Review: 2014 BMW X5 xDrive 35i

Tuesday October 7th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 BMW X5 xDrive 35i

By David Colman

Hypes: Super Size Tire Footprint, Impressive Interior Space
Gripes: High Tailgate Liftover, High Curb Weight for 3 Liter Engine

Those of you who are not BMW aficionados’ need a quick lesson in the Bavarian meaning of the letter M. Almost all BMW model lines are available with an M Sport package. Usually, this consists of sporty upgrades to the looks and handling. While the surcharge is quite hefty for an M Package ( $4,600 in the case of our test vehicle), you receive better value than if you were to order each improvement individually. On our X5, for example, the M Sport group includes a long list of improvements that would cost significantly more than $4,600. Some of the following items are not even available individually: 20 inch M Sport alloy wheels, Sport automatic transmission, High Gloss roof rails, Multi-contour seats, Aluminum hexagon interior trim, Aerodynamic kit, Shadowline exterior trim, and Anthracite headliner. Do not, however, confuse an X5 bedecked with this M Sport group for an X5 M. When the letter M is part of the X5′s official designation, as in “X5 M” you have bought yourself a much more expensive and esoteric vehicle which puts a premium on high performance to the exclusion of any other trait.

For example, our test X5, with all-wheel-drive (xDrive) and a 3.0 liter, turbocharged motor (35i) produces 300hp and 295lb.-ft. of torque. Its base price is $55,100. The X5 M on the other hand, which is expected late in the model year, will offer a 4.4 liter turbo V-8 that makes 555hp and 500lb.-ft. of torque. Plan on paying more than $68,200 for this low volume special. There are times when 555hp would be nice, because 300hp is taxed to the max when you need instant acceleration. Although BMW put this new 3rd generation X5 on a diet and reduced its footprint by 170 pounds this year, the in-line turbo 6 is hard pressed to provide instant acceleration because the X5 still weighs more than 5,000 pounds. The 8-speed Sport automatic gearbox helps maximize those 300 horses by keeping the engine turning in the fat part of its broad torque curve. From 1,300rpm all the way to 5,000rpm, this motor cranks out peak torque. That kind of pulling power allows you to tow a trailer weighing 6,000lbs.

2014 BMW X5 xDrive 35i

BMW is unusually generous with the wheel and tire dimensions of the M Sport package X5. The 20 inch diameter alloys are 10 inches wide front and 11 inches wide rear. Continental “Extra Load” SportContact tires rival in size the rubber you might find on a Porsche Turbo: 275/40R20 front and 315/35R20 rear. Such a gargantuan footprint insures tremendous stability. It’s virtually impossible to dislodge this X5 from your intended path of travel. Our test X5 enjoyed the added handling benefit of a $3,600 optional Dynamic Handling Package which provides “active” stabilizer bars front and rear that stiffen the chassis platform as you trundle through turns. The package also improves shock absorber response, with a Dynamic Damping system that reduces pitch in turns. Despite the fact that this SUV stands 69.4 inches high, 193.2 inches long, and 86 inches wide, it will handle any twisty piece of pavement you can throw at it with remarkable aplomb. The only drawback to the X5′s size is that it takes both sides of the road and then some to make a U-turn because its turning circle is 41.5 feet wide.

2014 BMW X5 xDrive 35i

Inside, this BMW will seat 4 passengers in exceptional comfort, and 5 in relative comfort. The interior will store 22.4 cubic feet with all seats elevated, and 66 cubic feet with rear seats collapsed. With seats flattened, you will discover many ingenious storage compartments to keep valuables out of sight. For example, the entire rear sub floor can be packed with goods covered by a lid that raises and lowers with assist from an hydraulic strut. The side walls of the rear area also contain small binnacles. Storage pegs fold flush against the walls, as does a wide retainer belt for securing packages. A double railed track system allows use of multiple inserts like a dog shield or specially fitted cargo container. BMW engineers offer you more configurations than a tub of Lego bricks.

Finished in a shade of blue that is so dark (Carbon Black Metallic) it looks black most of the time, and done up in black Dakota leather inside ($1,450 extra), the only flash you’ll find in this X5 is the hexagonal aluminum diamond plate that graces the door panels, dash board and center console. And even that injection of bright work is subdued thanks to a matte finish. But if solid virtues of practicality, great handling, and decent gas mileage are more important than bling, this X5 beckons you hither.

2014 BMW X5 xDrive 35i

2014 BMW X5 xDrive 35i

  • Engine: 3.0 liter in line 6, turbocharged with direct injection, Double-Vanos steplessly variable valve timing
  • Horsepower: 300hp
  • Torque: 295lb.-ft.@1,300-5,000rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 18MPG City/27 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $68,675
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

Posted in BMW, Expert Reviews, Feature Articles |Tags:, , , || No Comments »


Review: 2014 BMW M235i

Thursday August 21st, 2014 at 4:88 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 BMW M235i

By David Colman

Hypes: Track Loving Leech, Stealth Appearance
Gripes: No Passenger Grab Handle

The heart of this hot rod BMW is its splendid inline 6 cylinder turbo motor. Tuned to produce 320hp and 330lb.-ft. of torque, this quintessential BMW straight six is a joy to trot, canter or gallop. Although the engine produces maximum torque as low as 1,300rpm, you will be reluctant to reign in the sweet six before the tachometer sweeps past 6,000rpm. It’s one of the freest revving engines I’ve ever driven, with an exceptional proclivity for high rpm operation.

