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Old 07-12-2011, 12:14 AM   #1
homeryen88
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Review: Alcantara Steering Wheel by AutoCarbon (aftermarket)

Review: Alcantara Steering Wheel by AutoCarbon (aftermarket)

Forum Sponsor/Retailer: bimmian.com
Website: http://www.bimmian.com/46/STW/
Advertised Price: $999 (not including current $250 discount = $749)



The piece of equipment that you most interact with in your car is your steering wheel. It's obviously the most important input device for both the track and the road. Generally speaking, a steering wheel with a surface that's softer and thicker is preferred by performance-oriented drivers. The added softness makes driving more comfortable. The added width delivers the sensation of better grip.

According to its YouTube promo piece (http://www.bimmian.com/youtube.htm?video=62), this made-in-Germany steering wheel is advertised as an effective OEM substitute that is "more beautiful, purposeful, and affordable." The female pitchman heard on that video does an excellent job of lyrically tickling our imagination. After all, the OEM non-//M steering wheel does have a skinny and lightweight feel, so who wouldn't want to at least consider a more performance-oriented alternative? But the reality is that this aftermarket Alcantara Steering Wheel (ASW) falls short of expectations in all of those important aforementioned areas.

Let's talk more in-depth about those three areas: beauty; purposefulness; affordability.


BEAUTY
Aesthetically, it's a "like" or "dislike" flip-of-the-coin. My installer, who owns an E46 as well, is now salivating to get his hands on one. I wasn't quite as enamored. The steering wheel is wrapped in three different kinds of material. Part of it is a carbon fiber design embedded in a clear, epoxy-like resin; part of it is high-quality perforated leather; part of it is alcantara. The carbon fiber is checkered, the perforated leather is dotted, and the alcantara trim is solid. Meanwhile, add in the distinctive //M-style tri-color stitching that encircles the interior of the wheel and (to mine own eyes) the ASW is best-case gawky and worst-case Frankensteinian.

The steering wheel itself also looks heftier-than-necessary. Have you ever noticed how athletes who compete outdoors apply this black line beneath their eyes? It's to help "suck" in the light to minimize their glare. Because of the ASW's black/charcoal motif, the resulting space-sucking optical effect is that the E46 cabin now seems oddly smaller. This wheel would mesh more naturally with a BMW with a larger interior such as a 5-series or an X5.

I certainly do like the look (and feel) of the perforated leather. And the charcoal-colored alcantara does give it a sporty look and feel as well. But the steering wheel should shed itself of the carbon fiber components altogether, which isn't necessary and adds nothing to either the wheel's functionality or beauty. As it is, the design seems a bit too busy. And, if you were to purchase the optional carbon fiber lower trim for $145 (http://www.bimmian.com/CWT/46), the overall mishmash design would (IMHO) appear completely muddled.


PURPOSEFULNESS
The purposefulness is also diminished by, in my opinion, a lack of understanding of how purposeful drivers actually drive. Four peculiarities come to mind after having used this steering wheel over the last month driving through the highways and byways of Washington DC.

1. Turning the wheel and letting it turn back by itself:
When you turn the wheel as far as it will go and then allow the car to straighten itself out, most people allow the steering wheel to just rotate back to its original position as the steering wheel slides underneath their steadied hand and through their curled fingers. Weirdly, the ASWs alcantara grip strips are raised at the 8/9/10 and 2/3/4 o'clock positions. So, when the steering wheel is rotating back after it reaches its lock position, your hand will feel the bump as it glides over the raised alcantara. Additionally, I sensed increased friction and heat when my fingers slid over the alcantara versus the leather on the OEM steering wheel. The increased friction isn't a symptom of this particular ASW but probably of all ASWs in general.

2. Each position of the wheel feels different so there is no feeling of consistency:
The 11, 12, 1 o'clock positions feature alcantara and that carbon fiber/epoxy resin. The 10 and 2 o'clock has all three materials to contend with. The 3 and 9 o'clock position has an alcantara thumb grip (but my thumbs are a little too big to rest comfortably) and leather for the palms to rest upon. The 6 o'clock position features a flattened bottom completely wrapped in alcantara. And the 4, 5, 7, 8 o'clock positions also feature alcantara and carbon fiber. If you're on a straightaway, then none of this will matter and the ASW feels nice and firm. But, if you're weaving in traffic or negotiating a parking lot or slaloming around potholes, this inconsistent feel may create a tactile distraction.

3. Protruding thumb rests would be welcome at the 10 and 2 o'clock position:
We learn in high school Driver's Ed that your hands should be at the 10 and 2 o'clock position whenever possible. The OEM BMW Performance Steering Wheel accommodates dedicated drivers with a thumb rest where it ought to be, but that bit of thoughtfulness has been forgotten here.

