ROAD TEST

ďSPORTS-LIMOUSINEĒ FROM BMW

(Autosport, 13th May 1976. UK.)

The BMW 3.3 Li is a new, long-chassis version of the big six-cylinder car. The engine, which has a slightly shorter stroke than its predecessor, has been specially developed for this luxury limousine. It is a straight-six with a chain-driven overhead camshaft, operating the inclined valves through rockers. As usual, it is of extremely rigid construction with a fully-counterbalanced seven-bearing crankshaft. For maximum performance with minimum pollution, Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection and electronic ignition have been standardized.

   Also new is the ZF automatic transmission with a fluid torque converter and three-speed planetary box. The independent suspension of all four wheels follows normal BMW geometry, with a MacPherson front end and semi-trailing arms behind. Power-assisted steering is standard and all four brake discs are slotted for ventilation, while there are four-cylinder callipers in front with two separate hydraulic circuits.

   The body is what the Germans call a limousine, but as it has no division or folding occasional seats it would be described here as a long-chassis saloon. It has leather upholstery and the equipment is lavish beyond belief, as the data panel shows. Refrigerated air-conditioning is standard, as are wipers and washers for the headlamp glasses, an electrical control of the external rear-view mirror. There is separate heating for the rear passengers and, needless to say, all the door windows are electrically raised and lowered.

   The doors are easy to enter and the seats are comfortable, that for the driver having an extra adjustment for height, and the steering column is also adjustable. He has a good all-round view, but a short driver needs the extra height adjustment to secure an unobstructed rear view for reversing.

   The engine starts instantly, hot or cold, and runs steadily and evenly while warming up. The automatic transmission is up to the best American standards, being smooth in its changes yet wasting no time. There is never any sign of temperament, even after the BMW has been crawling or sitting in traffic blocks.

   Although the spacious body provides room for the occupants to stretch their legs, both front and rear, this does not seem a particularly large car from the driverís seat. It does not behave like a luxury car, either, being much more sporting than one would expect. Standing starts are not particularly quick and there is no wheel spin, but once the car is on the move, the acceleration becomes fierce. A 0-100mph time of 22.6s after a leisurely getaway is really something.

   The maximum speed of 125mph is easily reached, and might well be exceeded on a longer straight. A genuine 120mph comes up in a surprisingly short distance. The engine is very smooth, but it emits n unmistakable song of six cylinders from the twin exhaust systems. There is an efficient mechanical hum, too, which is certainly not at all noisy, but more audible than is usual in a limousine. On some road surfaces, there is a fair amount of tyre noise and the roar of the wind cannot be ignored at speeds above 100mph.

   That may seem harsh criticism, but let us not forget that this is an £11,000 car. It would seem that the makers have deliberately built a new kind of luxury car, with the emphasis laid on the driverís pleasure rather than on the smooth, silent ride of the rear passengers. The suspension is effective, but there is more up-and-down movement than most limousines exhibit. If this is an owner-driverís car, BMW have their priorities right, but as a chauffeur-driven vehicle it could do with a softer ride and better sound-damping.

   The car is well-balanced on corners, generally with moderate understeer. The power-assisted steering reaches very high standards indeed, giving extremely easy parking, yet providing plenty of feel of the road during fast cornering. This is a heavy car, but the weight must be carried low, for it feels very sure-footed and does not roll to excess, which is important for the passengersí comfort.

   Certainly, the weight does not worry the brakes. After hard driving, there is remarkably little smell of hot pads, nor do the hubs exude bubbling grease, as often happens with otherwise well-behaved cars. Yet, this is quite a lot of motor car to stop.

   The heating and ventilation work well, although it would need summer weather to test the refrigeration adequately. I was amused to notice that whenever I exceeded 120mph, the heater nearly set light to my gentís natty socks, although whether this was due to the aerodynamic ram effect or increased heat output from the power unit, I would not know. Anyway, itís of regrettably little interest nowadays, I suppose.

   By having a smaller and more efficient engine than other luxury cars, the big BMW does gain in petrol consumption, and many owners will see 20mpg on a run, instead of the usual 12mpg misery of the super-cars. Itís an impressive machine with an attractive interior and very well finished. In spite of the contradiction in terms, I would call it a sports-limousine!