This year, I drove the following cars: a Z4, a 135i convertible, and the mighty M3 coupe.
First up was the M3. The car I drove was equipped with a proper 6-speed manual transmission. Pulling on to I-80, I nailed the throttle and felt all 414 horses launching me down the ramp. Both the power and the sound were intoxicating. The M3 drove incredibly on the highway, and it was difficult to keep it below the speed limit. Alas, a bunch of State Troopers, obviously aware of all the BMWs zipping up and down the Interstate, were keeping a watchful eye, so we couldn't get too crazy.
Taking the exit ramp, the M3 really held the road. Pulling out on the highway, I got rubber in the first three gears, with traction control on! Did I mention this thing is fast? Pulling back into the BMW dealer, I definitely had a smile on my face. How could the next two cars even compare to the M3?
Next out was the 135i convertible. Unfortunately, it was equipped with an automatic. But, it was a nice day, and the top was down. Entering I-80, putting the shifter into manual mode, and nailing the throttle also produced incredible acceleration, but delivered in an entirely different manner than the M3. Whereas acceleration in the M3 is insane the instant you nail it, hitting the throttle in the 135i accelerates forward at a pretty good rate, and within a second, the twin-turbos spool up and the car just launches... not quite as briskly as the M3, but still pretty impressive.
You instantly notice the 1-series is smaller than the M3, and I really think the 1-series is a car I could live with every day... assuming it had a proper 6-speed manual.
Last up was the Z4, and I wasn't expecting much. I drove the 3.0 liter equipped with a 6-speed manual. And you know what? I was pleasantly surprised! The first thing I noticed was it just felt more "right" sitting in the cockpit. For some reason, the seating position suited me more than that in the M3 or 135i. The only weird thing was the steering wheel seemed to be cocked at a weird angle, with the right side sticking out a little bit more than the left... but that could've been my mind playing tricks on me.
The next thing I noticed is that the interior is just plain ugly. I do NOT like the dash in the Z4. But, as I pulled away from the lot, the gorgeous sound coming out of the exhaust more than made up for it. I don't know what it was, but that Z4 just had a sweet sound. Acceleration was brisk, but not as fast as the M3 or 135i. But I just loved the feel of the Z4 better than the M3 or 135i.
Handling was a little twitchy compared to the other cars, and not in the same league as the Boxster. But other than that (and the ugly interior and exterior) it compared favorably.
To sum it up, I would say the M3 lived up to my expectations as an amazing car, but compared to the 135i, it was a little "big" and actually felt like it had a little too many "luxuries" in it for me.
The 135i was great to drive, apart from the automatic, and I preferred it to the 335i I drove last year. Substitute a 6-speed manual for the automatic, and this would be a great daily driver.
But I have to say, I was most impressed by the car I expected the least from: the Z4. It just felt "right" and hit all the right buttons for me, at least as far as a driving experience.
All in all, it was a great time, and even better, it was for a great cause. If this comes to your town and you get a chance to participate, I'd highly recommend it.
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