4. People with smaller hands take note:
While extra-thick padding increases the girth of the wheel, it becomes possibly unwieldy for those with smaller, daintier hands. The non-//M vehicles come with an OEM steering wheel that measures less than 4" thick. Meanwhile, the OEM steering wheels on //M vehicles measure just over 4" thick. But this ASW that we are reviewing approaches 5" thick.

I'd personally like to see this steering wheel redesigned. The areas of carbon fiber should be removed altogether and replaced with alcantara because you can't "grasp" smooth resin. Additionally, the outer raised alcantara grips should be removed because it makes no sense for a steering wheel to have varying circumferences. This "patchwork" attribute inhibits the AutoCarbon ASW's ability to provide well-defined tactile points that could subtly remind a driver where they're at in the turn-to-lock/lock-to-lock ratio.


AFFORDABILITY
There are certain mods that you'll be fine with when going the aftermarket route as long as, obviously, you can find an ostensibly lower price along with comparable quality. But this aftermarket product is inexplicably pricey. Bimmian retails this for $999. There is currently a $250 discount (as of July 2011) in effect, bringing it down to $749.

So then, why did I pull the trigger on this purchase? I own a 2002 facelift 325i sedan w/ sports package, which has a relatively uncommon steering wheel with the double-spoke lower trim. Only Bimmian markets the type of ASW (for E46 with Round Airbag Without SMG [Wheel Type E/Style 1]) that I was looking for with that double-spoke lower trim option.

Oddly, BMWs sister product - the MINI - offers a nicely-appointed, performance-oriented, premium-leather/alcantara combo, multi-function steering wheel which you can see in the below photo. It's available for their higher-end JCW line and retails for a wallet-friendly $529 at minimotoringgear.com. Why can't BMW (or an aftermarket retailer) come up with an option that is similarly stylish and affordable?

Regardless of which wheel type/style you are contemplating, all of the AutoCarbon steering wheels seem overpriced given its questionable beauty and marginal-value-added functionality. At $500, it's worth considering. At $750, it's a gamble. At $1000, it's a needless luxury item.

By the way, if you are interested in this product but don't necessarily need to find the steering wheel with the double-spoke lower trim, I'd suggest that you first check out another forum sponsor's website, which retails the identical AutoCarbon ASW for $699 (as of July 2011): www.jlevisw.com


THE VANITY FACTOR:
Various threads state that alcantara is difficult to clean and wears out more easily than leather. Whether that's scientifically accurate or not, it has made me extra-sensitive about placing my hands on the wheel. I feel like I need to wash my hands and then dry them thoroughly before I touch the alcantara so as not to irreparably/pre-maturely soil it.

So, that means no more fast-food drive-thrus or drinking/eating in the car unless I have lots of napkins. Wet hands from a rainstorm worry me. Touching my hands against my oily face is a no-no. Holding my girlfriend's lotion-enriched hands and then touching my steering wheel is also cause for concern. And any speck that shows up against the charcoal alcantara annoys me. This could be specks from salt or from calluses or from dust or from pollen. You'll want to keep a small toothbrush or a microfiber rag in your car to occasionally brush these specks off! None of these phobias, obviously, creep up with a leather steering wheel.


THE ARGUMENT FOR ALCANTARA:
Alcantara possesses some unique traits. It has an inherently high Co-efficient of Friction, which translates into a more assured grip (and also contributes to heat from the friction). Relative to leather, the material also has the benefit of "breathability", which means that it doesn't get too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter. And, it's supposedly dimensionally stable when wet; therefore, moisture shouldn't compromise its suede-like nature. So, having alcantara on the steering wheel certainly has its merits.


FINAL THOUGHTS:
As far as AutoCarbon's aftermarket ASW is concerned, some may adore its quirky design. Some may relish its asymmetrical feel. Some may even welcome the extra care and attention that this steering wheel will need. But practically no performance-oriented driver will be able to justify the unwarranted price tag (whether it's $999 or $749 or $699), especially when several other performance steering wheels makes for a more driver-friendly consideration. If you are in the market for an upgraded multi-function steering wheel for your E46 sedan and have the necessary coin to do it, here are two other choices that you may want to consider:

1> BMW OEM E46 ZHP All-Alcantara Multifunction Steering Wheel @ $995.00
www.getbmwparts.com

2> BMW (aftermarket) Custom NAPPA Premium Leather Sport Steering Wheel @ $890.00
http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/BMW-E46-E53-CUSTOM-NAPPA-LEATHER-SPORT-STEERING-WHEEL-_W0QQcmdZViewItemQQhashZitem3caf022fc7QQitemZ260634193863QQp tZMotorsQ5fCarQ5fTruckQ5fPartsQ5fAccessories

I love the idea of an alcantara/leather mix (featured on the JCW Mini Cooper), but there is no such option for the BMW. And while these two above options are somewhat pricier than the AutoCarbon product, you will get a steering wheel that is likely more "wholly" substantive rather than pieced together in look and feel.

