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“Without heart, we would be mere machines”
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I admit that I did not know, or bother to enquire, whether my car had runflat tyres fitted when I bought it.  It was rather an impulse buy, as a result of short fiasco with a completely unsuitable Mercedes SLK.  A moment of madness which ignored the needs of my daughters and my dog.  I needed to ditch the SLK pronto without forking out any extra dosh.  Like the Prodigal Daughter returning to the fold of the BMW dealership, I begged to be rescued from my brief affair with another marque.  I would almost have taken anything.  As it happened they had “just the thing”.  A BMW 320d M Sport.  Black leather, Business package with Bluetooth and in superb condition.  But someone else wanted it so I would have to make up my mind then and there.
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I’d enjoyed several happy years up until then with a beautiful silver BMW 3-litre M sport touring, so I thought it would be fine, even if I was trading down in power.  I had half a mind to the environment, to the cheaper diesel costs.  But mostly I just wanted shot of the flash Merc that tipped water down my neck as its final gesture of disgust when I handed it over early one morning.
To give it its due, the 320d is sweet on motorways.  It eats up the miles without you noticing its appetite.  It responds with lots of acceleration even in fifth gear (it has six).  It does everything I need it to do and is comfortable for my human and canine passengers.  It looks pretty good, and I can even speak on the phone legally whilst cruising along.
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But it weighs a tonne, and, in the trade off between assisting the steering and giving feedback to the driver, BMW seem to have adopted for the latter.  Checking through the list of 3-series models, BMW introduced Electric power steering to all other models with larger engines, and 320ds with an automatic shift have hydraulic assisted steering.  This is speed sensitive, reducing the load when manouevring at slow speeds, but retaining control at higher speeds.  I cannot find any confirmation that the 320d has steering assist, and neither can the nice lady from BMW customer service.  Go figure … (weird expression, but I think it covers the ground here).
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I got the head honcho of the service department to test drive my car after his minions found nothing wrong.  He agreed that it was tramlining badly and pulling to the left, and that he was having to fight it as a result by pulling back to the right (it’s my right shoulder that is injured).  He suggested two new tyres in the short term, expensive realignment (two hours of workshop time at £112.00 ph) in the medium term, and a different car in the long term.
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So, faced with an uneven wear pattern, and the guilt of knowing that I did not check my tyre pressure once a month, I shelled out for two new front tyres.  I was told that the back tyres would not make much difference, and, anyway, one had been replaced after the puncture about three months ago.
The tramlining has improved, and the car no longer pulls to the left.  Some improvement. But then I went and sat in an Audi A4.  And I wanted to cry.  I could turn the wheel when stationary with little more than one finger and it was a joy.
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I test drove an Alfa Romeo Giulietta yesterday, in the hope of avoiding the Audi.  It’s only been out since July 2010 and looks best in … (wince) white.  Theadvertising video is a seductive blend of style and perfomance, and the reviews, especially of the 1.4l petrol Multair engine with performance to match my BMW, looked promising.  I hadn’t bargained on the DNA …
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Two cars in one.  A flick of a switch changes it from town runabout (N = normal mode) to aggressive tiger (D = dynamic mode).  My husband’s grandfather always used to caution against a piece of machinery that tried to do two things, and usually did neither very well.  The Guilietta is a case in point.  In normal mode it is boring and too expensive.  In dynamic mode it is quite scary and far too exhausting.  Like the manic friend who is fun to be around a couple of times a year but leaves you needing to sleep for a week.  I asked the salesman when typical drivers flicked the switch.  He said that most tended not to, leaving it in normal mode most of the time and reserving dynamic mode for high days and holidays.  In addition, the operation of dynamic mode not only increases the power to the engine and changes the road holding, but also firms up the steering to reward the racy driver with that all important “feel”.  In dynamic mode the steering is heavy, and I found I wanted to change back to normal mode as soon as I hit any congestion or town driving.
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Other niggles – such as Alfa having forgotten to include a footrest on the righthand drive version (duh!), intrusive road noise and my longstanding dislike of the off-centre positioning of the number plate – meant that the Alfa definitely won’t be gracing our driveway any time soon.  Even the lure of the safety of the third (A = “active”) snow and ice mode lurking in that DNA switch couldn’t tempt me …
There’s always a trade off between security and freedom, but the Alfa hedges its bets and doesn’t get the balance right.  The N needs to be less “normal” to make it more fun because the Dynamic was too much for me most days.  Perhaps I’m just too old and the wrong gender and no Giulietta.
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