Friday, October 17, 2014

2014 BMW 328i First 500 Miles

2014 BMW 328i First 500 Miles

The Good

My previous BMW 328ix (Alex) averaged just under 21 MPG over 27,000 miles. Not bad for an xDrive used for a boring commute from Woodinville, WA to Redmond, WA. Alex didn't get a lot of freeway miles, so performance was pretty solid. 

The new 2014 BMW 328 has averaged out at 24.5 MPG. I have been hot-rodding a bit, and Texas roads speeds are much higher (even in town). Gas prices in Round Rock (Austin, TX) have been under $3.00 for awhile and this morning they dropped below $2.70/gal for regular. The 17% increase in fuel economy is pretty nice.

Review: The First 100 Miles
Review: 2011 328i xDrive aka Alex

Driving in Sport Mode is amazing.  

We took a short freeway run on IH-35 and the ride was scary. Scary, in that the BMW felt like it was doing 45... when we were (a bit) north of 70 MPH.

One of Alex's attributes was that she was not much fun to drive at 25 MPG, especially in parking lots and in crowded neighborhoods. At freeway speeds she was great, and at Texas Toll Road speeds (85 MPH) she was a joy to drive. Once the new plates arrive we're going to drive to San Antonio, and see if the new car can fly.

The Bad

ECO-Mode is still icky, although it is growing on me. Now that morning and evening temperatures have fallen, the reduced air-conditioning in ECO-Mode is more tolerable. Acceleration is non-existent, gear shifts are frequent, and the ride is econo-car. But, picking up the kids at school and driving through the neighborhood doesn't require more than a Corolla, and ECO-Mode effectively renders the 328i into a Corolla.

The Ugly AS/S

Texas uses flashing yellow lights to allow left turns. Roll out, pick your spot, accelerate, and you're on your way. The Auto-Start/Stop (AS/S) complicates this process alot. In addition to the calculation of on-coming car speed, and my ability to move through the turn, I now have to factor in AS/S. I've already worked on strategies to defeat it (shift to Sport mode, never come to a complete stop, lift the foot slightly off the brake). AS/S is very aggressive in ECO-Mode, so the calculation of Corolla like acceleration needs to be added to the momentary AS/S restart.

The Bottom Line

I denied the idea that  the new Turbo-4 couldn't compete with the inline-6.  I was angry that BMW would tinker with the engines, suspension, and drive characteristics that made Alex such a great ride. I struggled with keeping Alex... for days, trying to find a way to justify the purchase of an all-wheel drive 20MPG sedan in Texas.  

[Wikipedia Article]: K├╝bler-Ross model, or the five stages of grief, is a series of emotional stages experienced when faced with impending death or death of someone. The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

I'm finally coming out of depression, and into a reluctant acceptance that the new BMW (still unnamed) is a very different car, and is a good car.

Not a great car, yet... but you never forget your first.


P.S. Elle Driver, from Kill Bill is currently at the top of the list, although the lobotomizing Matilda Ratched, RN is still in the hunt (Maybe Elle in Sport mode and Matilda in Eco-Mode)?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

2014 BMW 328i First 100 Miles

The First 100 Miles

Alex, my 2011 328i xDrive, the last of the straight-six models, went off lease last week (farewell review). I replaced her with a brand new 2014 328i, which is a very different driving experience. I drove Alex about 27750 miles which equates to ~1500 hours of time in motion. Most of the driving was in Woodinville and Redmond, WA at 30-45 miles per hour with very limited freeway time. 

I moved from WA to Round Rock, TX (just north of Austin) and found much better driving opportunities. Surface streets often run up to 60 MPH and the Toll Roads top out at 85. Alex didn't get many miles in TX, but they sure were fun. 

Now that I have had time to fiddle with the seat adjustments and the different driving modes, here are my first impressions of my new 2014 BMW 328i, RWD.  

I'm not convinced this one is "The Ultimate Driving Machine". 

