Monday, May 4, 2009

2009 BMW 1-series

After reading this review of the 2009 BMW 1-series coupe on's Auto section, I'm scratching my head. What, exactly, is wrong with this vehicle? The reviewer attempts to explain but loses me:

The price. Our 128i started with a MSRP of $29,200, plus a destination charge of $825. If you could stop there, we could see this as an entry-level sports coupe. However, an array of ``normal'' BMW options pushed the final price to $41,345. We had the Sport package ($1,300), Premium Package ($3,700), Steptronic with paddles ($1,425), Xenon headlights ($800), and Navigation system ($2,100) as the major add-ons. For comparison, a comparable 3-Series has a base price of $33,600 and would be about $45,500 similarly equipped.

The two-part starting "system" is pretentious. Push the key fob into the dash, and then hit the start/stop button. How about reverting to turnkey vehicles?

The cup holders. There's a big one – MINI-style – on the passenger side and another tucked half under the center armrest. It's a bit on the sparse side for Mrs. G who's inclined to embark on a three-hour morning trip with hot tea, Diet Coke and a bottle of water, almost always guaranteeing a pit stop.

Talk about nitpicking...

So my understand after reading his review is that "it drove just great, but man, they need to give me more cup holders, give me the car for less money, and give me more rear seat room in the smallest BMW ever sold that had a rear seat in the first place". Sounds like this reviewer is asking a bit too much out of what's supposed to be not an entry-level luxury car, but a small, sporty coupe that harkens back to the 3-series of the past.

And that's just the problem with this vehicle, isn't it? Positioning.

The 1-series follows in the footsteps of the redesigned 3-series - bigger, wider, and more luxurious than the 3-series vehicles that defined a genre, especially in the early - then late - 1990s. Those cars were sports cars first, sports sedans second - the suspension & handling were perfect for a true driver's car. Then BMW realized at redesign in 2006 that they had millions of potential 3-series buyers and it was BMW's top-selling car stateside. I won't go so far as to say that BMW "sold out" by making the 3-series more consumer friendly, but there was definitely a niche that was vacated when the new 3-series came out. Thus, the 1-series - which delivers, apparently, in all aspects of what 3-series loyalists want that car to be, even today.

Back to the review, cup holders and iPod adapters simply aren't standard equipment in Germany, so they can't be standard equipment here. Not every Benz and BMW that rolls off the factory line in Germany is supposed to be a "luxury car" the way we define it here - piled to the top with electronic gizmos, cup holders, etc. - basically the "living room on wheels for people who kinda like to drive sometimes" mentality we have here in the US. Lexus & Acura, by contrast, made luxury vehicles strictly for the American market, and they were supposed to sit on the same chassis as Camry & Accord vehicles, but deliver in better handling and luxury options. This is more of a history lesson than a car review, but the lesson is that German luxury cars will always require more options to make an equally equipped Lexus. And personally, I'd rather pay more & drive the German car than the Lexus or Acura, after owning & driving all types & realizing that you're paying for a true autobahn-capable vehicle no matter what model you buy (1-series, C-class, S-class, 5-series - even VW Passat).

German cars will always take this kind of heat from reviewers because of the "you get more by paying less" attitude the media maintains toward Japanse counterparts. Still, the 1-series seems to be doing quite well in filling the niche left behind by the current-gen 3-series: a true driver's car that will transport two - and maybe 3, sometimes - adults very comfortably while having that basic, sports-like feel on the interior (a couple cup holders, maybe a fancy stereo if you're willing to pay for it). You're supposed to enjoy driving this car, that's the message BMW is sending, even if it doesn't translate well here in the US.

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