Monday, May 31, 2010

Beemer Me Up

Road trips. The great Amerian pastime. I am one of those who appreciates road trips in theory. The freedom of the open road, the thrill of exploration…the joy of dining at roadside diners. But once I get behind the wheel I always find long car trips boring. And no amount of Bob Dylan sing-alongs or pancake-induced food comas will conquer the auto ennui. So when the folks at BMW suggested I take their swanky new Five Series Gran Turismo for a weekend-long test-drive, I wasn’t all that excited. In fact, when they delivered the car to my house, it sat in my driveway for a full day before I got around to actually starting it up.

But once I did, well, it was like buttah.

When you get right down it, a car is essentially a wagon for transportation. Sure, it’s also a status symbol, a vehicle for luxury and, in some cases an extension of one's home. But I’m one of those “it gets me from point A to point B” kind of gals. Yet I’m open to the idea that a set of wheels can be more than just a buggy with a motor. I’m a beemer newbie, and had never experienced the smooth-yet-sturdy German engineering. (I won't get into my car history but let's just say it involves a lot of QT spent with a Ford Focus. The glories of buying a car on a writer's salary.)

I test-drove the impressive vehicle over a weekend, weathering a six-hour drive north to Amelia Island (in pounding thunderstorms) and experimenting with the car’s numerous high-tech features and powerful engine. It’s also one of the more handsome cars I’ve seen. It combines the all the elements of a station wagon, SUV and hatchback without caving to the boxiness or soul-crushing nerdiness of those shapes.

Things I loved about the car:
- how safe the car felt. We drove through pounding rains at 80mph - something I would never attempt in my usual SUV, but the car felt so smooth and solid (and quiet!) that it was easy to coast through the downpour at high speeds.
- the highly-adjustable driver’s seat with snug “wings” that hug your lower back
- the incredibly roomy cabin. This is a touring vehicle, ideal for a group of 4-5 people on a trip, and there's enough space for everyone to sit comfortably.
- the dashboard speedometer projects onto the windshield, so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road when checking your speed.
- the backseat has “stadium” seating, so it’s a bit higher than the front seat, giving the second row passengers a view of the action ahead.
- the hatchback-like trunk which allowed us to jam a weekend’s worth of luggage, baby gear, a stroller and a folding bike (we’re not into light packing) into the car.
- the speedometer alarm that you can manually set to alert you when you’ve gone over your limit. I set mine to 90. It was binging a lot.

What I didn't love:
- the sun roof mechanism. Sure, it's a panoramic sun roof which is fabulous but it took me no less than 25 minutes to figure out how to get the whole thing open all the way. I'm no gearhead, and I'm sure if I had bought the car from a dealer the person would have walked me through all the functions, but on first encounter, the switch is non user-friendly.
- the joystick gearshift. Call me old-fashioned but I like to feel some mechanical heft when I'm pulling into Drive.

But other than that, no real complaints. It's a big spaceship of a car, with an interior like a cockpit. If I owned the car I probably wouldn't end up using nearly half the electronic features available on the car's hard drive, but it was cool to experience for a weekend.


The Bum said...

Please understand that you and your car share responsibility for the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Just keep it in mind. It's not just BP. It's spoiled Americans and their entire society built upon the need for cars and cheap gasoline. I got rid of my car in 1995 and arranged my life so that I would at least in some small way, not add to the destruction of the earth. Sorry to be downer, but I'm tired of everyone pointing their fingers at BP and denying their part in it. Just keep that thought somewhere in the back of your mind while you are driving your lovely little earth-destroying automobile.

The Bum said...

Sorry, I should have read your entire post. Still, it's the whole glorification of automobiles and the lifestyle that far too many Americans insist upon that I've been contemplating for a while now and your post just gave me a place to vent. Automobiles are immoral.

Besides, I share in the responsibility as well in many ways. For one thing, I use far too much electricity using this stupid computer.

Anyway, Happy Memorial Day!

sara said...

Wow, Bum. I completely appreciate where you're coming from on this Re: gas consumption and the heartbreaking oil spill. The truth is, I didn't even own a car until I moved to FL and realized it was a necessity. And even then I still ride my folding bike as much as possible and take the bus whenever I can.
It's a complicated world out there and I'll keep your words in mind.

SteveBM said...

I bought a used 3-series with low miles 4 years ago. I love it. The feel of the road is better than any other vehicle I've driven. Can't say I like that 550GT though. It looks pretty silly. I'm looking into a 335 coupe...

sara said...

A lot of people I know love their 3-series. Yeah, I don't see you in this car. It's more of a Father-Doctor kind of deal. But a coupe sounds mighty fine.