Saturday, October 09, 2010

Model bloat and the BMW 535i

The 2011 BMW 535i (F10) is an extraordinary car.  It's fast, sporty, and luxurious.  If I won it on The Price Is Right, I would gladly take the keyless fob.  But...

I pine for a simpler, lighter car.

I close the door to the 535i and sit in the cockpit.  I immediately notice the whine of the little electric motor to my left.  It's the "soft close" door, which makes sure the door is properly closed.  There are, of course, four of them in this car.

The driver's seat is snug.  Everything is close to me, almost hugs me.  It's very communicative and driver-oriented.  A true cockpit.  Then, I am overwhelmed by the buttons, controls, hard-to-decipher icons, and high resolution screens in front of me.  Despite the sterile yet calming leather and wood trim, my mind is on overload.  It takes me more than a minute to figure out how to operate the toggle transmission lever and put the car in reverse.  The transmission, by the way, has EIGHT forward speeds (and five clutches).

I understand that cars are a lot safer now.  They not only help in avoiding accidents, but they also reduce injuries when you crash.  But just look at the progression-- in power, weight, and roominess-- of 535i's through the ages:

* I'm not so sure about the E28's cargo volume.  I had to convert it from a metric stat (160 liters).

Notice the trends:

  • Power has increased by about 50% since the E28.
  • The car has become slightly faster over the decades.
  • The F10's wheelbase is more than a FOOT longer than the E28's.
  • Interior room is for the most part unchanged; and rear legroom is still nothing to brag about.
  • The F10 is more than 1,000 pounds (half a TON) heavier than the E28.

We are over-coddled.  There are simply too many performance sapping, and unnecessary, comfort features now.  Imagine what the E28 would be like if it had a 300 horsepower engine.  I'm not asking BMW to bring back the E28, but what if we just added stability control and maybe ten airbags to a 3,200 pound car?  

Modern sports sedans need to go on a diet.  Just think of the newfound agility (and improved fuel economy) that would be possible.

F10 photos via Autoblog.


Edvin said...

Interesting stuff. I too once compared E34, E39 and E60 525/523 models in terms of power, weight, acceleration and average fuel consumption. I found the differences a lot smaller. I think it may have to do with European/US spec differences. We tend to get a lot less standard equipment, whereas yours are usually fully loaded. Still, I'd happily take an F10 as a daily driver, although I really like the older ones. That F10 is huge in real life, sometimes when I see one I can't tell whether it's an F10 or an F01 7-series.

I did the comparison again quickly, just out of interest. Every car here is a 2,5 liter straight six (even the 523's). Sorry, couldn't be bothered to convert the weight and consumption into US units. Fuel consumption is combined consumption in liters per 100km.

E34 525i M20

E34 525i M50

E39 523i 170hp

E39 525i 192hp

E60 523i 175hp

E60 525i 192hp

Maxichamp said...

@Edvin. The Mercs and BMWs offered here definitely have a luxury bent to them. The engines are larger and have a lot more equipment.

Every time I see the new 5 series, I confuse it with the 7. They look so much alike and they're both huge.

Edvin said...

Yeah, my current daily driver would be quite rare in the US. An E38 728i with a cloth interior, manual transmission, no onboard computer, manual AC etc.. :) Most American E38's seem to be fully loaded 740's or 750's.

Maxichamp said...

@Edvin: Yeah, my former boss had an E38 740i. It was definitely a car for the successful executive. 4.4 liter V8, leather everything. Power and automatic everything. And, that was the bottom of the rung (cheapest) E38 sold in America. You can pay more and get a 740iL, 750i, or 750iL.

Alan said...

Imagine a light weight, less complex car with modern safety gear, engine and transmission technology combined with variable-viscosity magnetic dampers (with no stupid driver-adjusted modes!). You'd have a comfy, quiet sedan that handled like an Elise and got 40 MPG while scooting to 60 in under 5 seconds.

I for one would gladly sacrifice radar-controlled, refrigerated massaging cupholders for that.

midelectric said...

These are cars to lease for 3 years and then forget about. The poor sap who buys a used one will get completely soaked by maintenance and repair costs trying to keep all the systems running like they should, provided the techs can even figure out what the problem is.

After 10 years I predict they'll be useless as the replacement costs for failed computers and simply the shear numbers of parts that can break will make them unmaintainable. Not to pick on the BMW, I think the situation will be the same for most contemporary high end autos.