BRIEF TEST

BMW 3.0 Si  

FOR: sparkling performance; stick gearchange; comfortable driving position; unobstructed vision; superb instruments; lots of stowage space; well made and finished  

AGAINST: heavy fuel consumption; expensive; wind noise; stiff throttle pedal  

(Motor, 12 January 1974. UK.)  

Since we last tested a big BMW (the 3.0 S 10 month ago) a succession of increases have added £1,579 to the price of the 3.0 Si, raising it to the current substantial £5,578 (including £178 for the mandatory power steering). That the car is in demand despite a price tag almost £1,000 more than that for the Jaguar XJ12L is perhaps more an indictment of British Leylandís inability to produce enough cars than an indication of the BMWís superiority. For a BMW is about the closest competitor the Jaguar has and itís available now, rather than in two or more years time, the typical waiting period for the Twelve. Faced with this sort of situation itís no wonder that the UK concessionaires for BMW sold over 5,000 sixes last year.

   For 1974 the big BMW is altered and improved in several ways. Importantly both the driverís seat and steering wheel positions now can be tailored to suit people of almost any size and shape; the rear seat backrest has been reset so thereís more room in the back and heating ducts are provided to keep those in the back warm. The ride has also been softened with minor changes to spring rates and damper settings, though whether this is an improvement is open to debate. Nevertheless all those who drove the car praised its numerous qualities, not least of which is its sparkling performance.

   The carís Bosch electronically injected in-line six produces a healthy 200bhp (DIN) at 5500rpm and rockets the car to 60mph in 7.9sec, only half a second slower than the automatic XJ12. For a 3-litre the performance is astonishing, especially for one of its size and weight, though real gains over the carburetted car (no longer available with manual transmission here) are evident only above 60mph. The automatic choke proved faultless in operation and the engine runs smoothly without temperament, warming quickly on cold mornings. Power is transmitted in a smooth rush with a turbine-like hum that is very pleasant to the ear. The engine is also very tractable and, despite the highish gearing, will pull quite strongly from low revs in top: 30-50mph takes a brisk 7.9sec. Maximum speed is a claimed 133mph, too fast to check on MIRAís banked circuit, and we were unable to take the car abroad. However, thereís lost of performance to spare at 120mph.

   Halfway through our test the 50mph speed limit was imposed so the car had several gentle runs. Even so, it returned a disappointing 15.0mpg overall, much the same as the 3.0 Sís 15.4mpg. Thatís enough for 260 miles on the carís enlarged, 17.2 gallon fuel tank. It uses four star fuel and during the 718 mile test distance consumed one pint of oil.

   The flickswitch gearchange provided by a short, stubby lever is slick and easy: ours was slightly obstructive on the lower ratios but we know from experience that this wears off with use. The sharp edge of the wooden gear lever knob emphasised any notchiness. Additionally, reverse isnít sufficiently protected and itís easy to select it instead of first.

   On paper the gear ratios look ideal, giving 35, 61 and 96mph at 6,400rpm in the lower gears; but on the road first feels too low, and you have to grab second very soon after a quick start. With the carburetted car we criticised the transmission snatch; petrol injection seems to have eliminated this for the 3.0 Si pulls without fuss from 20mph in top.

   No changes have been made to  ZF-Gemmer worm and roller steering except that BMW now fit a slightly smaller (and hence better) leather-rim wheel which is adjustable for reach. The power assistance is just about right Ė light enough to make parking effortless, yet with just enough feel to enable the car to be pressed through corners with confidence. The basis trait is mild understeer, though lifting off in mid corner can make the nose tuck-in; obviously excessive power will cause the tail to slide, especially on a wet surface. Roadholding on the 195/70 VR Michelin XWX tyres is excellent in the wet or dry and the car can be cornered hard with only moderate roll.

   The brakes, ventilated discs all round with dual circuits, haul the car down from high speed with only slight pedal pressure, albeit to the accompaniment of slight juddering. For ordinary use, though, we felt that the brakes were slightly over-servoed as it was difficult to feather the brakes and avoid a jerk when coming to rest.

   The suspension has been modified for í74 and is now less strongly damped, making the ride feel a little more resilient and less taut. The firm, comfortable fabric-covered seats now give greater lateral support. The rake of the seat is variable and the adjustment is much easier to make. The driverís seat is also adjustable for height. With the new adjustable steering column the driving position can be tailored to suit a very wide range of shapes. Thereís also more room in the rear now, as BMW has reset the back of the seat. There are head restraints front and rear and those in the back fold down when not in use. All round vision is excellent: you can see every corner of the car without straining.

   Switch gear and instruments are unchanged, and very good they are too. The indicators, parking light, washers and three speed wipers are controlled by one column-mounted stalk, the headlamp dip and flash by another. The horn is sounded by one of four insets on the new steering wheel, as opposed to three on the earlier car. The wipers scythe a clear path across the screen no matter what the speed and the electrically operated screen washers are powerful.

   The only complaint we have about the driving position is that the accelerator pedal of our car was too upright and stiff, so much so that after a long spell at 50mph you finish up either with an aching ankle or a numb foot.

   The instruments remain unchanged for the simple reason that it would be hard to improve on them: theyíre a real object lesson in clean design and clarity. Both the speedometer and rev-counter are large and clearly calibrated; between the two are smaller dials for water temperature and fuel. The instrument binnacle also contains a cluster of six warning lights. Thereís a clock on the facia in front of the passenger but a radio is extra.

   For such an expensive luxury car the Si is only fairly well insulated from noise. At idling speed the huge air intake makes obtrusive noises and at speed above 50mph wind noise makes you turn the radio up. BMW say they usually attend to this sort of complaint by slightly bending in the top of the door window frame.

   The heating and ventilation system is excellent, though you canít recirculate the air to exclude exhaust fumes. To get sufficient heat into the car you also need to use the fan. The centrally mounted air vents, perhaps a bit fiddly to adjust, push through a big volume of air. Eyeball vents each side of the facia are for side window demisting, and very effective they are.

   Thereís ample storage space inside the car for the assorted bric-a-brac five adults can accumulate. The carís only real rival in the provision of trays, cubby holes and shin bins is the rover 2200 which is outstanding in this respect. The boot of the BMW is huge and contains in its lid a compartment of superbly finished tools and a few important spares.

   At £5,578 the car is undeniably expensive and at 15mpg very thirsty. Nevertheless itís superbly engineered, very well finished and discreetly luxurious. Even if we are all reduced to travelling at 50mph, there are few more comfortable big cars in which to do it.