BMW. The Roundel brand. Munich’s contribution to automotive history.
Rarely do I get to drive one for review. That was taken care of last year with the 330i. One with an affordable level of equipment that invites one to become one with the Roundel.
As I rarely work with BMW and their vehicles, there is one way to get that experience driving the Roundel badge for this work – their Ultimate Driving Experience tour.
Let me put this in context: Two years ago, BMW held their Ultimate Driving Experience at Canterbury Park in Shakopee. For their post-shutdown edition, they brought their event to the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. It was an appropriate venue as it was the home of this year’s Twin Cities Auto Show.
Probably to make up for not having their display up on Machinery Hill, BMW gave you three experiences for you to see what the brand has been up to for 2021 – and the future.
One thing off the bat, I have recognize an important piece of this brand. To fully get the modern BMW experience, you have to add another letter to the mix.
M stands for Motorsport. It is the performance sub-brand that means business on the track and among enthusiast circles. If you want your BMW on par as the Ultimate Driving Machine, you better add something with the letter M to your vehicle.
Almost everything I drove had the M badge on it. While it is expected that it should be sportier than a normal BMW, does it make every vehicle “better?”
On the autocross track – there were three of them, and you were assigned to a particular course – one vehicle demonstrated how the letter M makes a BMW better is the M440i. This is the new generation of the 3-Series-based coupe that is coming onto its own. There is clearly a distinct driving experience in this new 4-Series and it is very refreshing.
A couple of laps on the autocross circuit revealed a coupe that can do no wrong. The M440i’s, 382-horsepower 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine provided the perfect power band for this course. The handling was flat with the right weight on the steering in Sport mode. The xDrive all-wheel-drive system kept the M440i in check when going through the course.
I have to admit, I really like the M440i. Let alone the new 4-Series. I almost forgave the new nose with the vertical kidney grilles. Then again, I was too busy trying to ace the course to even consider it.
Yet, I walked away from my initial laps starting a mental comparison to another great coupe that I autocrossed recently – the Lexus RC F. After a couple of weeks of mental wrangling, I had to conclude that while the RC F had more power from a naturally-aspirated V8, the turbocharged six-cylinder in the 4-Series certainly held its own. Yet, they both felt the same. They were heavy – over 3,900 pounds, yet the RC F is 69 pounds lighter – but both can be pointed where you want it to be.
Another cool experience that was pretty neat was a drag race between a 330i and a similarly-equipped 330e. This comparison was to demonstrate the off-line performance of the plug-in hybrid version of the 3-Series to the normal 2.0-liter turbocharged engine.
The result was not surprising to me, as the 330e laid down more torque at the start, causing some wheel spin. It also held its own at the end against then 330i. This was just because of the low-end torque from the electric motor. You can say that the combined horsepower from the plug-in hybrid kept the 330e going with the throttle down.
My main concern about the 330e is the electric-only range. On the xDrive model, you can only get 20 miles on a full battery. I’m sure you will agree that it needs more range. On the plus side, you can order your 330e with the M Sport package for the ultimate in guilt-free driving.
Part of the Ultimate Driving Experience is to show you the future of BMW. They had a static display of the upcoming iX SAV (that’s BMW talk for SUV). The one they presented to us at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds sort of reminded me of the Marvel Comics superhero Deadpool. Sorry, BMW, but you will receive plenty of ridicule for iX’s design.
Speaking of SAVs, I rounded out my Ultimate Driving Experience with a street drive in two of their models, plus a version of their flagship sedan – the 7-Series. The street drives were set in the neighborhoods of Roseville, Falcon Heights, an St. Paul within blocks of the fairgrounds. You also had some fairgrounds driving, as well.
The first of the SAVs I drove was an X7 M50i. This twin-turbocharged V8 version was to give you the sensation of an M vehicle with the luxury you expect from an X7. Yes on both counts, but something was missing. It drove quite well and offered both a sporty and a tame experience. Yet, the seats felt a bit flat and I was hoping for a lot more feedback from its overall driving dynamics.
The next model I experienced was the 745e xDrive with an M Sport package. I have driven the current generation of the 7-Series a few years ago in its M760i guise. This flagship sedan did not feel special enough to combine its flagship status with the M Sport upgrade. Perhaps it was the plug-in hybrid driveline, combined with the in-line six-cylinder engine.
Also, can we talk about the oversized kidney grilles on the 7-Series? It just did not help its cause when they’re even blacked out.
I did one vehicle I enjoyed driving on the street course. The newest X3 was a much better than I expected it. Having been around the last generation model, I saw marked improvements on this X3 xDrive30i with the M Sport package in terms of ease of operation, driving dynamics, and comfort. After a couple of times knocking it for its quality, the X3 is actually a really wonderful vehicle.
What have I learned from this year’s Ultimate Driving Experience? The letter M still means something to BMW enthusiasts and the Bavarians are willing to give you everything that letter stands for. BMW is also doubling down on electrified vehicles, and there’s no stopping them now. The vertical kidney grilles are here to stay, whether we like them or not.
In all, BMW has a lineup of vehicles that will fit your lifestyle and level of enthusiasm. Pick the right one, and you will be rewarded. Just as long as the letter M is somewhere on your BMW.
DISCLAIMER: All vehicles and event logistics provided by BMW of North America, LLC
All photos by Randy Stern