As a daily driver, the M235i passes the test with flying colors. It’s never temperamental, it has a sizeable trunk, and it will comfortably carry four adults should the need arise. Just park the gearbox in Drive, dial up the “Comfort” setting on the Driving Dynamics Control, and potter around town as if you were driving any conventional grocery getter. The M235i will make no demands of you whatsoever, in spite of its track bred pedigree.

2014 BMW M235i

If a stretch of freeway cantering should arise, you might want to crank the mode dial into “Eco Pro” to maximize mileage (32 MPG Highway). Closet racers will select the track oriented “Sport+” specification when riding this bronco at full gallop. For most driving, the “Sport+” choice is ideal. It stiffens the suspension, quickens the variable sport steering, and enhances the exhaust note. “Sport+” also replaces the car’s default setting of Dynamic Traction Control with Dynamic Stability Control, a sportier alternative which, as BMW points out, “allows the driver to handle several of the stabilization tasks.” It’s in this latter state of tune that the M235i really comes into its own.

The gear ratio splits of the Sport Automatic transmission are optimally configured for maximum acceleration. With 8 gears on hand, each successive up shift keeps the 3.0 liter on full boil. Best of all, when you get to the heart of the batting order – second, third and fourth gears – you hardly lose 500rpm with each up change.

You can climb into this diminutive coupe and instantly go fast. You really don’t have to fiddle with any of the Driving Dynamics controls BMW provides for optimization. The laws of physics infrequently overcome the inherent stability of this coupe, thanks to the beefy contact patches of its Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires (225/40 R18 front/245/35R18 rear).

2014 BMW M235i

Stylistically, the M package is so discrete that uninformed onlookers will hardly note its existence. Wind management, for example, is so conservatively handled that the stubby tail spoiler looks like the Gurney flap for a wing that’s missing. Subtle flutes and creases channel air through the triple honeycombed front grill slots. Thanks to sharply angled, auto-leveling, Xenon adaptive headlights, surrounded by LED “Corona” rings, this BMW greets you with the inscrutable masked gaze of the Lone Ranger. Out back, the deftly sculpted under tray incorporates marker lights and blackened exhaust finishers so subdued you hardly notice the car has twin pipes. The only flamboyant visual flourish is the use of silver metallic paint on the exterior rear view mirrors.

The indoor furnishings are equally buttoned down. Black on black is the byword here, with Black Dakota Leather sports seats held together by black stitching. The dash and door surfaces offer varying patterns of pebble grained black vinyl. Floor mats and carpeting are plush black velour, and even the fine wood trim inlays on the dash and door panels are striated ebony. Only the oversize M Sport dead pedal and entry kick plates shine with aluminum luster.

2014 BMW M235i

The power activated front seats are fully supportive without being confining. Depending on how much cornering resistance you need, you can notch the degree of pinch around your lower back electrically. The fat rimmed M Sport multi-function steering wheel provides a pair of protrusions designed to retain your thumbs at the proper 9 and 3 o’clock positions. Elongated alloy shift paddles feature rubberized edging for better control.

BMW’s latest Bavarian hot rod is an autobahn assassin. It’s beauty lies in the fact that it has more faces than Mount Rushmore. It’s adept at trundling and bundling. For touring it’s alluring. And for shredding it’s abetting. Car as mood ring, sympathetic to every personality trait from melancholia to mania. This BMW has the full range covered. And at just $49,025, it’s way cheaper and more fun than a long term shrink.

2014 BMW M235i

2014 BMW M235i

  • Engine: 3.0 liter in line 6, turbocharged, double VANOS valve actuation
  • Horsepower: 320hp
  • Torque: 330lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG City/32 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $49,275
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

Posted in BMW, Expert Reviews, Feature Articles |Tags:, , || No Comments »


Review: 2014 BMW 435i xDRIVE Coupe

Monday August 4th, 2014 at 10:88 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 BMW 435i xDRIVE Coupe

By David Colman

Hypes: Hyper Flashy Interior. 166mph Top Speed
Gripes: For $63K, They Could Put A Screwdriver in the Toolkit

BMW has introduced two new 4 Series coupes for 2014. What differentiates them is choice of engine. The 428i uses a turbo four cylinder engine, while the 435i offers a turbo six cylinder motor. Both are available in either rear wheel drive form or all-wheel-drive trim (which BMW calls xDRIVE). The top version of the 4 Series coupe is the 435i with xDRIVE, and this is the model we spent the last week exercising. Get a tight hold on the reins because it’s a mighty quick stallion. The 435 would is definitely the hot ticket for speed lovers. Its 3.0 liter turbo makes 300hp and 300lb-ft of torque. The 3,621 pound 435i, with its superior power-to-weight ratio of 12.07lb/hp, covers the Standing Start quarter mile in 13.7 seconds at 105mph, while posting a 0-60 run of 5.2 seconds.

