2002 BMW 330xi

Usually, when driving from Chicago to Detroit on Interstate Highway 94, the back starts to act up about the time we pass Detroit's Metro Airport a couple hundred miles later.

The last trip was traveled in an '02 BMW 330xi, one of the many offerings from the German automaker billed as "the ultimate driving machine."

Perhaps an "ultimate driving machine" but not for any distance. Bucket seats shouldn't be made of marble. A trip to Detroit is punishment enough.

Considering its size--107.3-inch wheelbase, 176-inch length--you expect more riding comfort.

The 330xi with standard all-wheel-drive is designed for unbelievable handling for those who appreciate a car's ability to zip through twists and turns without losing any sense of direction, not to mention stability. The standard 17-inch radials did their job in grabbing the pavement as well.

But on those long straightaways--ouch.

Perhaps the optional ($300) run-flat radials with stiff sidewalls were in part to blame, but like we've noted many times, if you really want motorists to enjoy the experience, give 'em a softer seat in which to sit back and relax.

Can't complain about the 3-liter, 325-h.p., 24-valve 6-cylinder with its "double vanos steplessly variable valve timing and dual resonance intake system," a lot of verbiage that means you move smoothly without waiting. The mileage rating is 17 m.p.g. city/25 m.p.g. highway.

The 6 was teamed with optional (a hefty $1,275) 5-speed automatic.

The all-wheel-drive sedan has ample power and exceptional road holding. If only it didn't hurt so much to use.

Base price: $35,740, though with the automatic and run-flats, plus the blue metallic paint at $475; a cold weather package with heated seats, headlight washers, split fold-down rear seats and rear seat armrest at $1,000; a premium package with leather seats, power glass moonroof, wood interior trim, auto dimming mirror, rain sensing wipers, and automatic headlamps at $2,900; Xenon headlamps at $700; and freight at $645, the sticker reached $43,035.

Ouch, again.