Executive wheels: BMWs drive like a dream

The Ultimate Driving Machines tend to overdo it in one category

And over the years, I have appreciated BMW for driving and performance. I have never driven a BMW that I didn’t think was up to the line’s “Ultimate Driving Machine” slogan.

But BMW has always pushed the technology envelope a bit too far. As LED screens became ubiquitous as the centerpiece of running all the tech – sound system, climate control, and then more recently all the new apps – BMW has been, quite simply, the most difficult to operate.

The sound system is still difficult to operate compared with Lexus, Infiniti, et al, where the operations are very intuitive. But since most people are creatures of habit – listening to the same set of radio stations all the time, using the same apps – it takes a little longer to set up your preferences in these modern BMWs, but once you have it down it’s pretty easy to use it.

So there’s my bugaboo about BMWs. Once you get past that, here with the X1, the small SUV in the line, and the 340i, the latest incarnation of the wonderful 3 Series, you find marvelous cars.

The X1, a smallish SUV, drives great, is very quiet and is a fun vehicle. Powered by a 2.0 liter 4 cylinder with the BMW TwinPower Turbo system, this AWD vehicle is rated at 228 hp and, as with most BMWs, it can often feel like much more than that.

BMWs tend not to like going slow but really kick up the performance a notch, or two, once you get up to speed. I enjoyed that mostly, although I did notice a lot of turbo lag – an annoying pause – when you punch it from a dead stop and when you kick it to pass on the highway. I wouldn’t call it a smooth turbo.

There were many things to like here. The X1 has a huge sunroof that opens in the front and lets plenty of light reach the back seats. The climate controls – separate from the screen, as I said – are very easy to use and I got to find out during my test-drive week that both the heater and the AC work wonderfully well. I had very little trouble with the Bluetooth hands-free phone operation, although I did experience a little translation problem from time to time with the voice command system.

I especially liked the heads-up display that shows both the speed in digital format and the seed limit in a separate, adjacent window; it’s handy. I also liked the side lights that come on at night when turning or signaling – called Pathway Lighting – that works well and came in handy numerous times.

On the down-side: the cup holders are hard to get to behind the gear shift. The big negative, however, is the operation of the radio and sound system. I had to search the owners’ manual both physical and electronic through the system, and I figured out a way to make it work for what I wanted. I still didn’t know exactly how I arrived at this, and I think it’s too complicated, but that is a BMW hallmark, I guess. 

The base price for the X1 is $34,800 – very competitive. On my test-drive vehicle they add nearly another $12,000 (including $995 in destination charges), and the most expensive things added were packages that included upgraded technology (apps, navigation touchpad, etc.), easy keyless entry, the LED headlights with cornering, the rearview camera, driver assistance alerts and warning, heated front seats and steering wheel and the panoramic sunroof.

With a bottom line of $46,395, this BMW is priced somewhat less than the competitive Infinity QX50, which I loved, so if you’re looking for a luxury, small SUV this X1 must be one your shopping list.

RATING: 3 ¾ WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR)

 

The 2016 340i xDrive sedan should probably top your shopping list if you are looking for a luxury small sedan. This is the first time in years that I have felt that a BMW 3 is flat-out a better vehicle than the competition – things like the Mercedes C Class, the Lexus GS, the Infiniti Q40. Simply put, this is a lovely car with great room that drives just about as well as a car can drive.

The 340i corners like a race car – no lean – and handles like your brain is connected to the technology. I felt in control at all times, as if I could will the car to do exactly what I wanted. It is smooth, powerful, comfortable – really magnificent.

The 3.0-liter TwinPower turbo 6 cylinder puts out an impressive 320 hp in this AWD configuration (340 in RWD), and I found no turbo lag here. Punch it, and this car will flat-out fly, but it also has a softer side so when you just feel like cruising, it cruises like it’s Saturday night in American Graffiti.

I won’t reiterate all the luxury and technology – it is all here, trust me; the safety stuff, the apps, Bluetooth, voice commands, the works. The interior is extra impressive, with the highlight being the Dakota Red/Black leather seating that is Heaven sent. I also very much like the gear shift in this BMW (and others) where it doesn’t really move up and down an stay in a new position, but rather pulls down or up to hit the drive gears or reverse, and then there’s a pushbutton “P” for park. Very easy, very classy. This car also had cameras around and a kind of virtual drawing of each side that gives you a good idea of potential objects in the way. Very easy to use.

About the only thing I didn’t really like was something I liked, oddly: there’s a snap-in phone charger on top of the center console, which is nice, but it limits the space for center console storage. And, of course, as usual the sound system is not easy to use. There is, however a huge trunk.

The base price is $47,800 and they added a whole bunch of things that took the price up to $59,920. That’s a lot, to be sure, and probably a little on the high side vis a vis the competition, but there’s no denying that this is a magnificent car.

RATING: 4 WHEELS PLUS THE SPARE (OUT OF FOUR)

Categories: Industry Trends, Transportation