The Pinnacle

Also from Issue 95

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The Pinnacle 1
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The Pinnacle 5

A big rolling computer

Maybe so, but the traditional six-speed manual remains more engaging and more fun to drive, in my opinion—not to mention more durable, easier to maintain and less costly at clutch replacement time. In addition to lower long-term maintenance and repair costs, it’ll also save you $1,575 off the sticker price.

In fact, I didn’t really like DCT on the street, because shifting it manually required me to look at the instrument cluster to know which gear I was in—after all, there are seven of the buggers. By contrast, you know what gear you’re in with the traditional manual gearbox because you just shifted into it with your hand—your brain remembers the position of the shifter much more easily than it remembers how many times you clicked the paddles on the DCT steering wheel.

The solution on a twisty mountain road where you would actually want to shift the DCT manually is to just drive—or put it in automatic mode—and not think about it, something I had a hard time doing. Overall, I felt that the traditional manual gearbox would afford the direct connection to the engine that seemed lacking with the DCT, and therefore would provide the more engaging driving experience.

DCT also includes the now-ubiquitous Sport button, which speeds up DCT shift times and enhances throttle response when pressed. As I’ve said before, Sport mode ought to be the default mode—it’s tiring to depress the Sport button every time the engine is started, and the only time to drive a BMW in non-Sport mode is when you’re inching along in a traffic jam or driving on snow or another low-traction surface. At a minimum, the driver should be able to program Sport as the default mode—in iDrive, if BMW insists. [BMW tells us that making Sport the default mode would adversely affect the car’s CAFE rating, and that many of BMW’s testers preferred the Normal mode’s more progressive action on the track.—Ed.]

Where iDrive itself is concerned, BMW has absolutely and finally gotten this interface right. It is now as simple and easy to use as it is distracting and completely unnecessary. First, I prefer its default position to be “off” rather than “on” and wish it were programmable that way. Second, its major function, navigation, is perhaps better added to the car with a simple aftermarket device that will be less costly to replace when it wears out or the technology evolves.

Like many people, I do the brunt of my work at a computer. When I get into a car, the last thing I want to deal with or even look at is another computer. Of course, the car itself is a big rolling computer these days, and the combination of DCT, the Sport button and iDrive makes me feel like I’m back at my desk. Were I to order a 335is of my own, I wouldn’t want any of these options.

My own 335is would have only one option besides Le Mans Blue Metallic paint and Saddle Brown Dakota leather, and that would be Active Steering ($1,550). I’ve grown rather fond of this feature, and limiting options to just those three results in a more palatable sticker price: $54,075.

It’s still expensive, of course, but it also buys what is arguably the most perfect turbocharged BMW available to enthusiasts in 2011…and quite possibly until 2013.

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