My short time with a BMW 430 convertible
I recently rented a car for a business trip and thanks to limited availability ended up with a BMW 430... not for the price of a compact but for the price of a BMW 430. Actually, that's not 100% true, I was supposed to be getting a Mustang convertible but I guess even that option was gone when I finally got to the rental counter.
Anyway, it's been a while since I drove a BMW. The one I'm most familiar with is the E39 530 a friend used to have.
This 430 had the 8 speed auto, 2.0T motor (something around 250hp), and as best as I can tell was a relatively basic version of the car. Mind you that's still starting at $50k. I drove the car in Tempe on city streets and the freeway. Very little chance to really push the car.
Things I liked:
The transmission: The ZF 8spd is just a good box in my limited experience. I liked it in the Charger and in this car. The manual shifters seemed to work well. Shifts were smooth and it seemed to always find the appropriate gear. I wish I could have pushed the car a bit but time and conditions didn't allow.
Steering: It felt very much like the old E39 but perhaps with less heft. I really liked that the car had good steering feel without being heavy. As a former NA owner with an NB I felt that the extra boost of the NA's power steering was nice. I still got all the feedback but with fingertip forces. Extra weight just to be heavy isn't something I want in my car. The BMW's steering (in this car) lived up to reputation.
Cool touches inside the car: I like that this car's gauge cluster was like a simple update to the E39 cluster. Same basic needle layout, love it or hate it the same amber back lighting. The gauges were easy to read and the small LCD display was actually just there for secondary information. More and more it seems like the needle gauges are there for secondary information and the LCD is the real display (Chrysler especially).
The gauge cluster LCD and the climate LCD use white backlight/fonts during the day but at night they change to amber. For the climate control that means the backlight changes. The gauge LCD is full color so BMW simply changes the color to amber at night... unless you change a setting. During setting changes the color changes to white which stands out. Once the settings are done, back to amber. That's a really nice touch.
I loved that the cruise control displays a red or green light around the edge of the speedometer showing the set speed and, based on color, if the cruise is on or off.
I liked that the climate control not only offered two zone temp control but two zone vent control (ie face for the driver, feet for the passenger).
The seats were quite snug but good. I don't know why BMW seems anti-lumbar adjust but just like my friend's BMW it has no lumber adjust. It did have memory seats with adjustable thigh support but no lumbar.
The engine was just so-so. I guess that's not totally fair. It sounded decent for a 4 banger. It was very refined for a 4 banger. It was powerful for a 2.0L 4 banger. But the BMW I'm most familiar with is the E39 I6. Yes, this 4 banger is more powerful but it's refinement didn't say luxury like the vibration free (at least when new) I6 did in the E39. It was a good engine but nothing to stir the heart like the older I6. I guess it helped that the old one was tied to a 5 spd manual.
Things that just made me say "What the heck?"
This is one of those "keys in your pocket cars" where you just push the button on the dash. Well it's ALMOST keys in the pocket. It doesn't detect that you are at the door. No that requires you to pull the key out of your pocket and push the unlock button. Now you can put the keys back in your pocket and get in the car. Why is it that my Chrysler van (and the Charger, and the Fusion and countless other cars) get this right while BMW screws it up. My guess is BMW wanted to hold something back to encourage people to spend yet more on option packages. I'm just not impressed when a $50k luxury car is lacking things I can get in a sub $30k Ford or Chrysler. To a lesser extent this was true of the lack of a rear camera (not vital on that car). I guess I'm OK with a luxury brand putting features that don't exist on mass market cars into option packages but when a Ford Fiesta has a proper key in the pocket system why doesn't BMW remind you how good a system MIGHT be yet not give you the full thing. Oh, this car didn't have heated seats either. Not that heated seats were wanted where I was renting but still, what kind of luxury car doesn't have those these days.
The car also retained some flaws I recall from my friend's E39. The climate control had no obvious way to sync the left and right sides of the system. Again no off switch, you had to push the fan button down a bunch of times to turn it off.
You know those gauges I liked, well just like the E39 I could never set the wheel so I could see the top of the gauges (you know, where your typical highway speeds would be indicated) and the LCD screen at the same time. So many people have that right, why is it still wrong in this BMW 20 years on?
Would I want one? Well the above flaws would bother me (likely more and more as time went on) but yes, I could see myself paying some premium for this car. But I would want to check out the Mustang before saying this would be my first choice for a 4 seat convertible I would spend my money on.
I also have to say, and this is really a compliment to how good mainstream cars have become, that I wasn't blown away by how much "nicer" this car was vs many of the other rentals I've had (Charger, Fusion, Sonata). I'm not talking about canyon carving but just driving around town (where ever I've had to drive my rentals for work). The higher end of mainstream is just so good that the low end of luxury doesn't seem that special overall. This is part of why I would want to test a Mustang before saying I would pick the 430. I would have to drive the stick shift version of both and try a few of the Ford motors before saying which I liked best...
... realistically I'm going to stick with my already paid for NB. It's not even close to luxury but few cars are close in terms of driving involvement.