BMW enjoys vast reservoirs of consumer goodwill. How else can you explain the German automaker’s ability to flourish despite recent engineering and design faux pas? General Motors would have been a lot further along in its death spiral if it had introduced indigestible shapes, indelicate Bangle butts, interminable run-hard tires, unfathomable iDrive and the ubearable SMG transmission. And so, the M3. Does the new M3 Coupe restore the roundel’s rep, or does it signal another misguided attempt to perpetuate the ultimate driving “lifestyle?”
Posts By: Jay Shoemaker
I flew into Los Angeles with aspirations of driving something powerful; I had visions of some mighty motor displacing six liters or more. Anything with the letters AMG on the back would have suited me just fine. Instead I was staring at a gigantic Mercedes GL 320 CDI. That's CDI as in "diesel." I reckoned it was going to be a long drive to San Diego. I reckoned wrong.
I made my first pilgrimage to AMG in 2001. Arriving unannounced, I was relegated to longing stares through a chain link fence at rows of serious looking automobiles. I eventually bought an SL55 AMG. I loved its ability to terrify unsuspecting passengers. But it always struck me as an engine in search of a chassis. And better steering. And brakes. In fact, it was a steroid injected boulevardier. And now, the SL63 AMG.
In Michelangelo Antonioni's film "Blow Up," Thomas (David Hemming) watches a rock guitarist smash his ax and toss the remnants into the audience. Caught up in the spirit of the moment, Thomas joins the scrum scrambling for a piece of the dead guitar. He grabs the lion's share and runs away. Dozens of fans give chase, attempting to wrest the prize from his grasp. Finally, Thomas is clear of the crowd. Alone with his treasure, he contemplates his booty– and then casually tosses it into a nearby trash can. Nissan GTR anyone?
Thanks to modern speed enforcement, the idea of leaping large continents in a hugely fast, spectacularly comfortable car has become something of a quaint notion. And yet, upscale manufacturers still compete to build the ultimate GT (Gran Turismo). Reflecting the concept’s European origins, the short list of candidates for this honor all originate on the other side of the pond: the Mercedes CL63, Bentley Continental GT, Aston Martin DB9, BMW 650, Jaguar XKR and the Maserati GT. Having owned or reviewed all but the new Maserati, I decided to see if the mad Italian has what it takes to trump its continental cousins.
I really want a Mercedes Black Series AMG. It’s a practical, sharp looking car, and nothing clears my head like Saturn V quality thrust. But my spouse’s desire to share her dotage with yours truly conspires against it. So, after driving a BMW 6-Series and finding it a bit… sclerotic, I wandered over to my local Audi dealer in search of something slinkier and kinkier. And there she was: a brand new S5 coupe on the showroom floor, shooting me come hither glances. So thither I went. Ah, but did I tarry long enough to take possession of Ingolstadt’s two-door Q-ship?
Journalists on this site have complained about how ugly and technologically complex recent BMWs have become. To that list I would also add a jarring ride, an overly aggressive throttle tip-in and jerky transmissions. Don’t get me wrong. In the main, the propeller people’s products still do exactly what it says on the tin: ultimate driving. But these defects make it difficult to drive most Bimmers smoothly, as one can an equivalent Mercedes, Audi or Cadillac (CTS). So when my BMW buddy nagged me to check out the 2008 650i coupe, I wondered: why bother?
My co-pilot sat motionless, stupefied from the previous night's revelry. Strangely, this poor fellow thought I could be trusted not to challenge Alka-Seltzer's restorative powers. I allowed him the luxury of this delusion all the way from the hotel to the highway. And then I floored it. The CLK Black Series' engine bellowed WAKE UP FOOL! The uber-bad Benz' back end quivered from side to side. The traction control light sent a steady stream of Morse code through first, second and third gear. The ten second wake-up call placed us well north of 100 mph. The jobbing journo groaned his disapproval. God I love this work!
Mass, what mass? As I hurled 4500 lbs. of rippled and flared German steel through a long, sweeping, belt-cinching corner, I felt like I was playing a driving simulation. Thanks to its improved active body controls, the Mercedes Benz CL63 AMG remained absurdly unaffected by the enormous lateral g-forces generated by its gyrations. Lacking suitable anti-gravity aids, my passenger and I were thrown towards the outer radius of the turn, welded to the CL63’s seat bolsters. Now that’s what I call fun.
Back in the day, BMW didn’t exactly pander to its customers. We build, you buy. Life is life. As BMW’s fortunes and model lines expanded, options appeared. But the German carmaker never quite outgrew its
arrogance stubborn streak. You want a 7-Series without iDrive? Not possible. Don’t like run-flats on your 3-Series? Go and buy what tires you like. Use the word “vagina” in a review? No press cars for you Schätze. Thankfully, you can circumvent the iDrive in the new 535i and run flats are now optional. Is this the harbinger of a kindler, gentler 5-Series?
My wife struggles with two automotive tasks: finding her destination and maneuvering the car into a parking space. (Locating a parking space is another issue, but why make her sound any more spatially challenged than she is?) The only voice my wife follows without question emanates from her car’s navigation system. So, issue number one sorted. Until now, she has endured her parking problem by opting for garages or HUGE spots. When she heard about the Lexus LS’ new automated parking system, she sent me to the dealer to check it out.
Global warming. Some consumers consider hybrids the responsible response. Others are busy taking one last toke on the tailpipe of extravagance. Pistonheads, have I got a bong for you! After accelerating Porsche's 2.5 ton brick to 60mph in less than five seconds, I can only conclude that you NEED a Cayenne Turbo– if only to outrun the Earth Day crowd tossing rocks at your windows. The Turbo is pointless and politically incorrect and you better get one now before all the oil and clean air are gone forever.