Thursday, October 30, 2014

Eco-Progression: Driving the BMW 320i ED

 photo P1180353_500.jpg So it seems the price of crude oil has been falling steadily for the past few months as US oil outputs hit their highest point in decades. With so much of the black stuff swirling around, you'd sort of imagine that prices of pump gas would be going down to their lowest point in decades too right? Unfortunately while that may be true for some countries, here in sunny Singapore, after a whole mish-mash of number crunching and plenty of fairy-dust, prices for premium unleaded still sit around levels when black was gold and politicians were running around telling everyone planet Earth was almost depleted of vintage dinosaur juice.  photo P1180379_500.jpg If fuel economy (and what was mentioned above) is of concern, than it looks like one of BMW's latest offerings in the 3-Series stable is tailored just for you. It's called the 320i ED and no, this car is not called Edward. ED here stands for Efficient Dynamics, BMW speak for well, efficiency and dynamism. Featuring a selection of little tweaks to give you more go for your dough. The 320i ED sits 10mm lower that standard cars, comes with some "streamline style" wheels that even though look somewhat small, help to move air around better and is shod with reduced rolling resistance (runflat) tires.  photo P1180337_500.jpg Coupling those tweaks with additional engine management optimization means ED starts of each drive in ECO-PRO mode where urgency gives way to frugality. Throttle response is dulled and gear shift points adjusted for maximum efficiency. These changes combined help make the 320i ED the most efficient premium car of its class

BMW claims each liter of fuel will move you 18.5 kilometers and even after we discount 20% off the manufacturer's claims (to 14.8km/liter), it remains a rather impressive number.  photo P1180364_500.jpg Inside the car, all the familiar 3 Series bits are here. Everything is where it should be and with BMW's signature ergonomics in play, getting in, setting up your optimal driving position and moving off becomes second nature. With the keys of ED handed to me for a day, i used it how it would most likely be used by potential owners. Driving from home to work in the mornings and back home thereafter. Mostly because it was a work day and spending an afternoon out hooning the car is frowned upon.

A short disclaimer first, i was given the keys prior to reading any of the press material, which meant i did not know what was under the bonnet. I pretty much assumed it was either a 2.0 or maybe a 1.8 by looking at the badge, initial driving impressions also did not make me think otherwise. So a bit hat tip to the engineers at BMW when i finally read the spec sheets and learned what sat under the bonnet was in fact, a 1.6. Twin-scroll charged to deliver 170hp and 250Nm of torques from just above idle at 1,500rpms through to 4,500rpms. 0-100 comes up in 7.6 seconds.  photo P1180368_500.jpg For a car that is "resolutely oriented towards a highly-consistent reduction in fuel consumption", those are pretty good numbers. Numbers that just one generation ago, required a 2.5 6 cylinder-ed 323i to achieve. Such is progress. Unfortunately the trade of for this engineering excellence is that again, due to our strange local regulations, having a high power output from a small engine means it gets bumped up into a higher taxation bracket.

Through high speed bends at moderately enthusiastic speeds, the car remains balanced, composed and controllable, if a little vague in feel from the still direct steering. The car might have been tuned for comfort and economy but it retains BMW's underlying driver-oriented damping under layers of bump absorbing suspension travel. Selecting Sport mode allows for a slightly sharper throttle and keeps the engine in the power-band, allowing for a nice bit of poke on the exits. You can sense the limits are slightly lower due to the economy-biased tires, they do a overall good job of keeping the car feeling neutral most of the time but i suspect will scrub wide when pushed into territory that owners will probably not venture into.  photo P1180361_500.jpg Discounting our local regulation and taxation bugbears, the release of the 320i ED has shown that one doesn't need to be a heavy drinker to have a little bit of fun.