Though the 428i and the 435i look much the same and share virtually identical structures, they are vastly different vehicles in feel and performance. For comparison purposes, you would do well to think of these two coupes in human terms. They represent the same person at different stages of the life cycle. The 428 is the youthful rebel, rambunctious, ready to party, a real back road butt kicker. But once the 428 gains a few years and a few pounds, it matures into the 435, graying slightly at the temples, a little thicker in the waist and thinner in the reflexes. These BMW coupes reinterpret BMW’s “ultimate driving machine” adage from different perspectives. The 428i is ultimate if you’re seeking hot laps with your tail and your tongue hung out. The 435i offers ultimate satisfaction if you aim to cover vast distance at a canter rather than a gallop.

2014 BMW 435i xDRIVE Coupe

The Coral Red Dakota Leather interior of our 435ix looks positively opulent. Just the thing for the mature swinger who still boogies to the Latin beat of Xavier Cugat. While purists might dismiss this kind of visual flamboyance in such a serious sporting BMW, the red and black combo really knocks your socks off. The heavily pebble grained seat leather adds another dimension to the gripping support afforded by these special seats that are part of the coupe’s $3,100 optional M Package. The 435ix carries a reasonable base price of $48,000, but posts a whopping bottom line of $63,725 due to the following additions: the aforementioned M Sport ($3,100), Cold Weather Package ($700), Driver Assistance Package ($950), Dynamic Handling Package ($1,000), Lighting Package ($1,900), Premium Package ($2,200), Technology Package ($3,150), M Sport Brakes (650), Concierge Services ($250) and Destination Charges ($925). I don’t know about you, but if I’m paying an extra $250 for “Concierge Services,” I expect a warm croissant and a cafe au lait be delivered to my Coupe every morning.

2014 BMW 435i xDRIVE Coupe

But these many additions do bring multiple benefits, such as a heated steering wheel, heated front seats, retractable headlight washers (Cold Weather Package); adaptive full LED lights, automatic high beams (Lighting Package); comfort access keyless entry, lumbar support, satellite radio with 1 Yr. subscription (Premium Package); navigation system with touchpad, Head-up display, remote services, BMW apps, enhanced smart phone (Technology Package). The heated steering wheel is a particularly welcome addition on chilly mornings, a most worthy substitute for that missing concierge. The graphics of the navigation system maps are spectacular, showing 3D topographical details that will take your breath away. The Head-up display, on the other hand, is something of a mixed bag. It plays your speed on the windshield, right under your nose. So there’s no excuse for pretending you didn’t know how fast you were going when the officer arrives to hear your tall tale. It also keeps you apprised of your cruise control setting, and instantly notes any changes to your prescribed speed. Unfortunately, the mirror face of the Head-up unit reflects itself in the windshield during sunny conditions, so you get a helping of glare with your order of info.

2014 BMW 435i xDRIVE Coupe

Although the 435i is slightly heavier, taller and more front weighted than its cheaper sibling, our test coupe had one big ace in the hole that was missing from the 428′s arsenal: all-wheel-drive. California State Route 175 connects the rural outposts of Hopland and Lakeport with 18 miles of the best driving roads you’ve ever traversed. On a midweek day, there was virtually no traffic in either direction to distract me from pushing the big BMW as hard as I dared. While it never seemed as light or agile as the 428i, it felt more planted and predictable than the four cylinder model when pushed to the limit. With the 19 inch Bridgestone run flat S001 tires (225/45R19 front, 255/40R19 rear) generating significant side bite, the 435ix refused to lose its tenacious grip on the pavement, no matter how hard I tried to conjure drift angles. While it may be lacking in drift challenge showboat potential, the 435ix is the BMW 4 Series coupe I’d chose for a cross country trip with bad weather in the forecast.

2014 BMW 435i xDRIVE Coupe

  • Engine: 3.0 Liter inline 6, Turbocharged and Intercooled
  • Horsepower: 3000hp
  • Torque: 300lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20MPG City/30MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $63,725
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

Posted in BMW, Expert Reviews, Feature Articles |Tags:, , , , || No Comments »


Review: 2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

Wednesday June 11th, 2014 at 8:66 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

By David Colman

Hypes: Impeccable Build Quality, Exceptional Utility
Gripes: Sluggish Throttle Response, Wide Spacing of Lower Gears

The 328d diesel powered wagon is something of a conundrum. It enjoys the trappings of a sport focused offering, yet doesn’t ultimately live up to the flamboyant promise of its appearance. With a base price of $42,950, it carries a reasonable premium of just $1,500 over that of the $41,450 petrol powered all-wheel-drive wagon. A quick gander at our diesel’s specification sheet would lead you to think that this wagon has everything it needs for quick travel, M Style. Start with the attention grabbing azure paint. Of the 13 wagon colors available this year, our test vehicle’s Estoril Blue Metallic finish ($550 extra) is the only one of the baker’s dozen limited solely to use on M Sport equipped wagons.

