Standing under a tent on an unusually hot Sunday afternoon, the group of us was about to embark on the in-no-way-modest final module of the BMW “Innovation Drive:” flooring the 2010 335d (diesel) sedan, 2011 335i coupe, and 2011 135i coupe around another test track.
Now when I say “flooring,” I actually mean, “rolling;” it makes perfect sense, I assure you. Let’s take the 135i as an example: this car has 300 horsepower, but it is about the size of a Hyundai Acc(id)ent. To reiterate: three hundred raging stallions crammed into a small soda can.
Most will assume that so much power coupled with so little weight means it’ll outrun a Bugatti Veyron when you squash the unusually-tall gas pedal between your foot and its firewall.
However, most will be wrong: it’s not that simple.
The fact is that given so much power in such a little car, the wheels will spin but the car won’t actually move when you floor it; it’s more power than the tires can apply. It will get moving, rest assured, but it won’t be an immediate start.
Most will now say “it has traction control, so this is not a problem.” Except it is. The traction control (DTC) will recognize that there is a hooligan behind the wheel, and it will reduce the power accordingly until the gas being given is equivalent to the amount of traction that the wheels can provide at that moment. In other words, the traction control prevents a burnout, and once again, you are not starting as promptly as you’d like to since the power is cut, to an extent.
So how do you work with this massive amount of equestrian power? You roll the gas: instead of just punching it, you gradually – albeit very briskly – apply the gas until your foot can push no further. This way, you use the maximum amount of power that can be applied as your speedometer starts climbing, you are not in danger of spinning the wheels, and the DTC won’t think of you an idiot.
It all means that you’ll start quicker than the guy next to you at the stoplight, and you’ll get to whatever has become the finish before he does. Unless he’s in a Bugatti…
Before we were to begin rolling, though, another demo lap was in order. I was once more
Having played the role of a sack of potatoes in module two, I fully expected to not be phased by the abnormal maneuvers that the instructor would carry through this time. Of course, nothing is as you expect it to be, proven when the instructor did an emergency stop.
If you have ever had somebody super-glue something to your skull and then try to pull it off after the glue has cured – all the while telling you that you won’t feel a thing – you will know what it was like.
As before, we were to do two 90-degree turns, run through a slalom, and do a brake-and-avoid. However, the first slalom was replaced with a simple and lengthy straightway ended by the mentioned oh-crap-there’s-a-mountain-biker-right-in-my-way full stop.
The instructors politely advised us to
The “three” sedan’s backseat was rather roomy, due to the good faith of the even-taller individual. Normally, there’s not a terrible amount of room back there, but then there’s not supposed to be in a compact car. As far as the “three” coupe and “one” coupe go, don’t bother with the backseat. Rip it out and put it to better use as a trendy new sofa for your living room. This’ll boost cargo space as well. Everybody wins.
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Speaking of the 1 Series, it was the first car I went ‘round in. The thing has a ton of headroom, which in my book justifies its slightly garish and nerdy greenhouse. However, what’s unjustified is the money BMW asks for it, as the quality of interior materials isn’t at that price level. Fear not, the only thing it has in common with the aforementioned Hyundai is the overall dimensions. Regardless, the materials are not at all up to par for a vehicle whose price is sneaking up on fifty-five thousand. And I don’t mean marbles.
For the money, you at least still get the almost too large engine and a new nifty transmission, the latter requiring more shifter talk. In normal automatic transmission cars, you slide the shifter to the side (towards or away from you, depending on the car) to engage manual mode. In this BMW, it activates the sport (shifting) mode: everything’s still automatic, but the shifts are more aggressive (longer ratios, for those that understand). Only when you make contact with the paddle shifters – located behind the wheel itself – do you activate the manual mode.
That is precisely what bugged me. Even in the Volkswagen City Golf the sport mode is below Drive, and the manual mode is selected by sliding the shifter to the right of Drive. Separating Sport and Manual is infinitely user friendly. When you want to control the shifts yourself, you do not want the car to intervene.
This will be the case in the City Golf, but not in the BMW: unless you beat the transmission’s computer to the punch, the latter will make the first gear change for you, which defeats the purpose of a manual mode. One should not have to worry about racing the computer. Regardless, one must shift earlier in order to fool the damn thing, thus activating manual mode but ruining the acceleration at the same time.
It gets worse: when the concept of taking responsibility for the gear changes grows tiring, the thing must be put back into drive to surrender control to the car. If you simply wish to relinquish control while remaining in sport mode, too bad, says the BMW: you must go back to Drive, and then back once more into (automatic) Sport mode.
You either want Sport or Manual, not both or Drive. How is it that the City Golf can understand that but the ultimate driving machine can’t?
To counter-balance these shortcomings, BMW has given this same transmission seven gears and two clutches. While the benefits of having a seventh (or eighth) gear may be negligible, having two clutches is definitely a good thing.
(If found, please return to www.wailing-engine.com)
When the car is in a particular gear, it foresees the next gear via factors like road conditions, speed, and your current driving spiritedness. So, while one clutch is engaged in the current gear, the other clutch is prepared to connect to the next one, drastically reducing shift times. This was very evident while the “one” flew along the straightaway.