The Good

Wow, the engine is responsive and actually pulls really well. Many reviews point to Turbo-lag, but pushing Alex from 1500 RPM to 4000 RPM also took some time. The steering is light and easy, and does firm up based on the driving mode. In Sport or Sport manual mode this is a great ride.

I had a loaner 328i (fully loaded) for a couple days in August. The run-flat tires and suspension setup were harsh, jarring, pugilistic. This new car doesn't seem to have the same setup. The ride is smooth, bumps are minimized, and the road is still very tangible. 95% of my 27750 miles were casual commute miles, not high-speed, racetrack oriented. 

I did not get any bling on this car. None. No lines, no exterior colors, no interior package, no Dynamic Handling, Cold Weather, Driver Assistance, Technology, or Premium package, no options or accessories. The only item listed on the window sticker was the 8-speed Steptronic. So, my car was a steal, a rock bottom priced BMW leading to a great lease. 

The Bad

8-Speeds means plenty of gear changes. In Comfort mode 4-5 gear changes take place driving in the neighborhood at speeds around 30 MPH. A good deal of work is going on between the engine, the computer, and and the transmission to get good mileage. Sport mode fixes this, but it seems like the jumps from Eco to Comfort to Sport are a bit wide. 

In Eco Mode I kept checking the floor to see if it was going to open so I could give her a push by going full retro Fred Flintstone. Sorry, I know the government is involved, and MPG figures must be met, but I suspect that ECO mode will be lightly used by all BMW drivers. Those frequent gear changes in Comfort evolve from noticeable to annoying in ECO where 2000 RPM is the shift point. I'll need a lot of convincing to see ECO as a feature. 

The Auto-Start/Stop (can I call it the ASS Function?) is also a bit of a work-in-progress. After measuring 20 something variables, including the price of tea in China, the AS/S function will decide whether to turn the engine off when you reach a full (and complete) stop. Don't try to out-guess the system, it knows what's best for you. 

Managing the interior temp to save gas, presents a bit of a problem. Sitting in the Texas sun (even in October) for a couple minutes will raise the interior temp just enough to re-start the engine. Defogging the windows (front or back) is also a hurdle for the AS/S. Essentially, the car is saying "I'm going to save a sip of gas and make you hot... deal with it". In Woodinville, WA., not an issue... in Round Rock, TX., fail. 

Yes, yes, yes, you can push a button to kill the feature, and heck, I have already learned how much relief to give the brake to get to a restart, but like the ECO mode, I'm not convinced that this is really useful. 

You know those Yellow-light must yield left-hand turn lanes? Confidence takes a hit when you are searching for a hole to jump through, and the AS/S decides to cut-off the engine. 

"Look Ma, I'm sitting in the middle of an intersection with my engine cut-off!" 

This is a pretty direct user experience, and a pretty poor experience. 

The Ugly 

The "Park" mode is a bit odd. The engine goes into "Ready" status, just like in AS/S. And the iDrive and accessory plugs remain active. Had the weird experience of having the car restart while sitting in the parking lot at CVS. My foot was on the brake, so the behavior was not "wrong" it was just unexpected. My Garmin is plugged into the 12-volt power receptacle and doesn't seem to turn off at all. In Alex, you turn the car off and the accessories go off as well. 

The iDrive Multimedia functionality is also a bit off. I plugged in my USB drive with 617 songs, scrolled through the menu options to set to Random... and off I went. The next time the car started it started at song #1/617. Pushing the right arrow on the stereo would send it to a new random song. Park (for some unknown period of time) and it's back to song #1 again. Alex would keep remember the track, even if the USB drive was removed and later replaced. 

The delivery specialist told me that the first time I linked my phone to the 328i, it would download my address book. My phone is both work and personal, with 707 contact cards (I checked in Outlook). I am actually scared to sync the Bluetooth for fear of the mess. I just need eight (8) entries, one for each storage location on the dash, but there is just no simple way to get there. 

