Valencia, Spain, with Santiago Calatrava's soaring architectural masterpiece of the City of Arts and Science as its masterpiece centerpiece looks warm even on a cold winter day. I am here to drive what is essentially a common European car, a car that sells by the millions – the BMW 3 series. Here, in the massive convention hall, all the tech talk of the night at a Vina de Torres fueled buffet was to be put to the test the following chilly morning as we set off at an 830am winter sunrise.
On first acquaintance, the new variable ratio active steering is less abrupt than before but is still plenty of fun on twisting roads as I discovered later on navigating twisting roads along the glaciated gorges of Alcala de Jucar and the views of Casas de Juan Nuñez, on the way to Albacete. This largely contributed to the fun of more immediate response as I crested and aimed for hill and dale on the delightfully barren N-highways leading from Comunidad Valencianna to Castille-La Mancha. Gotta watch out for the Guardia Civil speed trap vans, hidden behind farm houses. On the Autovia's long sweepers full of camions [big articulated trucks], wind and near icy conditions did not deter my rapid progress for it was absolutely serene and comfortable inside. This was only the beginning..
In order to appreciate how much BMW had greatly improved on the altogether perfect three-series E46, we had to go to a race track. Circuitos Albacete, known for car testing and Motorcycle GP's was our destination. This time the latest improvements let the sporting driver even more degrees of flexibility to enjoy flicking the tail out for pretenders playing WRC rallye champions, without, off course, risking the bodywork and insurance policy. Even if one is churlish about driving, the combined electronic aids not only make you have fun, it also makes you look like you know what you are doing. It does make a good driver out of you as it keeps helping you correct your mistakes. No wonder the 3 series and its DSC system is the favorite standard high speed test vehicle of almost all the major high performance tire manufacturers.
The ultimate test was when we were unleashed, un-escorted by a pace car to discover our limits and the 330i's, on the Albacete race track. With clearly marked braking and turning lines, it was a cinch to "master" the track in the first round. The DSC gently reminded me when to power-off when coming in with too much velocity and when I am losing precious seconds by scrubbing off speed with the groaning 4-tires. By the third lap, I was getting more aggressive, exhilarating in every bend taken precisely, powering on with the prodigious torque, sluicing through the gates of the smooth 6-speed manual.
This was the culmination of my short re-acquaintance of the tapas and dinner at 2130-lifestyle. Valencia, thankfully not as touristy as Ibiza, was very "Mother Spain" hospitable, and the road conditions made our day of testing comprehensive, convincing all of us as to the miracle of how the E46 could be bettered. Drained of adrenalin, we all welcomed being chauffeured back to the hotel from the race track 190kms away in the fleet of 745i's and X5's. I came home believing that the test of a great car is not only how well it drives but also how well it makes you look like a good driver.