The new BMW 320i EfficientDynamics is available for viewing at Performance Motors’ showroom.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Cookies For Breakfast

 photo DSC04460.jpg We had another casual Saturday morning breakfast meet over the weekend and on that morning, it was ze Germans that dominated the small kopitiam gathering. And by Ze Germans, i mean, Ze Porsches.  photo DSC04567.jpg  photo DSC04568.jpg Though i might have (so so sadly) missed the old school 911 boat a couple of years ago (still kicking myself), not being able to buy one today does not mean my appreciation for these German Fräuleins has abated.  photo DSC04576.jpg  photo DSC04575.jpg Especially not one that wears some funky Cookie cutters! Funny how these now look cool after being ignored for so many years.  photo DSC04447.jpg I know Magnus Walker says the perfect starter 911 is an SC, but i'm pretty sure Magnus hasn't see Singapore's car prices yet.  photo DSC04454.jpg Although you can insert his voice here, "Patina".  photo DSC04506.jpg The early green 911 we previously drooled over at Cars & Kopi a few weeks back.  photo DSC04489.jpg  photo DSC04513.jpg Fo'sure.  photo DSC04537.jpg With a Copen parked up in front, it's amazing how close in external dimensions they are. The Copen's still smaller of course, but only slightly.  photo DSC04563.jpg  photo DSC04564.jpg  photo DSC04463.jpg Beautifully rebuilt 930.  photo DSC04500.jpg  photo DSC04476.jpg The colors of our weekend morning.  photo DSC04480.jpg Generational gap.  photo DSC04543.jpg Badass GT2 dripping with red hot attitude.  photo DSC04551.jpg A well rounded curvaceous rear end. She's all about that bass 'Bout that bass, no treble.  photo DSC04598.jpg  photo DSC04585.jpg JDMs were clearly outnumbered this morning but no fooling around with the President in attendance.  photo DSC04624.jpg Still such a good looker.  photo DSC04604.jpg And finishing off with a borrowed 435i droptop.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Random Shot: Svelte Series I

 photo lotii.jpg Spotted this lovely in white Series I Elise whilst picking up a car from Performance Motors.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Return of the Phoenix: Driving the BMW M4

 photo P1180290.jpg For all its innumerable firsts, the new BMW M4 also marks the return of 2 key elements i am sure most of you would have already heard of or seen by now. The return of the Straight-Six (albeit now equipped with Twin Turbochargers), and that color. In BMW speak, it is now called Austin Yellow and although there might be some slight variances to its makeup, this shade is unmistakably reminiscent of BMW's fabled Phoenix Yellow. Like the mythical creature that reignites itself back to life, this new M-car rises up from the foundations of its predecessor with more youthful vigor and power than ever before, and in the process, is proudly christened with the M4 badge for the very first time.  photo P1180287_L.jpg Although re-badging the M3 Coupe might at first sound sacrilegious to fans of the marque, this move sits in line with BMW's recent shift in naming policy. What has not changed though is this remains BMW M's most popular sports coupe, and it comes with the credentials to prove it. 425 angry horses and 550Nm of torques lie dormant under the cover of a "down sized" 3-liter Straight-Six, keen to spool up its Twin-Turbos and so very eager to lay waste to some very expensive rubber.  photo P1180292.jpg Visually, there is no mistaking it for any other car in BMW's stable when painted in this hue. Unfortunately, this color remains a love/hate affair for me. Stunning to look at in pictures and dazzling under the showroom floors, it might be distinctive, but at times, it does come across as a little bit flash. Our test car also came accented with some dark chrome wheels which upped the visual aggression factor by quite a notch. If you are the sort of person who doesn't mind the attention at traffic stops, then perfect. But i'm not sure if this is the color i'd go for if i was to drop a big chunk of my hard earned coin for.  photo P1180269.jpg Apart from the bright paint, the rest of the bodywork has received the standard modern day M-Division cosmetic enhancements, with bulges and arches pulled aggressively over the generously sized wheels and M badges liberally applied both on the exterior as well as the interior. Along the sides, the 4-Series' Beemerangs have been replaced by a set of deeper cut outlet vents that swipe across along the entire length of the car aft of the doors.  photo P1180266.jpg  photo P1180263.jpg With cooling becoming a higher priority due to the nature of forced induction engines, large intake gaps now feature prominently up front and the end effect is a game face that easily parts traffic. Presence, this car has it. On the M3 Sedans, the widened stance is even more pronounced.  photo P1180256.jpg  photo P1180277.jpg Though the M4 might look imposing and hunkered down, extensive use of lightweight materials have brought overall weight down 80kgs from the M3s that came before. Even the boot lid uses SMC plastic over a carbon frame as part of the weight saving program.  photo DSC04376.jpg Inside, the first thing that you will first notice is, yes, the seat emblems light up.  photo P1180272.jpg  photo DSC04310.jpg Apart from the blingy seats which are in fact, extremely comfortable and supportive, everything else inside is of a high-spec leather-wrapped BMW no nonsense business class standard. Controls fall into place logically and the most important bits of information will be relayed to you via the lovely heads-up display.  photo DSC04440.jpg The most noticeable difference here is of course along the central tunnel where the stubby gear knob sits, flanked by a series of buttons and switches controlling throttle response, suspension setups, steering weight and how aggressive would Sir like his gearshifts to be. These life-altering settings can also be saved into 2 preset "M" mode settings which can then be brought back online with some very easy to reach buttons on the squishy steering wheel.  photo P1180270.jpg  photo DSC04433.jpg Thumb the starter button and the engine erupts into life with a cackling bark before settling into a baritone idle. There might no longer be a rumbling V8 under the bonnet, those who fear the M3 and M4 duo might have lost bits of their soul in the pursuit of turbo-charged power can rest easy. This car can sing it's own tune loud and proud. Thumbing either of the M buttons on the steering opens up some trick valves in the exhaust system and brings up the volume up to 11, for those times when you just want to wake up the neighbours.  photo P1180281.jpg On the move in regular traffic with the suspension in comfort, the M4 soaks up road imperfections well while maintaining a firm but comfortable ride characteristic. Coupled with a juicy amount of torque available down the rev range makes the car very drivable in everyday traffic. The gearbox might feel a little clunky in stop-start traffic but it's response and speed in swapping cogs once on the move alleviates any previous thoughts of it being inadequate in any way.