The Bottom Line

The new 328i is much more enjoyable for my standard driving experience, smoother, quicker, better mileage (Alex reported 20.5 MPG combined after 30 months of driving). Purists, those that think fast is the only answer, will probably not be happy. People that want options will have to juggle the various packages, lines, and accessories to find a suitable combination -- at an eye-popping price. Driving modes, AS/S, and other minor annoyances will probably get worked out over time. 

My lease expires in 36 months... which gives BMW time to figure it out. 


Sunday, September 28, 2014

2011 BMW 328i XDrive Review and Farewell

2011 328i xDrive at Mt Ranier.
(Click for larger image) 


None of my previous cars ever had a name. But this BMW 328ix was Alex. She was Alex from day one, and she gained nothing but admiration from mile 20 through mile 27750 when her lease expired.

Alex didn't need jewelry.  No navigation, no upgraded stereo, no fancy seating surfaces, or special colors, or sunroof. She had  6-speed Steptronic, xDrive and heated front seats.

The Good

The iDrive system was amazing. Driving around Woodinville (Seattle), Washington was always a mix of damp, moist, wet, rainy, wet, rainy roads. Sometimes there was a bit of snow and ice. Never once was I concerned about how Alex was going to handle the conditions. Even when I tried to force her to do bad things, she stayed stable and composed. The anti-lock brakes were a big part of this behavior. Bottom Line: I could drive well past my skill level and Alex would provide huge helpings of semi-crazed fun.

Every minute over 60 MPH was a joy. When we relocated to Texas my first trip was from Round Rock to San Marco on Toll Road 130. I'm sorry, but under 50 MPH the 328ix is just loafing around. Many surface roads in Texas are 50+ and the toll roads run as high as 85. In WA I don't think the run-flat tires ever reached a good operating temp. In TX, with outside temps at 100 and road temps much higher, the tires got warm, got grip, and softened up to a smooth ride.

My recommendation, get a set of Texas Tags, get a full tank of gas, and jump on the toll road - American mini-Autobahn. It's actually quite eerie how Alex would settle down into a purr at 70, then growl and run to 85+.

Black on black, xDrive, and heated front seats = low cost. My MSFT employee discount helped. $3000 down and $309 for 30 months, 10,000 annual miles. I'm not sure why anyone would pay hundred of dollars more for special paint or a sunroof, or bling.

Alex did go to the shop twice, once for a problem with the alarm system (it was buzzing, and required a quick reset), and once to replace the door gaskets. The rubber failed (split) and was replaced under warranty.

The Bad

Alex hated parking lots, and turning around (turning radius was just short of the Titanic), and driving slow. And, her paint was very susceptible to scratches. You couldn't park far enough away from the dilweeds that would ding the doors. BMW needs to build a force field and add tazers to their future models.

The Ugly - I will not be ignored, Dan (IMDB Plot Summary)

Alex's full name was Alex Forrest, named after the Glenn Close character in Fatal Attraction (IMBD Link).
Happily married New York lawyer Dan Callagher has an affair with his colleague Alex, and the two enjoy a love weekend while Dan's wife and kid are away. But Alex will not let go of him, and she will stop at nothing to have him for herself. Just how far will she go to get what she wants?.
My previous rides had been Volkswagens (Scirroco, Rabbit GTI, Jetta, Jetta GLX, Passat, Jetta Sportwagen). You know, the perfectly respectable Anne Archer type of cars. Alex was my mid-life crisis, my hot, slightly-crazy fling. She made sure to set her claws deep.

This week my 30 month lease finally expired (has it really been three years, it seems like a couple of weeks.). Alex was returned to Austin BWM. I have a new 328i, a saucy, quick steering tart (unnamed so far). It feels exactly like 1978, when my girlfriend (GMF) graduated high school one year ahead of me, went off to college, and we had to break up. Who knows what would have happened... cue slow motion heart-break and life-long regret.

Someone in Austin is going to get a great car. The xDrive is not common (they have 24 used 328i model in inventory, and only Alex is a 328ix). The xDrive does not get the price premium that it does in WA. Maybe one of you Colorado snow-birds will take a look.

Her name is Alex, treat her nice, or treat her a bit rough, she will make you hers.