2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

A $3,580 M Sport group adds 18 inch model specific wheels, sport seats, aluminum hexagon interior trim, anthracite headliner, M steering wheel, aerodynamic exterior refinements and shadowline trim. The SensaTec seat material feels enough like leather to make you forego the $1,450 up-charge for Dakota Leather. Another $1,000 brings adaptive M suspension and variable sport steering. For a comparatively modest outlay of $49,275, this is the sportiest diesel wagon you can buy from BMW.

The wagon’s handling is faultless. The all-wheel-drive (xDrive) system allows the all weather Pirelli P7 tires (225/45R18) to secure such a tenacious pavement purchase that you hardly ever need resort to BMW’s standard Dynamic Stability Control or Dynamic Traction Control. The balance and poise of this 3 Series platform encourages you to explore its handling attributes by switching the M Sport’s Driving Dynamics Control into the “Sport+” setting. Sport+ eliminates Dynamic Stability Control from the handling equation, thus allowing you to experiment with adhesion limits. You never entirely forget that with its weight distribution split of 48.7% f/51.3% r, this all-wheel-drive wagon has slightly more tail to wag than any other 3 Series offering.

2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

But xDrive’s full time all-wheel-drive traction helps overcome that rear weight bias. This BMW accelerates through switchbacks effortlessly. Never so much as a chirp of protest is heard from the scrabbling Pirellis. Instead of losing speed through chicanes, the wagon maintains its footing and composure better than you do. With its comparatively low center of gravity, the 328d upholds the concept of sports driving better than any jacked up BMW Sports Activity Vehicle. And best of all, you pay only a 10 pound weight penalty for selecting xDrive over rear-drive (3,790 pounds vs. 3,780 pounds).

The performance conundrum’s negative facet reveals itself when you toe into the diesel, expecting acceleration to match the explicit handling. Most of the time, you don’t get it. One of the most disconcerting drawbacks of the diesel is its reluctance to respond to your toe the instant you floor the throttle from a standing start. Although BMW’s lists a 0-60mph time of 7.6 seconds for the 328d xDrive, you’d be well advised to avoid maneuvers that require instant engine response. On the other hand, one of the main attractions of diesel motivation is stellar fuel consumption. In this regard, the 328d posts gratifying EPA numbers: 31 MPG, city, 43 MPG versus highway. The combined city/highway figure is 35 MPG, and cruising range is 645 miles with a 15 gallon tank.

2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

Another enticement is the aft cargo area, which offers multiple storage options. This wagon will allow you to slip a fully assembled bicycle into the cargo hold. All you have to do is drop both rear seats flat, remove the net partition and cargo cover struts, and you have unimpeded access to 53 cubic feet of storage space. The standard power operated hatchback door eases loading chores, as does the tailgate’s separate flip open rear window.

Normally overlooked back seat passengers will rejoice in the comfort of conveyance here. The rear seats are well contoured for long journeys. A drop down central armrest serves as a double drink caddy, while both front seat backs contain storage pockets with netting. Floor mounted rear ventilation ducts allow for individual climate tailoring, separate reading lights illuminate each outboard position, center seat belt receptacles store out of the way when unneeded, and rear windows retract fully into the doors.

2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

The diesel sports wagon provides a fully inhabitable environment for four, with more than enough luggage storage (13 cubic feet with rear seats up) for a comfortable overnight trip. For families, this car is an ideal transit solution. For speed merchants, it has its own galaxy of challenges to offer and conquer. There’s very little you can throw at it – or in it – that the 2014 328d xDrive can’t handle. And done up in Estoril Blue, this slinky beauty is sublimely easy on the eyes.

2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

  • Engine: 2.0 Liter inline 4 Diesel, turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 180hp
  • Torque: 280lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 31 MPG City/43 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $49,275
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

Posted in BMW, Expert Reviews, Feature Articles |Tags:, , , , || No Comments »


Review: 2014 BMW 428i Coupe

Monday June 9th, 2014 at 1:66 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 BMW 428i Coupe

By David Colman

Hypes: Extra Sensory Handling, Primo Front Seats, To Die For Looks
Gripes: Needs Rear Wiper, Chintzy Manual Steering Wheel Adjuster

Q: When is a 3 a 4? A: When a 1 becomes a 2.

Inside BMW’s perplexing name lab, Bavarian linguists have labored mightily to concoct a brave new numbering system sure to confuse and baffle its customer base. This year, the former 1 Series morphs into the new 2 Series, while the coupe and convertible offerings of the former 3 Series have now become 4 Series products. All this from a company once forthright enough to label its 1600cc sedan as a “BMW 1600.”

Call the new 4 Series what you will, there’s no mistaking its sporting excellence. Not surprisingly, the new 4 covers the dimensions of the existing 3 like a blanket. Overall length remains at 183 inches, as does wheelbase at 111 inches. Thanks to the coupe’s svelte roofline, height drops from 56 to 54 inches, while flared fenders cause the width to increase from 71 to 72 inches. Weight drops by 15 pounds, from 3,485 pounds to 3,470 pounds.

