View Full Version : BMW Un4gettable Test Drive Event

07-01-2014, 10:26 PM
I guess I can now discuss this incredible event that was presented by BMW and hosted by my local BMW dealer. The event happened last month and it offered test drives of the new 4 Series coupes/convertibles against 3 or 4 of its competitors. I had never been to one of these events, so I jumped at the chance when I was invited. It was one of the greatest experiences in my life. I would rather participate in this kind of event than go to a sporting event. I just didn't want to leave. Even though it was an absolutely great experience, I also felt a bit of sadness as well (more on that later).

I arrived at the event and was surprised to see how busy it was. The dealer had to move most of his new and pre-owned cars to the back parking lot. Any kind of customer parking was also in the back. There was a bit of electricity in the air as I was whisked from sign-in booth to sign-in booth. For all of you tech geeks out there, the entire sign-in process was done on a touchscreen tablet. The only paper used was for the test drive sign-out. The guys and gals running the program were nice and relaxed. I was not pushed or rushed and was allowed to go at my own pace. Since I arrived early, they said I could get into any car that was not taken. So, this is when the test-drive fun began!

1) Audi A5 2.0T convertible - This was my first real introduction to the German way of doing electronics, controls and interiors. One of product specialists showed me how to start the car, turn on the radio, operate the windows, etc... After getting adjusted to most of the controls, I left the dealership. I could tell the car was front wheel drive pretty much right away and I could also tell that the body structure of the convertible wasn't the strongest. There was some flex in the body when I went over bumps and through turns, but I was impressed with how well the 2.0T moved. It wasn't sluggish at all. Overall, the car had a solid feel and the interior was nicely done - even if the controls were a little hard to understand at first. One cool feature was the tab on the center console that allowed the driver to raise or lower all the windows at the same time. I also was able to test the convertible top by raising and lowering it during the test drive. Overall, the car was impressive, but it had a few niggling deficiencies.

2) Cadillac CTS coupe - Right away, this car felt dated. Sitting there among the elegant German cars, it looked like the Batmobile. It was black with a black interior. Maybe I am more pre-conditioned to American cars, but this Cadillac seemed like a more expensive Chevrolet - in terms of material and build quality. The interior of the Cadillac was not in the same league as the Audi, but you could see where GM was paying attention to the German cars. Some of the controls and materials looked like they copied the Germans, but there was too much penny-pinching to bring the whole thing to the levels of the Germans. I will say the car's platform was more solid than the Audi (coupe vs. convertible I know), but the Cadillac was solid and had a very good platform. The V-6 engine had good power as well, but it didn't feel as smooth and effortless as the 2.0T in the Audi. The 6-speed automatic in the Cadillac had smooth shifts, but it didn't feel as advanced as the other cars. Again, I felt like I was driving a GM product instead of a world-class Cadillac. Overall, this car shows that GM is paying attention to the German competition, but more work needs to be done.

3) BMW 435i M-Sport convertible - Right away this car put a smile on my face. The convertible roof was down and the bright blue paint (Estoril Blue) looked great. The BMWs were the only cars to have the driving route entered into the navigation units (go figure), so I had a lady's voice telling me to "turn left at the next street", or "you have reached your destination". It was kind of neat since I've never experienced it before. The coolest thing, however, was that the street names/direction arrows were shown on the head up display. Not only were you able to see your speed, you also saw what the road looked like ahead and in what direction to make your turn.

Unlike the Audi convertible, this BMW convertible felt solid all around. There was no flex, cowl shake, etc... that I experienced in the Audi. The BMW 435i convertible is a hard-top convertible and it is a thing of beauty when it is in action. Like the Audi, you have to hold the tab until the whole mechanism is completed. And like the Audi, the car gives off a signal when all is done. To me, however, I think BMW did a little better job in this aspect as I knew exactly when the job was done. I wasn't quite sure if I had the top all the way up or down on the Audi.

On the road, the BMW 435i was the best driving car of the bunch. Keep it in Sport mode and hang on. The 3.0 Inline 6 turbo with the 8-speed automatic really moves. The Eco Pro mode is another story. It is best to use that mode while cruising. While driving the car, I thought to myself that BMW engineers thought of pretty much everything when it came to designing this car. When I returned the car, I had a grin from ear to ear. I didn't want to let it go.

4) BMW 428i Sport Line coupe - This car had the 2.0 4 cylinder turbo and 8-speed automatic. It was very similar to the 435i convertible except for the engine and body style. The equipment was pretty much the same, except this one had the "speed limit" detector. I could have had this feature on my car, but I thought it was a gimmick. I mean, you see speed limit signs when you drive, so why spend the money on this feature? Boy was I wrong. It works as advertised. The speed limit can be displayed either in the instrument cluster or on the head up display. This car had the head up display, so not only did I see my current speed; I also saw the speed limit posted right next to it. And when I drove into a different speed zone, the speed limit display automatically changed.

On the road, the 2.0 4-cylinder turbo moves. It is not as fast as the 3.0, but it is quick enough. In fact, I had to get out and check the trunk of the car to see if I had just test-driven the 435i coupe instead. There really wasn't that much of a difference between the two engines. This was another car that put a grin on my face.

5) Mercedes Benz C350 - After driving the BMWs, I really wasn't looking forward to the Mercedes. I figured the car would be slow and kind of cumbersome. But, this was my one and only chance to drive a Mercedes, so I got inside. Right away, you know the car is bank-vault solid. It felt heavier than the other cars, but it was solid. The interior materials were well done, but the controls were weird. It is like the Mercedes engineers had a different idea than anybody else in the world, and they thought they had the right way of doing it. The interior was black/gray and had more of a sporty nature to it. There was no wood, but lots of carbon fiber and aluminum trim.

The car had an exhaust note more in line with a Detroit V-8 instead of the German V-6 under the hood. The car also took charge on the roads and highways and the engine had a lot of power. It was like Mercedes was trying to tell the customer about its great racing heritage in this particular car. At the end of the day, I was impressed and surprised with the Mercedes. It didn't run or handle quite like the BMWs, but it wasn't that far behind. Personally, this wouldn't be the car for me, but I can understand why Mercedes has such a great reputation and following.

In the end, I ranked the cars as follows:

5) Cadillac CTS Coupe
4) Audi A5 2.0T Convertible
3) Mercedes C350 Coupe
2) BMW 428i Coupe
1) BMW 435i Convertible

This event left me with great joy and memories I will cherish for a very long time, but it also left me with a bit of sadness. For the first time in my life, I see just how far behind American cars are to the competition. Being that Cadillac is supposed to be America’s best and to see it left in the dust by the Germans was kind of depressing. Sure, Cadillac now has a new CTS and ATS that appear to be much improved, but it is going to take years before American consumers ( including myself) see Cadillac (and the American auto industry) as equals to the foreign competition. It’s just that the Germans seem to have this knack for building great automobiles. They are more elegant, more detailed, better engineered, more fun. Their passion for engineering and doing great work shines through with barely any effort. It takes “blood, sweat, tears, and an Act of Congress” for American car companies to bring something to market that barely competes. After experiencing this event, I now understand why so many people in the United States and around the world shun American cars for German (and even Japanese) cars. They just do it better than we do. In my opinion, all of the German cars in this event clearly outclassed the lone American car and it wasn’t really that close. That is a bitter pill to swallow for somebody that was raised in a “Buy American” household.