OK, I'll state it right here and now, stomped probably isn't the right word, but it got you to click in and read so let it be.
Full disclosure here, I am a devout BMW person. I really, really like the cars they churn out, I like the heritage and I like the style. But that doesn't mean I'm closed minded when it comes to the competition.
In addition, I fully admit to enjoying the look and feel of a printed magazine, and although I know Agent 001 argues that it is a dying industry, I still enjoy it. In my youth Car & Driver always stood as the pinnacle of accuracy and integrity, I'm not quite sure I'd say that today as it seems as though ALL the major monthly rags appear to carry the exact same stories often with similar if not identical outcomes.
Now I state all of that to bring your attention to the June 2013 Car & Driver which is just now hitting mailboxes and soon the newsstand wherein the new Lexus IS350 beats a BMW 335i and Cadillac ATS 3.6 in a comparison test. And to be honest with you, although I've neither driven the Caddy or the Lexus, haven driven the new BMW 3-series I can't honestly say I'm surprised.
You know, brands like Acura get bashed on here all the time for having lost that certain something that made them special, you remember the greats like the Legend and the Integra. Well, in a lot of ways the new F30 BMW's are similar in nature, they are losing the very thing that made the 3-series special. I got to spend some time in a new F30 3-series about a month ago, and it was optioned with everything including the important items like the sport package. Aside from hating the color the car was spectacular to behold.
My first impression upon sitting in the drivers seat was how large the car felt. This impression was amplified by the fact that when you look out over the steering wheel you can peer into a void artfully concealed by black plastic trim that actually is in place to keep you from seeing into and/or under the hood. The hood of the vehicle is actually higher than the base of the windshield, and BMW creatively hides this by plastic trim, but the damage is done in that it gives the illusion of being a larger car than it actually is.
And in my opinion, that's not a good thing. What has always made the 3-series magical was the small intimate nature of the vehicle, one that felt like a well worn leather glove that fit perfectly. The magic was missing, and I hadn't even started the car.
And what a car, although the particular 3-series I had was only the 328i versus the 335i, the car ran. It was strong, it was fast, but it was missing the magic the previous 3-series possess. I've owned multiple 3-series throughout the years, E46 & E90's have been a familiar site in my garage throughout the years, ALL have had the prerequisite sports package so I feel as though I'm comparing apples to apples here. The new F30 3 simply felt limp in comparison.
It's as if BMW has allowed the committee to design the car bringing in the enthusiast at the end to "sport" the thing up versus allowing the enthusiast who obviously was foundational in designing past 3-series to get the first say at things. I hate to say it, BMW has lost some of its magic in my opinion.
Does that make the Lexus a better vehicle, I don't know honestly I haven't drive one yet. Do I expect BMW fans to simply drop their loyalty and make their way to Lexus to make their next purchase, probably not. What I think however is that while Lexus and Cadillac and Audi have been buying and dissecting 3-series cars for years trying to understand what makes them so damn good, BMW has gone the opposite direction by making their cars softer, larger and more luxurious.
Luxury has its place, it's across town at the Lexus or Cadillac dealer - NOT AT BMW. Remember, this is the brand that keeps the option of manual true clutch pedal control on not just 1, but 5 separate models series, the 1, 3, 5, 6 & Z cars all have the option to row your own transmission. Try finding a manual at Lexus, you won't because they aren't there. Take notice, Cadillac was studying and learning from BMW and offers a manual transmission.
To put it another way, BMW used to design their cars for the people who actually bought the manual transmissions knowing that those people where the ones who'd truly exercise and enjoy the dynamics of what the 3 was engineered to do. And everyone else bought them because of that halo effect. Not every 3-series driver extracts everything the car is capable of doing, but knowing and having others "think" that that was the reason they bought a 3 was half of the brilliance of the BMW 3-series.
And sadly, part of that was lost with the F30. Perhaps scarier than that is what happens the next time out. Let's be honest, the 1-series is closer in spirit now (minus the 2 extra doors, and forgetting the FWD redesign) to what a E30 or E36 BMW was while the new F30 really is size wise more in line with what a 5-series was 10-15 years ago.
Do we really need larger cars???
While everyone else was chasing the 3-series in terms of dynamics and involvement BMW continues to chase luxury, and legroom, and technology while their dominance in the sports sedan arena is chiseled away by the competition. The student is becoming the teacher as others become better BMW's than BMW. The "Ultimate Driving Machine" is dying a slow, painful death so that people who rarely sit in the backseat can be more comfortable.
I hope I'm wrong longterm, the M3/M4 will be a good indicator as to whether the 3-series genre continues to get softer or if it starts to go back to its routes. Long before the internet and places like AutoSpies.com magazines and enthusiasts would wax poetic about the BMW 2002 and subsequent 3-series iterations. Those musings weren't because of how much rear seat legroom existed, NOPE - it was always the way the 3-series was an extension of the driver, the engagement, the action, the thrill, the experience.
The thrill may not be completely gone, but it's going the wrong direction, and I for one am sad because of that.