2014 BMW 428i Coupe

Take advantage of the coupe’s wider stance by maximizing rim size. You can do so by opting for the $3,500 “M Sport” package, which confers, among other benefits, a set of double-five spoke, 18 inch diameter M Sport performance alloys that stretch rim width to 8 inches front and 9 inches rear. These rims amply support premium Bridgestone S001 RFT (Run Flat) rubber measuring 225/45R18 front and 255/40R18 rear. Another dividend of the M Sport group is Adaptive M Suspension, a center console controlled system that allows you to select the shock setup you desire by sliding the “Driving Experience Switch” through 4 detents (Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+). These options cover the range from green peace to racetrack, and the differences are immediately obvious in terms of steering feedback and bump damping.

Visually, the M Package will also win you over with revamped body panels that channel wind over the coupe’s exterior surfaces most efficiently. To that end a revised front fascia eliminates the standard lower fog lamps in favor of increased radiator cooling grills. Normally convex rocker panels acquire intricate concave flutes that help shed boundary layer air currents. If these external clues are so subtle as to provide insufficient gratification, you can always derive satisfaction from plentiful M notations festooning your key fob, dead pedal, threshold plates, and lower steering wheel spoke.

2014 BMW 428i Coupe

The most beneficial contribution of the M Sport group is a pair of stellar front sport seats that will grab your torso faster than Velcro. These supremely enveloping twin buckets offer more lateral support than anything short of a full race DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft)throne. The most telling point of support is their vise grip on your mid-back area. The retention of this vice can be altered by easing off the “Backrest Width” control located alongside the outboard lower cushion. You’ll also discover controls for lumbar support, height, backrest tilt, seat tilt, plus a manual slide for thigh support. The front seats leave absolutely nothing on the table in terms of adjustability, conformity or comfort. We spent 9 hours in the cockpit of this coupe during a prolonged foray from the Bay Area to the Sierra foothills without registering a single complaint about cockpit fit.

2014 BMW 428i Coupe

On that same trip we also managed to record 33.5 MPG on a prolonged freeway stint while averaging 75mph. The EPA suggests that the 4 cylinder turbocharged 428i will return 35MPG on such highway drives, and this figure is undoubtedly attainable by reducing speed to 65mph. Overall gas consumption is EPA rated at 26MPG, with 22MPG on tap in city conditions. The intercooled 4 cylinder engine utilizes a pair of small diameter turbochargers to boost performance while maintaining parsimonious fuel burn. You will never find yourself at a loss for forward bite with this coupe. Flooring the throttle launches the 428i on an impressive trajectory that achieves 60mph from a standing start in 5.3 seconds, the quarter mile in 14.1 seconds at 99mph, and a top speed of 158mph. That top speed is attainable in M Sport equipped coupes where normal top speed limitations are eliminated.

In a world where the meanest, least expensive Korean import coddles you with standard niceties like heated seats and navigation, it comes as a bit of a rude shock not to find BMW follow suit. For example, the steering wheel, albeit M-grip thick, must be manually dropped, elevated and telescoped. If you desire heated seats, they can be yours, providing you ante up an extra $635 for the Cold Weather Package. Likewise, BMW will gladly provide a navigation system as long as you check off the $2,885 Technology Package on your order form. All these enhancements we’ve come to expect as standard items on much less expensive cars will cost you dearly at BMW. But no amount of free inclusions can ever compensate you for an inferior driving experience. If you’re after the consummate stint behind the wheel, there is nothing like this BMW.

2014 BMW 428i Coupe

2014 BMW 428i Coupe

  • Engine: 2.0 Liter inline DOHC 16 Valve 4, Turbocharged and Intercooled
  • Horsepower: 240hp @ 6000rpm
  • Torque: 255lb.-ft. @ 1250rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 22MPG City/35MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $48,075
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

Posted in BMW, Expert Reviews, Feature Articles |Tags:, , , || 2 Comments »


Review: 2013 BMW Z4 sDrive35is

Sunday October 6th, 2013 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: “is” is German For Mega-Mover, Trick Folding Hardtop
Gripes: Tiny Rear Windows Don’t Auto-Erect When Top Is Raised

Bob Lutz, the storied car executive who helped remake Chrysler and GM, originally worked at BMW. Back in 1970, BMW wanted to change the way they named vehicles. Instead of the incredibly complicated system proposed by his boss, Lutz and his staff came up with the simplified “3 Series/5 Series/7 Series” nomenclature that survives to this day. Unfortunately, that clarity seems to have deserted BMW in the case of this fine sports roadster.

What we have here is the 4th iteration of BMW’s 2 seat sports car, hence Z4. So far, so good, but the appended “sDrive35is” muddies that clarity. Rear-wheel-drive BMW’s fitted with sporting accoutrements like special seats and aerokit styling qualify for “sDrive” status. Although you might assume that the “35is” designation describes a 3.5 liter motor, what you in fact get here is a 3.0 liter inline 6, with sport calibrated fuel injection (hence,“is” for injected sport). But the “is” tag doesn’t tell you that this Bimmer is also twin turbocharged. Time to bring back Bob Lutz.

