I love my Beemer. Sure, it's only a 320d, so given the choice (and funds) I'd far prefer something with an M in the name. For instance I don't understand why my wife rolls her eyes when I point out the many ways in which the E60 M5 Touring is the perfect family car.
However, this is a company car, so I'm pretty lucky that it's not a misery-spec Fiat Stilo or some other sin against driving. It has sat-nav, Bluetooth, steering wheel controls, and so on. Being an E90 means it's starting to be a little bit dated in the details, e.g. the Bluetooth is not 2.1, so no music streaming. On the other hand there's an aux-in jack in the arm-rest, so it's not as if I have wires trailing everywhere.
The great advantage of a company car is of course that anything that goes wrong with it is Somebody Else's Problem. Even my accident, annoying though it was, didn't cost me a penny. However, the disadvantage is that the user doesn't get much input; in my case, the options were saloon or wagon, in any of three or four colours. Mine is a shark-skin grey which I think looks great, especially when a little dust gives it a matte look.
When I received the car I was therefore surprised to find that it was an automatic, as that was most definitely not a standard option. After checking the VIN, my fleet manager and I ascertained that it was the right car, just with the wrong spec, but BMW said I could keep it anyway. I was skeptical of the automatic, never having had good experiences with slush-boxes in the past, but off I trundled.
Misery on a stick
Once I had avoided killing myself or causing an accident by forgetting that an automatic transmission in D will go as soon as the driver takes his foot off the brake, without needing active application of the throttle, I got quite used to it, especially trickling through traffic on the Milan ring-road. The auto-box also made a good fist of snow on the roads in Milan, even on summer tyres (I hadn't yet had time to change them). Just roll s l o w l y off the brakes, don't touch the throttle, and it goes just fine.
The one thing that still really annoys me is the way it steadfastly fails to select the right gear. Left to its own devices, it tries to keep revs as low as it possibly can, which on a diesel is very low indeed. This is not ideal going into roundabouts or sharp corners, as it feels very lumbering and understeery without some revs to keep things under control. In frustration, you might be tempted to switch the transmission to DS, a sportier mode that holds gears for longer and down-shifts more readily. This does OK into the roundabout, but unless you're in a boy-racer mood, the way it then proceeds to hold second gear all the way to the next traffic light can get annoying.
So in the end you resort to swapping gears yourself, but then what's the point of an automatic transmission - apart from giving your left foot a break, that is? You still have to think about which gear you want to be in, and you still have to take your hand off the steering wheel to get into that gear, but now there's also an annoying... pause... before the gear actually engages, not to mention those fun times when you switch from D to DS and then into manual, resulting in all your passengers kangarooing into the air and swearing at you because you got three downshifts when you only wanted one.
This is a violation of the principle of least astonishment. This is a notion of UX (User eXperience) that basically states that the results of an action should match the user's reasonable expectations. It came to my attention as part of the iPhone mute switch brouhaha, but it makes a lot of instinctive sense. If I flub a gearshift in my manual car, because I didn't rev-match or misjudged the clutch's bite point, I have only myself to blame, except in particularly egregious cases. If on the other hand the auto transmission does something "helpful" resulting in an unexpected outcome, I become very annoyed with the automation.
To cut a long story short, my next car will have a proper manual again, unless there's a very good reason why - for instance, that I have finally talked SWMBO into letting me get an RS6 Avant or an M5 Touring…