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Finally, our trip was approaching its end, and we began the 300-mile drive back to Munich, stopping on the way at the Melk Abbey and the Austrian concentration camp of Mauthausen. I realized at this point that I would surpass the 1200-mile break-in point, but it would not be until we were quite close to Munich. So perhaps I could get a taste of really driving the German autobahn after all. This happened about 20 miles outside of Munich. I was able to push the car up to 134mph (per the speedometer) before the governor kicked in. It felt like I had suddenly let up off the accelerator; too bad because the car was still pulling even at this speed. Furthermore, as I was blowing by cars in the middle lane, there were cars in front of me and behind me who were traveling the same speed!! I can see why the best cars in the world are made in Germany. BMW, MBZ, and Porsche all have those wonderful roads to drive on - places where the cars can really live out their full potential. We dropped the car off in Munich at E.H. Harms the following day (May 4), and the folks there were very courteous and expeditious, calling us a cab to take us to the airport. (Fortunately we were able to leave later that day because the Lufthansa pilots were on strike through noon). All in all, 9 days with the car and 1245 miles.
Let me touch briefly on the roads. The German autobahn is just amazing. People can drive at those speeds because they keep the roads in such good condition. Hardly any imperfections or inconsistencies. No dirt or rocks on the road that get thrown up by the many trucks. Just smooth, wide-open lanes that invite you to go faster and faster. Of course not all the autobahns are in pristine condition, but a majority of the ones I drove on were. This was in stark contrast to the roads in Austria. Frankly, they paled in comparison to their German counterparts. The 200-mile trip between Salzburg and Vienna (which we did in both directions) was painful. So much construction where the speeds were limited to 80kph (about 50mph). Driving on the back roads wasn't any better because the speeds were limited at 70kph, and for the most part, Austrians don't speed. The back roads in Germany were lots of fun though. Sections on the Romantic Road and in the Alps that invited me to test the perfect balance and agility of the 3er. What a wonderful car to drive on those roads.
And finally, let me highlight the car itself. IMO, the titanium silver with the sports package is stunning - I can't get enough of looking at it. (For right now I have to settle with my pictures since I left my car behind.) Silver shows the superb lines of the e46 better than any other color. Yes there were lots and lots of silver e46s in Germany, but that still doesn't tire me from the color. Plus, I am completely satisfied with the black leatherette. It looks and smells great, and saved me about $1200. The aluminum trim provides a stark contrast to the all-black interior - very sharp. However, it tends to streak easily and will require constant effort to keep clean. The moonroof is also a must-have option IMO because it is so large. When fully open, it extends way beyond the back of your head. Engine, as I said before is excellent. I love the exhaust note when the car is started - you know this car means business. I was able to pass cars effortlessly, even when ascending hills in the Alps. Handling and balance are very crisp. The sport seats are very snug, but I think I will need to work on the seating position. There is so much side bolster support, that it was difficult for me to get used to, especially as a passenger. (And for those of you thinking I need to lose weight, I'm 6'1" and weigh 150 lbs.) The shifter also took some getting used to. The throws are very long in comparison to my Z3 and my GS-R. I may look at getting a short shifter kit. And the clutch is a completely different animal. I will certainly not be drag racing anyone off the line until starting in first gear becomes second nature to me.
There were only two things that stood at as deficiencies IMO. First, I believe there is excessive wind noise at freeway speeds, especially when conditions are gusty outside. I think BMW can do a better job in this regard. This however is more of an annoyance and I can live with it. The other deficiency is - you guessed it - the steering. My car is a week 14 car. It has a stamp of 4/01 production on the vehicle. Rumors were that all April production and beyond cars would have the old 99-00 heavy steering from the 323/328. I don't know what steering my car has - only that it is too light - noticeably lighter than both my Z3 and GS-R. The steering does not mesh with the rest of the car's sporting character. It's a shame that BMW doesn't offer the wonderful heavy steering from the e36 when cars with sport packages are ordered. This would be a great way IMO for BMW to satisfy both markets - sport and luxury. I'm undecided as to what I am going to do about the steering. I've read posts from several owners that the retrofit helps, but is not fully satisfying. (Furthermore, I may already have the retrofit - who knows.) I'm more inclined to wait until the 2002 models come out and see if the steering from those cars can be retrofitted. Supposedly, the steering in the new compact (ti) is superb. Apart from the steering issue, I would rate the car as a 9 out of 10. However, given that the steering plays such a significant role in how a car feels, my overall rating has to drop to 7.5 out of 10.
Below is the link with some pictures from the trip for those of you that are interested. Most are captioned I believe. Be warned that there are lots of pictures of cars as I am an auto enthusiast. Most of the touristy pictures are not there since they were taken with our 35mm camera.
Enjoy, and for those of you that made it all the way to the end, thanks for reading my post.
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