Something else that caught my attention was the gas pedal itself: it is bottom-hinged and very tall, so much that it feels like a moving dead pedal. Of course, one grows accustomed to this over time, though it can be slightly off-putting when you’ve just sat behind the wheel of one for the first time and you are already doing the same speed that the adjacent airplane towing the glider is doing.
Soon after, it was time to try out the other pedal. Just like with the “five,” caution and fear of the tar-and-feather chair take control and you end up braking early. You can’t imagine how early: it was practically an instant stop. It takes a few moments to fathom your new-found stationary state. Good thing, since the next maneuver was the 90-degree and none of the three cars in this module had the four-wheel steering mechanism.
At the second 90-degree, the shock and awe had already worn off enough to notice the smell of burnt tires and cooked brakes wafting through the open windows. To avoid the smell, I called on all of the horses and then used the small dimensions of the “one” to my advantage in the slalom. It’s noticeably more fun than the “five,” mostly due to the fact that it’s supposed to be, but it dearly lacks the “five’s” heads-up display.
When you try it for the first time, you see it’s useful, but only when you try the same course again without the HUD do you see just how useful. A frantic glance at the moving needle will only give you so much information.
Knowing to expect the short braking distance, I powered out of the last turn right into the brake-and-avoid. It just stopped, once again. I guided it through the “avoid” bit, and took it back to the start, ready to try the next car: the 3 Series diesel.
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Thinking that all diesels are slow and puff smoke blacker than night will get you nowhere. The 335d is as fast as the featured 135i and 335i (meaning it’s fast), and it’s completely clean, so no smoke. The instructors were keen on pointing out that fact…
Due to some modern regulations on this continent, most new cars sold here with diesels need a special additive – that neutralizes nitrous oxide – to be injected within the exhaust pipes. This solution is essentially urea, and it needs to be topped up every so often during your regular services; if you don’t, the car is electronically programmed not to start until you do. No joke.
However, this regulation applies only to cars above a certain weight (since larger vehicles always pollute more, apparently), which the 335d is thankfully under. If you buy a 335d, this means no annoying blue fluid to worry about, and no electronic nanny to curse every several thousand kilometers either.
I pulled the 135i in and switched to the 335d. Besides the loud corporate graphics, I noticed the opulence of the interior: it was just like the 5 Series I drove earlier, only a bit smaller, and drastically better than the 1 Series. The only thing it didn’t share with the “five” was the power-adjustable steering wheel (and of course, HUD).
After sorting that out, I got the go-ahead and set off. The characteristic – but not in any way intrusive – clatter of the diesel engine turned into the sound of a raging beast as the “three” rapidly gained speed. It stopped as expected, and pulled off the same tricks that the “one” did even without multiple clutches.
Simply put, this diesel knows not of the word “compromise.” Nor does it know the term “low price,” come to think of it. No matter though, since the two are mutually inclusive anyways, and driving my first diesel proved to be greater fun than I could have ever imagined.
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The last run was in the 335i coupe, which came to the party with a trick of its own: a new engine. This is the new inline-six with a twin-scroll turbocharger. The old 335i had two turbos: a low-pressure one for boost at low revs, and a high-pressure one for boost at high revs. This new-for-2011 engine has only one turbo doing the job that both of the old ones did, making the entire engine that much smoother, more efficient, and thus faster.
The exhaust note is pretty epic as well. Think “lambo” and you won’t be far off.
This coupe is polite too: it has little arms that extend to hand you your seatbelt when you are about to set off. Unfortunately, such a warm feeling was not expressed when it came to headroom: it had the least of the entire bunch. Headroom was more plentiful even in the much-smaller 1 Series (all had a sunroof). I should admit that my attention did not stay on the lack of headroom while I admired how the “three” danced through the course at my command.
So is the exhaust note worth the sacrifice in headroom? Unless you’re one of Santa’s elves, I’ll reluctantly have to say no and tell you to buy the 335d. Contrary to logic, the roomier 3 Series sedan is noticeably shorter than the 3 Series coupe, which means less metal one must worry about scratching. As a result, what the coupe had in additional power, the sedan countered with additional agility, not at all hindered by its M-Sport package.
Furthermore, the sedan and coupe are only a little more money than the 1 Series but have far better interiors. The 335d also has a useable backseat and uses less fuel. It is therefore the epitome of efficient dynamics, and the choice among the three cars shown in this third and final module.
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After a concluding speech from the instructors, we were led to the last tent, filled with a diesel X5
One of the survey’s inquiries was suggestions to improve the event: a logical and appropriate question, unless you consider that precisely one hundred percent of those surveyed were so high on adrenaline that they could not reply with anything other than “IT WAS AWESOME!!1!” Perhaps I should email them the link to my blog...
After completing the survey, we were each given a card with redeemable perks as a symbol of gratitude for showing up, no strings attached. Except for the string that says you have to buy a new BMW soon in order to redeem them.
There is no denying that giving all these BMWs a workout was quite an entertaining way to spend a peaceful Sunday morning, but as always, there are a few more things to say and conclusions to be made, so stay tuned for the final installment in this mini-series.