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|05-17-2010, 06:36 AM||#1|
Jeremy Clarkson's BMW 535i SE Review
Most right-thinking people know that when all the oil has finally been spilt into the Gulf of Mexico, the world will turn to hydrogen for salvation. But right now hydrogen is complicated to use, difficult to distribute and expensive to make.
Much work needs to be done before it’s viable, but the green-eyed monster won’t wait. The green-eyed monster is impatient. It wants results now. So all car makers — even Ferrari — are being forced to adopt the short-term solution of hybrid technology. That means using a conventional engine to charge the batteries, which power a second motor that runs on electricity.
I know, I know, it’s stupid and wasteful, but I don’t make the rules. That’s the job of the green-eyed monster.
We’ve seen this before, of course, and not that long ago. Back in the Eighties, when Mrs Thatcher invented climate change as a weapon to fight the coal industry, the monster clamored for catalytic converters to become law.
Ford and other car makers argued that given time they could make lean-burn technology work — engines that run almost entirely on air. But the monster wouldn’t wait. “No,” it shrieked. “You must stop carbon monoxide coming out of the exhaust pipe NOW!!!! It is making people in Birmingham stupid.”
So lean-burn research was abandoned and, with sagging shoulders, the car industry raped the world of all its platinum and shoved it up the exhaust pipes of all its cars.
Of course, it worked. Except that what a catalytic converter does is turn carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide. And the green-eyed monster has decided that this is the new peril. “You must stop with the carbon dioxide,” it shrieks. “It is killing all the polar bears, so you must make hybrids.”
Frankly, I’m surprised the car industry doesn’t just tell the monster to get lost but, deep down, I am beginning to suspect the engineers are secretly quite pleased that they’ve been given something to do.
Think about it. Ever since the Austin Seven laid out the basic template for what would become the modern car, everyone has known that there should be a wheel at each corner and an engine that mixes fuel and air, blows it up and ejects the waste gases. There’s only so much you can do, given those essential parameters.
It’s not like the delivery of music, where you have to replace your entire collection every 15 minutes. There’s been no cassette or eight-track or Mpeg moment in the car industry. Jenkins from Drivetrain Projects may complain about that as much as he likes — “Oh but sir ... can’t I use crystals and lemons and have nine wheels all on one side?” But he’ll always get the same reply. “Don’t be stupid, boy. Wheel at each corner; engine that sucks, squeezes, bangs and blows. Same as usual.”
Hybrid power is horrific, unimaginative, short-term, blinkered nonsense but it will unlock the creative juices in Jenkins and, to be selfish for a moment, give motoring journalists something interesting to write about for a change.
Let us take the BMW 535i as a classic example of the problem. The seats are pretty much perfect: they’re not too hard and not too soft and the side bolsters don’t dig into your kidneys but do provide just the right amount of support in the corners.
Then you have the engine. It may say 535 on the back but — probably because BMW’s marketing people wanted to experiment — it doesn’t actually have a 3.5-litre engine as you’d expect. It’s a turbocharged 3-litre six and it’s wonderful. Creamy smooth, powerful and as economical as can be: just what you’d expect, really, from a company that’s been doing the same thing over and over since Douglas Bader forced it to rethink its aircraft business.
Perhaps the most impressive part of this new car is the ride-and-handling compromise. It’s very difficult to make a big, heavy car such as this handle well and ride over bumps comfortably. In the same way as it’s very difficult to do a Fosbury flop. But if you practice enough ...
And, boy, have those Bee Em boffins been practicing. Frankly, it’s hard to see how on earth it could be better, short of replacing the wheels with a Maglev system. I don’t know what that is either. It just sounds good.
Styling? Well, recently, under the stewardship of a chap called Chris Bangle, BMW did try to be different and do something new. Nobody liked its effort all that much so the new car is far more conventional. That said, the view down the bonnet is delightful. Most bonnets rise in the middle to hint at great power beneath — for an example of this, see the E-type Jag or David Beckham in those underpants commercials.
But the bonnet on the new 5-series dips. That should send out the message that it has nothing in its trousers. And yet it doesn’t. It looks elegant. Certainly, it is more elegant than Merc’s attempts to be different with the E-class. Those sculpted rear wheelarches just look silly.
See the problem here? Cars are now so bloody good and so well thought out that all there is to write about is a dipping bonnet or a crease in the rear wing.
And when it comes to finding fault? My God, you have to be picky. In the 5-series, I’m reduced to complaining that if I set the steering wheel where I like it, fully back and as high as possible, I can’t see the “range” read-out on the dash. Oh, and the electronic gearlever is a bit of a fiddle. Until you get used to it, which takes about three seconds.
In terms of electronics, there are some new things on the 5-series that I ought to mention. It has something called “efficient dynamics”, which is another way of saying, “We were bored.”
What it does varies from model to model, but on mine energy was taken from the brakes and put into the battery. Wow. That must increase the mpg figure by at least 0.00001. In addition, I had active steering (a £1,300 option) and DSC+, which includes ASC, CBC, DBC, DTC, EBD and a hairdryer on the brakes.
It also has a sat nav screen that shows a satellite view of the terrain through which you are driving. Some of my colleagues in the business have shown how desperate they are for something to say by claiming: “It’s a bit far away.” Far away from what, I wonder. The moon?
I like most of the gadgets. There are optional cameras that show you views from all around the car when you’re parking. Why? No idea. And there’s an equally optional head-up display, which, so far as I can see, is useful only in court. “Well you see, m’lud. I didn’t see the old lady because she was hidden behind my speedometer.”
This, I suppose, is the price we pay for messing around with a fundamental principle that’s been shown to work. If you start to get adventurous, you’re going to end up with a problem. That’s fine for motoring journalists — I certainly enjoyed tearing the dreadful BMW X1 apart recently — but for everyone else? No.
That’s going to be the future with hybrids. Lots of new stuff. Lots of new issues. And for what? So that the green-eyed monster can come along in five minutes and say, “No. You can’t have hybrids. They cause acid rain.” Which they do, incidentally.
So, if you have the wherewithal, I suggest you buy a 5-series. It’s the absolute best of absolutely everything we know. Unless you want a Jag, of course, because that is as well.
Clarkson’s verdict: basically, it’s a very, very good Austin Seven
BMW 535i SE
Engine 2979cc, six cylinders
Power 306bhp @ 5800rpm
Torque 295 lb ft @ 1200rpm
Transmission Eight-speed auto
Acceleration 0-62mph: 6.1sec
Top speed 155mph
CO2 195g/km Tax band J (£425 for first year)
Release date On sale now
Source - http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/dri...cle7125818.ece
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