An electrical relay sitting in the front windscreen's rain gutter. Headliner that looks like mouse fur. Soft touch plastics that aren't. If you look closely at the new BMW 3-Series you'll see considerable evidence that Mercedes isn't the only German brand cutting corners at the low end of their lineup. But there's a difference: BMW says they let the whole obsessive compulsive construction thing slide so they could enlarge the 3-Series' performance envelope whilst holding the line on postage. In other words, they amped-up the driving dynamics rather than sweating the small stuff.
The new 3's helm justifies the justification. For far too long, BMW has pandered to America's [alleged] predilection for steering with all the feel and feedback of a Novocained bicuspid. Now, finally, The Boys from Bavaria have installed a rack-and-pinion tiller that rewards elbow grease with information. Whether you're giving it some mid-corner or jinking around a Volvo, the wheel tells you where you are in the pivoting process and what's happening underfoot. It makes driving, wait for it, fun. (Anyone who opts for Bimmer's anesthetic-- I mean, active steering system loses all pistonhead privileges.)