Ultimately it's not really a question of whether this meatier alcantara/leather/carbon fiber steering wheel transfers to the driver a feeling that is more substantial and sure-footed; comfortable and confident. It certainly does. The drawback is the monstrous asking price for what you get. With all due respect to the fine sponsors that market this product, my recommendation is to steer clear of this particular item. By doing so, you'll save yourself from a head-on collision with regret. I've already taken that hit for you. And, all of the airbags have been deployed. Happy Modding!

pic #1: The AutoCarbon Steering Wheel (with optional carbon fiber lower trim)

pic #2: Picture of ASW taken from this thread: http://forum.e46fanatics.com/showthr...steering+wheel

pic #3: My interior with the OE steering wheel

pic #4: My interior with the ASW frontal view

pic #5: My interior with the ASW 3/4 side view

pic #6: The JCW Mini alcantara/leather steering wheel


-------------------------------------------------------------------

Please see my other comprehensive posts:
Interior LED Lighting Options-
http://www.e46fanatics.com/forum/sho...d.php?t=842380

The DynavinE46 V5-
http://forum.e46fanatics.com/showthread.php?t=830928

UMNITZA LED R/C/R Tail Lights -
http://forum.e46fanatics.com/showthread.php?t=843428

UMNITZA M-Tech II Bumper Experience from Start-to-Finish -
http://www.e46fanatics.com/forum/sho...d.php?t=848926
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Old 07-12-2011, 09:56 AM   #2
flexlewis
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wow! great review! the steering wheel looks amazing,but $1k is a little on the high side
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Old 07-12-2011, 09:58 AM   #3
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Too much $$$
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Old 07-12-2011, 10:39 AM   #4
So Lowww
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Wayyyyyyyyyyy to much $$$
Got my momo brand new for 80$
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Old 07-12-2011, 10:43 AM   #5
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superb review, but thats a busy wheel. gotta have an aggressive car to pull that one off.
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Old 07-12-2011, 10:58 AM   #6
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Old 07-12-2011, 11:40 AM   #7
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Thanks for sharing.
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Old 07-12-2011, 12:22 PM   #8
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kinda busy looking...
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Old 07-12-2011, 01:00 PM   #9
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cant wait to get mine...looks nice!!
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Old 07-12-2011, 01:06 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by So Lowww View Post
Wayyyyyyyyyyy to much $$$
Got my momo brand new for 80$
thats b/c its a momo...




Looks amazing but a standard m3 wheel gets the job done IMHO.
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Old 07-12-2011, 01:20 PM   #11
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that is an ugly steering wheel, damn.
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Old 07-12-2011, 01:37 PM   #12
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thats b/c its a momo...




Looks amazing but a standard m3 wheel gets the job done IMHO.
Well it was 250$ but I gotta sweet discount lulz
Momo > Played M3 wheel
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Old 08-28-2011, 08:49 AM   #13
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Nice wheel, especially for tracking. The off side allows you determine if the wheel is straight. It is expensive - probably worth it for the track.
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Old 08-28-2011, 09:51 AM   #14
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Been looking at this wheel for a while. Thanks for the review. I'm going to purchase this and 8 inch kicker for my ski pass and my interior upgrade are almost complete.
Pretty sure the bimmian wheel and the jlevisw wheel are the same product. They carry a lot of the same stuff. When All is said and done with the lower trim and the exchange you will notice the price is about the same.
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Old 08-28-2011, 02:53 PM   #15
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ummm wow $1k for a steering wheel? are these freaking people on meth or something? Looks great dont get my wrong but it cost them around $50 to $100 max to make one of those. Seriously this is just ridiculous. Sexy wheel but so not worth paying a grand for, or even $700.
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Old 08-28-2011, 03:03 PM   #16
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wayyy too much money, but i want one.
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Old 08-28-2011, 10:40 PM   #17
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Old 08-28-2011, 11:08 PM   #18
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There are plenty of people who buy 3000-4000 rims on here. Depends on what you consider value.
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Old 10-11-2011, 03:14 PM   #19
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Just installed this wheel. Amazing. So much more fun to drive. Might be my favorite mod to date.
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Old 01-31-2016, 03:29 PM   #20
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Where did you get the carbon fiber trim?
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