Nameplate mysteries aside, this is one great sports car, built in Regensburg, Germany with traditional Bavarian craftsmanship. The cockpit is tight but accommodating. Flip-out door pockets and a narrow fenced shelf behind the seats ease oddment storage. In order to retain drink bottles between the seats, you need to flip up the lid of the shallow central storage bin, which is a bit inconvenient. The power sports seats, upholstered in glove soft, fancifully named “Canberra Beige Kansas Leather,” will treat you with the adulation you expect from your Barcalounger. Although the chunky “M” emblazoned steering wheel is equipped with sizeable paddle shifts, it lacks the nice perforated leather hand grips that distinguish “M” wheels in the X1 and X3. Still, there’s no mistaking the stripped purposefulness of this Z4’s décor. Simulated silver carbon surfaces on the dash face and door panels relieve the tedium of the matte black plastic dash top.

The interior’s sporting promise is signed, sealed and delivered by the Z4’s exceptional performance envelope. The keystone element is the seamless torque curve of the twin turbo 6, which maximizes intelligent intake and exhaust valve behavior through steplessly variable timing called “Double-VANOS.” Remember that “is” designator? In “is” trim, output of BMW’s 3.0 liter turbo 6 jumps from 300hp to 335hp, while torque peaks at 332 lb.-ft. (versus 300 lb.-ft. for the base 6). Coupled to a standard 7-speed double-clutch transmission, the traditional BMW straight 6 is never lacking for an appropriate gear ratio. You can leave the transmission in “D” range and forget about swapping cogs while the gearbox does all your work for you. On a 40 mile jaunt from Mill Valley to Point Reyes Station, I did just that, and found tackling the challenging road to be much more relaxing than if I had manually selected gears for each curve. Premium grade Bridgestone RE 050A tires (225/35R19 front, 255/30R19 rear) mounted on optional twin spoke alloys (a bargain at $1,200) made negotiating the twisties even more pleasurable. Of course, if you do choose to play racer, then the paddle shifters will make your trip even more swift and precise.

You can drop or erect the folding hardtop roof of the Z4 at speeds up to 35mph. This bit of latitude makes feasible open air motoring at the drop of a hat. And wind protection inside the seat-heated cabin is so good you won’t even need that hat. For complete mummification, BMW even provides a trunk-stored windblocker to snap into place behind your head. The trunk itself is reasonably large when the hardtop is up, but shrinks to a tiny slot-accessed bin when you drop the roof. If you pack according to the constraints of this tiny bin, you’ll never be caught out by storage woes on an overnight trip.

The Z4 iDrive35is is an attractive package. Visually, it’s flame-surfaced looks are appealingly different from anything else on the road. Its engine, gearbox, and suspension uphold the premise of those good looks. If you can stay away from the extensive, expensive option list, the Z4’s base price of $64,200 is more than reasonable for such a Bavarian built bomber.

2013 BMW Z4 sDrive35is

  • Engine: 3.0 Liter Inline 6, twin turbocharged Double-VANOShp
  • Horsepower: 335 hp
  • Torque: 332 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 17 MPG City/24 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $69,745
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

Posted in BMW, Expert Reviews, Feature Articles |Tags:, , || No Comments »


Review: 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i

Wednesday July 24th, 2013 at 8:77 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Sportiest BMW SUV, Stop/Start Override Switch Relocated
Gripes: Tilted-Down Wheel Obscures Turn Signal Lights

BMW’s most petite SUV, the X1, is available in 3 varieties: 28i front wheel drive (base price $30,650), 28i all wheel drive ($32,350) and 35i AWD ($38,450). The major difference between the 28i and 35i models lies under the hood. The 28i uses the same four cylinder engine found in the base model 3-Series sedan, a 2.0 liter, direct injected, inline 4 that depends on twin turbos to make 240hp and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. The more expensive 35i houses a turbocharged straight 6 which ups horsepower to 300hp and torque to 300 lb.-ft. You get a standard 8-speed steptronic automatic transmission in the 28i, and a 6-speed automatic in the 35i.

We spent a week driving the AWD or “xDrive” 28i. Even though this variant checked in with a base price of $32,350, a slew of expensive options easily floated the final sales price to $45,245, well past the base price of the top line 35i. The “M Sport Line” group, for example, adds $3,000 to the sticker, but provides such niceties as a fat rimmed “M” steering wheel equipped with paddle shifts, sports suspension, raised top speed limiter, and 18 inch “M-style” alloy rims with Pirelli P7 run flat tires (225/45R18 front, 255/40R18 rear). BMW even throws in a few cosmetic touches like shadowline exterior trim, M branded entry sill plates and a substantial M-emblazoned aluminum dead pedal.

The aggressive Pirelli tires muster enough lateral gForce to give the uprated, M-calibrated springs, dampers and sway bars a real workout. During quick back road jaunts, you’ll enjoy the light and agile nature of this SUV. While ride remains firm and somewhat choppy due to the X1’s stiff M suspension and short 108.7 inch wheelbase, the tradeoff in comfort is well worth the payoff in handling. The M Sport equipped X1 does a great job of emulating a 1 or 3 Series BMW sports sedan, and because it is shorter, narrower and lighter (3,527 lbs.) than the X3 (4,112 lbs.), the X1 wins the BMW SUV sport contest hands down.

