|777||Date: Saturday, 30 Oct 2010, 16.57 | Message # 1|
User ID: 777
Joined: 18 Oct 2010
|Talk about kids in a candy store: From bright blue M3s and a "hot chocolate" MINI to a silvery Rolls-Royce Ghost, BMW rolled out a jelly-bean assortment of cars to satisfy media cravings at New Jersey Motorsports Park. |
Row upon row of showroom-buffed BMWs made it easy to remember the go-go days, when it seemed like even the pool boy could afford a Bimmer. But even as BMW keeps one eye open toward a modest sales comeback this year -- it's hoping to reel in a 10 percent gain in 2010 -- its executives still see troubling factors that suggest car sales aren’t about to race out of the woods.
Richard Brekus, BMW's general manager for sales, said that the depressed housing market continues to impede BMW and other luxury brands. Brekus noted that there’s a 23-month supply of homes with $1 million-plus price tags. And with 23 percent of homeowners underwater on their mortgages, owing more than the homes are worth, you can strike a lot of those people from any list of potential luxury-car shoppers.
But since automakers can’t just hang a “Gone Fishin'” sign on their design studios, factories and showrooms, brands like BMW must keep the new cars coming, jealously guard their market share and hope to lure as many flush buyers as possible.
For BMW, the elegantly redesigned 2011 5-Series sedan is the critical piece of hardware to prop up sales this year. I drove both the 6-cylinder 535i and 550i V8 on the Lightning track (Thunder is the other course) at N.J. Motorsports, where the 5-Series delivered a sparkling performance. “Yep, still the best,” the 5-Series seemed to say as it navigated the twisty course, reassuring me that no deluxe midsize -- not the impressive new Infiniti M, not the Cadillac CTS, certainly not the Audi A6 or Mercedes E-Class -- combines luxury and sport as well as the 5-Series. And while the styling seems low-key to the point of conservative at first, you realize it’s born of pure confidence. This BMW doesn’t have to scream for attention, and the 5-Series’ return to its clean, classic, minimalist roots should make things tougher on its trendier competition. BMW is also readying a redesigned X3, the car that kicked off the booming compact luxury crossover class, and now faces a whole crew of new competitors: the Audi Q5, Mercedes GLK, Cadillac SRX and Volvo XC60.
The 400-horsepower M3, as you might expect, was the track king of the day, positively murdering the asphalt as I guided both sedan and coupe versions around the course. And for pure over-the-top silliness, there was the X6M and X5M, those 2.5-ton, 555-horsepower crossovers, which I love to drive despite the insanity of both their approach and their $90,000 price tags.
Aside from the new 5-Series, the most intriguing new packages were money-savers, at least in BMW terms. The 335is was a compelling tweener between your basic 3-Series and the mighty M3. With 330 horsepower from its twin-turbo inline six and subtle but useful upgrades to wheels, tires, suspension and brakes, the 335is actually ruined the 335i for me, as great as that car is. If you’re interested, that 335is costs $50,525 -- $7,000 more than the 335i with its single-turbo, 300-horsepower six. That sounds like a lot until you consider that the 335is also includes the 3-Series’ sport package, 19-inch wheels, a body kit and other key features that cost extra on the standard model. Add those in, and the 335is’ upgrades in power and handling cost closer to $3,000, making it a fair deal considering all the extras you get.
BMW couldn’t help pointing out that while sales of full-size luxury sedans have been hammered, the new 7-Series is already No. 1 in its class, outselling both the Mercedes S-Class and the far less costly Lexus LS 460 -- a big achievement for the 7-Series. Those sales can only be boosted by the new 740i version. For Americans, it’s the first 6-cylinder 7-Series sold here since 1992. The 3-liter turbocharged inline six engine, with “only” 300 horsepower, proved plenty to motivate the 7-Series. And the 7’s brilliant chassis and handling actually get a boost with that lighter, fast-revving engine aboard. Fuel economy jumps to a class-leading 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway, compared with 15/22 for the 750i with its twin-turbo V8. And starting at just over $71,000, the 740i costs nearly $12,000 less than the short-wheelbase 750i. Who knows, that 12 grand might be just enough to dry some rich folks’ tears and get them into a BMW showroom in 2010.
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