Motoramic Drives: 2012 BMW 3-Series
From the second story window of a lounge at the Barcelona Airport, I could see the red BMW 3 Series sedans parked in a line, like delicious fresh cherries waiting to be picked from the tree. Soon, I'd be behind the wheel of one of them, exploring the roads of Catalonia, an automotive playground where I speak at least one of the languages. The sky was clear, the temperature 65 degrees Fahrenheit. This, I thought, is the most glorious day of my life.
"It's exciting," I said.
A couple of veteran car reporters stood nearby. They shrugged. A luxury junket to Spain was part of their job description. They'd become inured to and skeptical of the white glove.
"Well," I said, "I'm excited."
My freshman naivete softened them.
"It's always exciting to drive a new car," one of them said.
The 3 Series is BMW's most popular model, with prices starting in the mid-30s. It represents the core of the company's business. One BMW representative described it to me this way: "When you get your first corporate job, you buy a 3 Series. When you go into upper management, you graduate to a 5 Series. The boss drives a 7 Series."
The 328i's four-cylinder, two-liter, bi-turbo engine packs the same horsepower, more or less, as the much tonier M5 from the mid-90s. There's much less difference among the various-priced models now.
After 15 minutes that felt like 15 hours, we got our keys. My co-driver for the day was Satch Carlson, editor of Roundel magazine for the past decade. He also runs courses for a BMW owners' club. I couldn't ask for a better sensei. All day, while I drove, Satch gave me the basics of car handling. Brake on the straightaway heading into the curves. Accelerate in the turns. Speed is your enemy, except when it's not. I did OK, and he was very encouraging. "You won't find a more pedantic driving instructor than me," he said.
We got a 328i "Sport" model. It looked solid and professional, but also low-cut, attractive, and inviting, with clean lines, a flat nose, and a wide kidney grill. The only other trims available were "Modern," which look great but run on diesel; the Greek journalists drove those. We settled into our black leather seats, which were accented with red stitching. I admired the car's snug, nifty interior, its sleek dashboard, its brushed-aluminum door handles. It was like sitting in a little rocketship. As it turns out, it was like driving one, too.