Because performance of the small displacement turbo 4 is very dependent on rpm range for thrust, you’ll need to keep a sharp eye on gear choice. If given its druthers, the X1’s steptronic gearbox will always defer to top (8th) gear when you select “D,” which means you’ll be trundling along at 1,000rpm with almost no immediate forward thrust available unless you floor the gas or downshift manually. To obviate this problem, just slide the floor stick into the manual shift gate, pop a series of downchanges with the paddles, and keep the little four banger on full boil at 3,000rpm or so. If you do decide to take the slacker’s route to easy driving, you can let the steptronic select top gear and expect to average 26 MPG in mixed driving cycles.

Despite the fact that this is an entry level BMW, there is no evidence of penuriousness in the interior. Lovely, faintly cross-hatched matte aluminum trim graces the dash, door panels and center console, while pebbled and grippy “Nevada” leather covers the ultra comfortable M front seats. The only instance where you might feel short changed is the inaccessible rearward positioning of the center console bin, and the fact that its interior is mostly occupied by a phone platform. The rear seats slouch just enough to make extended travel for adults reasonable, with the caveat that headroom is extremely limited for ingress and egress.

The X1 carries BMW’s 4 year/50,000 mile “Full Maintenance Program,” which includes Roadside Assistance. When we first started driving this X1, the steering effort required to turn the wheel seemed high, so we stopped by our local dealer, Sonnen BMW in San Rafael, for a check. Without hesitation, the service advisor took the X1 for a turn around the lot, then asked his technician for a drive and opinion. The technician checked the front tire pressures, drove the X1 and pronounced it AOK. He said that steering on the AWD model is slightly heavier than that of the FWD version because AWD still uses a hydraulic pump versus the FWD’s electric power steering. After a day or so, I became used to the high effort steering, but after a week, I was still impressed with the gracious and helpful treatment I received at the hands of Sonnen BMW.

2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i

  • Engine: 2.0 liter in line 4, 16 valve, twin turbocharged, direct injection
  • Horsepower: 240 hp
  • Torque: 260 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG City/33 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,245
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

Posted in BMW, Expert Reviews, Feature Articles |Tags:, || No Comments »


Review: 2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i

Monday July 22nd, 2013 at 8:77 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Aero-Chisel Looks, Practical Interior Space, Vernier Handling
Gripes: Cheesy Seatback Pockets, Manual Steering Wheel Adjust

Just by accident, we found our 2013 X3 parked next to a first edition X3. Although both vehicles go by the same name and remain identically sized, the 2013’s wealth of ingenious stylistic changes make it look like a completely different SUV. In place of the first generation’s unappealing matte black front and rear fascia panels, the latest offering’s sculpted and chromed sheet metal looks like a scythe compared to a butter knife. BMW offers the latest flame surfaced X3 in 2 flavors, both all-wheel-drive (or “xDrive” in BMW-speak). The entry level offering which we drove is powered by a 4 cylinder twin turbo motor that displaces 2.0 liters and makes 240hp. This 28i version retails for $38,500, but you’ll have no problem optioning it to well over $50,000. Our test X3, with several expensive option packages, chimed in at $54,030. Stepping up to a 35i model ups the base price to $43,600 but gives you a traditional BMW straight six cylinder turbo motor which makes 300hp. The 28i returns the best fuel mileage (21 MPG City/28 MPG Highway) compared to 19/26 for the 35i.

In all phases of daily driving, the 28i’s engine offers responsive, strong acceleration when needed. The standard 8-speed automatic gearbox makes maximum use of the engine’s peaky torque curve to provide gratifying thrust. You can let a gearbox downshift take care of your need for speed by simply flooring the accelerator, or oversee the operation yourself by slotting the transmission into manual mode and bumping the stubby stick forward for downshifts and rearward for upshifts. Despite the fact that our X3 was equipped with a $3,000 “M Sport Package,” BMW did not include steering wheel paddles for transmission control. But the package did supply such niceties as Dynamic Damper Control, 19 inch double-spoked “M” alloy rims (complete with 245/45R19 Run-Flat LS2 Goodyear Eagles), high gloss roof rails, sports seats, Siena wood trim, external aerodynamic refinements, and a charcoal headliner.

The M Package is definitely worth the extra money because the front seats it provides are sublime. In top formula car race circles like F1 and Indycar, teams custom fit seats to drivers by filling seat mold bladders while drivers sit immobile until the liquid hardens around them. The X3’s sports seats fit like F1/Indycar custom pours, enveloping your tail, thighs and butt like an invisible sandbox. The M Sport’s “Fineline Siena” wood trim, which graces upper front door panels, center console and right dash, is exquisitely grained and lovely to behold. The cockpit controls are workmanlike and understated, with a simple, fat-rimmed, M-spoked leather steering wheel affording ample control over the sensitive feedback of the Servotronic vehicle-speed-sensitive power steering. Another nice touch is the M-branded aluminum dead pedal which adds a note of distinction to the driver’s side footwell.

