grown on me is an understatement. I love the way the new car looks. It sleeps beside its E46 sibling, so I compare the two every morning. The change is more of a mild evolution than a revolution and it manages to treat its older brother with respect.
Each time I get in the 330i, it feels like my birthday. Although I've grown familiar with the controls, the car is never dull or boring. I'm guessing this is the real trick in automotive design: building a car that does its job while remaining fun. If that's the case, BMW has succeeded.
In terms of reliability, the 330i has been perfect. Not one lever, button or piece of trim has gone south. Given the sheer number of drivers it's seen, that's a remarkable feat. My children alone reduce the average car to smoking ruins over 24 hours. With the 330i, it's like they're beating on a cast iron mountain.
There are two features in particular I have become especially fond of: Active Steering and Sirius satellite radio. Sirius has an '80s-only station that takes me back to my heady days as a bartending bachelor, with bands like The Motels, Golden Earring and The Specials. Of course, when deputy editor Funke takes the keys, the channel immediately gets changed to some bizarre death-metal-pagan-blood-orgy program. The stuff's exotic to say the least-and there's a whole station devoted to its 24/7 broadcast.
BMW's Active Steering is one of those things that make you wonder how you managed before its inception. Although slightly heavier than standard steering, the precision and sharpness make every turn feel formula car-like.A few staffers swear Active Steering has saved them from disaster (ladders on the freeway, distracted fellow drivers, the odd cat). There's virtually no downside to this system except for the slight weight increase of the unit itself. Active Steering puts a sharper edge on our 330i, like extra serrations at the base of a keen blade. BMW's first generation left much to be desired. Now strike and reverse that statement.
Like all new BMWs, routine maintenance is covered at no additional charge. Its 15,000-mile check-up included an oil change (Castrol 5W/30 synthetic) and a diagnostic inspection. The whole thing was completed in less than two hours. Our BMW service center is Crevier in Santa Ana, California (www.crevierbmw.com). Crevier is a busy dealership and features a well-stocked boutique, snack bar and waiting area. The employees are polite and professional, and we were asked no less than three times if we were happy with our service. Apparently saying "yes" once isn't enough.
Somehow I agreed to have Project M3 serviced as well and got stuck with a $175 oil change. Let it never be said free maintenance is not a great deal, because paying for it sure ain't.
There are a few odd quirks, including the befuddling air mixer on the dash. That blue means cool and red means hot is easy enough to understand, but then what are the standard EVAC controls for? If I want the cabin 72 degrees I just dial it in. However, should that mixer be full hot, we all cook. It doesn't make sense to have two temperature controllers.
Our 330i also came equipped with an iPod interface jack. And while we love its function, it would be even better if we could control the iPod through the BMW's stereo interface or multi-function steering wheel.
Ultimately, the 330i makes me take the long way home. Although I sometimes miss the first part of Lost, this BMW is well worth it.