During the past two few months, my car habit has been entirely dependent on the good will of others; indeed, if it weren’t for friends with BMWs, I would have had to suffer through an entire spring season without a single drive in a Bimmer. Oh, the horror!
Back in April, Satch was more than kind enough to lend me a day in the Z4 M roadster, then a morning in the Z8 (you can read all about that fantasy adventure in my last column). You might think that this would have satisfied my driving craving—but then the sight of my poor E36 sitting in the garage startled me.
To fully comprehend its plight, you first need to understand the conditions in which my 328i has been forced to live.
Early this year, my wife and I pulled the trigger on the Great Finishing The Basement Project, and part of that undertaking includes a 30-foot dumpster sitting in the driveway, perfectly blocking access to my car, which sits helplessly at the far end of the garage. This would not necessarily be a problem if it were not for the mounds of items staged next to it, all waiting for installation downstairs.
Even worse, the garage door has remained wide-open recently as crews have diligently moved items to and from the basement. Anyone who lives in Ohio understands the amount of pollen each year that manages to coat everything exposed to the elements, and this year has been particularly bad. So, as I stared at my 3 Series covered in dust and pollen, its typically black carbon-fiber hood taking on a noticeably yellow tint, a good friend of mine decided to spare me from shedding any more tears.
Enter Adam Gray.
It turns out that after more than a decade of hearing me tout BMWs, Adam recently acquired a rather choice 2015 328i, one equipped with the ubiquitous-in-Cleveland xDrive. Normally, of course, we would wake my car from hibernation when the weather becomes just about perfect. But with my car being inaccessible, Adam decided that it was time to take his new ride to visit the area south of Canton where he grew up. I was promised seat time, fun roads, good food, and even a fine glass of a wine late in the day to wrap things up. Sign me up!
It’s eerie how the hills in Southern California and Northeast Ohio possess so many of the same qualities: tight turns, elevation changes, and swathes of dipping sweepers that really let you feel the handling balance of a BMW. The two locations even share the same blend of flora, with coniferous and deciduous trees dotting the rolling hills. Come to think of it, the landscape is all vary Bavarian—no wonder these cars relish these stretches of road!
One major difference in Ohio is that there are plenty of easy places to turn around, so you can explore a particularly entertaining stretch of road over and over. Just outside of Zoar, Ohio, lies such a stretch, with all the twists, turns, and roller-coaster effects that a driver could want. Within the first few turns, it was obvious that Adam had driven the road a few times before; based on his uncanny knowledge of each upcoming turn, if I had to put a number on it, I would guess that he’s made a thousand or so runs on that road. With a few BMW driving schools at Mid-Ohio, Adam could become a real hot-shoe. Of course, even though he has a deep knowledge of the roads, I suspect that the 328xi was helping a smidge as well.
Even the basic 3 Series gets a certain degree of fender flare in the back.
I was actually quite stunned at the capabilities of this stock BMW. The front-end bite and stability are deeply impressive, and like many newer BMWs, the steering feel is better in the xDrive model than the rear-wheel-drive equivalent. The drivetrain is equally impressive, with the transmission never missing a beat, and the engine pulling willingly at practically anywhere on the tach—with 25,000 or so miles on the odometer, it really relishes swinging to 7,300 rpm at full throttle. Personally, I would upgrade the intercooler and add some Dinan software—not just to liberate a few extra ponies, but to improve the throttle response and plump up the torque curve, too.
Speaking of areas for improvement, the brakes could probably use a fluid change and a better pad to eliminate the dead zone at the top of the pedal travel. There is also limited feedback through the seat of your pants, which doesn’t jibe with most of the Bimmers that I have driven in the past few years; they all tend to send rather lively signals through the good ol’ rump sensor (although they usually don’t have the sharper front-end response of Adam’s car, which is even running all-season tires). If this all sounds pretty nitpicky, well, that’s because it is; actually, if it were not for the company car in the driveway, I would be driving a vehicle practically identical to Adam’s ride.
After spending the rest of the day exploring local food spots, we finished the day off at Gervasi Vineyard with a delicious meal and glass of Amarone, as promised. If my schedule was more flexible the next few weeks, I would happily join the Northeast Ohio Chapter at the Gervasi Vineyard BMW Cruise-In on June 27th (http://www.nohiobmwcca.org/chapter-info/events-calendar/284).
I hope that in my place Adam can join the fun there, now that he has finally come to the BMW side. If it isn’t obvious, he fits in pretty much perfectly. And I am not saying that just because he let me drive his car.—Chris Doersen