Blog: Lost in Spain
Dave Leggett | 9 March 2005
I got back from the BMW 3 Series event in Spain yesterday afternoon feeling fairly knackered. BMW made sure we really piled on the kilometres behind the wheel. That’s no bad thing of course, but it does take its toll. After landing in Jerez at about 14:00 on Monday, we were into the cars within ten minutes and on a 180 km route to the refreshment stop. I paired with Neil Winton (http://www.wintonsworld.com/)
and, true to form, we got lost a couple of times. One wrong turn was serious enough to really put us down in the pack.
As we drove around a very pretty hilltop village we resorted to asking some of the locals for directions.
That was always going to be problematic, as neither Neil nor myself speak much - well, any really - Spanish. We had a couple of odd experiences, including being mobbed by a group of kids playing in the street who decided we were the funniest thing since bread came sliced. I should point out that we were a tad conspicuous in our shiny new BMW that was RHD and fitted with British registration plates (these being UK spec cars for UK media to try out).
A solitary old guy pointed us towards a track that led over a ridge, but we didn’t fancy that and thought the BMW people might not appreciate us going off-road.
We were starting to wonder if we’d ever get out of the place when I spied two women nattering at the kerbside. Looked like it might be mother and daughter. Mother really looked the rural peasant part: squat shape, old dowdy clothes, weathered skin, headscarf and as she spoke I could see that her gnashers looked a little neglected. The real deal. But it didn’t look too promising from a communication point of view. To be honest, a dismissive grunt wouldn't have been too surprising (and I wouldn't have blamed them, either). Expectations were low, but we had nothing to lose.
I wound the window down: ‘Hola, por favor..’ Route guide was then thrust out pointing to the place we wanted to get to, with a few shrugs for added effect. The stream of rapid fire Spanish started. We couldn't understand a word of it.
But everyone was smiling and we could see that these two women really wanted to help us. I think they enjoyed the comedy of the situation too. I realised that the old lady wanted Neil to get out of the car. She took him for a walk to the side of the ridge on the other side of the road, which offered a good view of the surrounding hills and valleys. The other woman and myself carried on talking, myself occasionally repeating, almost randomly, words that seemed important (‘par pueblo, si..’), with lots of added hand signals. This really was going to be rather tricky to take in.
Neil ambled back to the car with his new friend. I was enjoying this. And, amazingly, we had the rudiments of a way out from this situation – the old lady had pointed the way from the roadside vantage point. Lots more smiling, incomprehensible talking, expressions of profound gratitide and we eventually took off the way we thought they wanted us to go. As we headed out down the valley road, the two women were at the top of the ridge waving to us, checking to see that we had taken the right road. Neil waved back. It was a nice moment. And we were now going the right way.
When we got to the refreshment stop, we were duly informed that we were in last place and search parties were about to be sent out, but would now be stood down. Leg two beckoned - another 150 kms lay ahead and we’d better get our skates on. We made it to the hotel at 19:50. It was cocktails at 20:00 and a presentation at 20:15. Ten minutes to check-in, find room, shower and change. It was a bit of a rush, but a hot shower was really not a matter for debate.
Okay, enough of that. The cars? I’ll write more in a feature later this week, but the new 3 (E90) is basically a good car, good engines (320 diesel would do me) and there are some significant improvements on the outgoing range (E46) – like more room in the back. The external styling is certainly less controversial than the 5 and 7 I think. Should be a success in the market. No great surprise there. It’s a competent job and most people I spoke to had a favourable view of the car. Gripes? Personally, I find iDrive quite hard to use, not very immediately intuitive, although I do applaud BMW’s effort to address the problem of proliferating electronic functionality in a car in such a bold way in an attempt to keep switchgear clutter down. Some improvements to iDrive are coming that the BMW people reckon will make it more intuitive and user friendly.
And I’m not 100% convinced that ‘active steering’ is worth the £925 as an option. Not sure I could feel any great difference when driving one of the cars that had that fitted. Indeed, once you load your car with added optional equipment, the price you pay for your BMW starts to get just a little bit heavy, though perhaps that is not too surprising.
But the new 3 is undeniably a good car. BMW has played pretty safe with it. The customer base won't have a problem a la 5 and 7.
With all the models that BMW is bringing out these days (eg X3, 1 Series), the E90 3 Series will actually be less important to BMW than the 3 Series ranges have been historically. (Is that a good thing, all told, for profitability in the long-run?) Still an important model though, of course, and a traditionally iconic one with a lot of heritage. They'll be in your rear-view mirror and inches off your bumper very soon. And the 3 Series Compact? Sources in Germany tell me that a 1 Series 3-door variant is coming soon (2006) and that will replace it.
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