BMW has instituted Stop/Start technology on the X3 model line, and while it may gain some incremental fuel saving, it’s not worth the price you must pay in disconcertion and inconvenience at every traffic light. That’s because when the system automatically kills the engine after a brief period of immobility, the X3 shudders into silence, only to replay the twitch when the engine refires as you drive off. You can eliminate this entire drama by defeating Stop/Start via a tiny button next to the ignition switch, but this in itself is annoying since you have to do this every time you restart the BMW. It’s also too easy to confuse the ignition switch button with that of the S/S defeat button. Do that at a traffic light and you’ll instantly incite a chorus of horn honkers.

The M Sport version of the X3 is the closest SUV you’ll find to a sportscar. It’s level of grip, instant responsiveness to steering input, flat cornering stance, and shock absorber override function, make it just the ticket for 3 Series wannabees who needs more room for stuff. The X3 offers a whopping 56.5 cubic feet of storage with the rear seats folded flat. While it may look like an SUV, this BMW has the soul of a sports car.

2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i

  • Engine: 2.0 liter DOHC, 16 valve, twin turbocharged Inline 4
  • Horsepower: 240hp
  • Torque: 260 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 21 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $54,095
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

Posted in BMW, Expert Reviews, Feature Articles |Tags:, || No Comments »


2013 BMW 335i Sedan Review

Monday April 15th, 2013 at 10:44 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Delicious M Sport Line, Best Seats, Planted Handling
Gripes: Auto Start/Stop Perplexing

You can just about buy a brand new Kia Rio for the $11,700 worth of “Options and Additional Charges” that bump the base price of this BMW 335i from $43,150 to $57,595. Ka-Ching starts ringing with the M Sport Line ($3,200), the Cold Weather Package ($950), the Driver Assistance Package ($1,900) and the Technology Package ($3,100). What exactly do you get when you order options that add more than 20 percent to the car’s base price? A delicious looking sedan that is so packed with technology that your lease will expire before you discover all of its myriad secrets.

BMW now relies exclusively on turbocharging to produce exceptional horsepower plus excellent fuel economy. The 335i’s inline 6 cylinder, twin turbocharged engine displaces just 3.0 liters, but produces 300hp while returning 26 MPG in combined city/freeway driving. The direct injection engine benefits from stepless variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust cams to extract every last molecule of energy from the 91 octane fuel BMW recommends for this motor. When you jump on the accelerator to complete a pass or merge with freeway traffic, the 335i instantly kicks down a gear or two (it has 8 of them), then surges seamlessly ahead.

All 335 sedans feature a console-mounted “Driving Dynamics Control” which allows you to select your desired performance level from these options: Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. In Eco Pro, the sedan feels somewhat lethargic, with relaxed steering feedback matching a slow reacting throttle. In Comfort, the sedan feels reasonably spry, but when you flip to Sport or Sport Plus, this Bimmer is really ready to boogie. In these Sport modes, the steering becomes heavier but more informative, while throttle response zings into a hyper responsive algorithm that makes you want to lace your driving shoes tighter.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in BMW, Expert Reviews, Feature Articles |Tags:, , || No Comments »


2013 BMW 640i Gran Coupe Review

Wednesday October 10th, 2012 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacious, Glassy, Classy
Gripes: Pricey, Fixed Moonroof

Five years have elapsed since BMW introduced their stunning 4-door “CL” coupe study at the Shanghai auto show in 2007. The hallmarks of that China show design by Adrian van Hooydonk, which paid tribute to BMW’s treasured CL coupes of the Seventies, were its expansive glass area, six foot width, and exceptionally large wheels and tires. All of those design features have found their way into the production version, the 2013 640i Gran Coupe. The roofline of the new coupe resembles the back of a turtle, with vast front and rear window glass sloping away from a domed roof that itself contains a huge pane of tinted glass. Just like its show car CL predecessor, the Gran Coupe is more than six feet wide excluding the outside mirrors. And completing the key points of van Hooydonk’s original vision, 20 inch tall wheels with super skinny sidewall Dunlop tires define the exaggerated wheel well arches.

From a historical standpoint, the term coupe defines a 2-door car with 2 + 2 seating. BMW has redefined the classic coupe concept by adding an extra pair of rear doors to facilitate rear seat usage. Thanks to the car’s six foot width, there’s even room and belts for a baby size fifth passenger in the center of the rear seat. Indeed, there’s nothing + 2 about the rear seat accommodations. The 640 GC offers posh seating for 4, with possible occupancy by 5. Call it a 4+ 1 coupe. But make no mistake, the 640, despite its stealthy profile and attractive silhouette, is a sizeable vehicle. It’s 197.2 inch length is just 2 inches short of a 7 Series limo, and 4 inches longer than a 5 Series sedan.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in BMW, Expert Reviews, Feature Articles |Tags:, , || No Comments »


« Previous Entries



Latest Reviews



Select a Category