Initial thoughts after a drive point to the new M4 being a more refined and maybe even, relaxed car to drive around town in. Granted the steering might be a little bit heavy at times but overall, it feels slightly less high-strung than it's V8 predecessor. This is no cause for worry because once you come across a series of empty tight twisty roads and bring up either of 2 preset M modes, that M could very well mean magic.  photo DSC04374.jpg  photo DSC04387.jpg With the hammer dropped, the century sprint arrives in a scant 4.1 seconds. And through long high speed curves, the M4 remains composed and planted eager to push harder and faster. The absolute limits of this car are easily out of reach for mere mortals like me but the joy of driving the M4 is how playful and balanced the car is when responding to driver inputs and directional changes at levels that sit well within the capabilities of normal drivers like yours truly.

Big CCBs (Carbon Ceramic Brakes) shave of speed without fuss nor fade and with a wide spread of power at your disposal, each new corner arrives as quickly as the previous gets dispatched. It gets very addictive and you start gaining the confidence to put down the power earlier through each bend until the traction control systems kick in to hold the car steadfastly on the line, saving you (and the machine) from yourself and a massively embarrassing situation.

This car inspires one to just keep pushing on and while it might feel a little sedated in traffic, totally comes alive when freed from the confines of the concrete jungles.  photo DSC04368.jpg There have been many youtube videos showing this car thrown through corners with smoke billowing from the rear wheels and the drivers peering out at the road through the side windows. While that does make for a very entertaining show, the reality is that for most of us who value the safety of our license and the car, turning off traction control on public roads is not a particularly wise thing to do. But if or when you do find a nice big empty piece of tarmac to wander beyond the limits of grip, it comes as a pleasant surprise how not-very-difficult it is to man-handle over 400 sliding horses.

The mechanical magic here comes in the form of BMW's trick Active M Differential, which when hooked up to gobfuls of torque from the engine, allows one to adjust the pivoting angle of the car by applying varying degrees of throttle movement. This car just wants to dance and it lets you have fun leaning on it while learning to control its rhythm, balance and poise.  photo DSC04365.jpg  photo P1180245.jpg Absolutely mega in execution, beautiful to drive under control and uncanny in how well behaved it remains when that control is breached. This Phoenix is reborn, and ready to reign once again.