Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I Stand Corrected

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Mercedes GL450 being the ultimate SUV and specifically I sort of bashed Japanese SUVs as being soft and not fun to drive. Well, I stand corrected.

I've mentioned in the past that my wife does not particularly care for German cars, maybe because her Polish grandfather was in the WWII concentration camp or maybe that she is very practical and cannot justify the price tag. In either case, I need to purchase an SUV with three rows and rather than go with a GL450 and try to convince my wife, I thought perhaps I should drive something that she'd be happy with and see if I like it too. As such, I asked the guys at eCarOne to give me a late model Japanese SUV. They gave me a 2011 Acura MDX with Technology Package. The car only had 11,000 miles and it was immaculate.

My first thought was there is no way this has three rows because it looks and feels so compact. However, as I got in the car and open all the doors and trunk, I realized this car is anything but compact. I don't know how Acura did it but they really used the space well. They kept the outside very sporty and manageable and yet they got a lot of space out of the cabin. If you pay attention to the outside of the MDX, you'll notice that the wheels are pushed all the way out to the front, back and side and this achieves two things: 1) It reduces overhangs and give the car a sporty look; and 2) It increases wheelbase and gives the car more room and a more compliant ride. This made it possible for Acura to fit three comfortable rows in this SUV in a way that allows someone who's used to driving small cars to feel very confident and comfortable driving this larger 7-passenger vehicle. Coming from a 2010 CR-V, my wife felt right at home with the MDX and this makes my life easier because I can get the SUV that she wants and at the same time it's something I too enjoy driving.

About the driving experience.... well, in a nutshell, I was pleasantly surprised by the MDX. I have to say it's the first SUV that I actually looked forward to driving. The car is a joy to drive and be in from many different aspects. The interior is luxurious in many ways, from the beautiful wood trim that wraps around you to the polished metal accents to the feel of all the controls, to the placement of everything you need. The sound system is excellent, the driving position is very comfortable and commanding, and last but not least the ride and handling are top notch. I was really surprised by this SUV and I'm rarely pleasantly surprised!

Even the braking and handling are great. Case in point, I was heading to an appointment and was traveling on the highway at about 75mph when the car in front of me suddenly stopped because he missed his exit, and I was not sure the MDX could handle an emergency lane change at this speed but I had no choice. Well, it handled it without any issues and at that point I realized that you don't have to have German engineering to have excellent handling. I truly think it's one of the best SUVs out there.

And now let's get down to brass tax.... How much? Well, this car is priced at about $38,000 and it's brand new for about $46,000. What else can you get (new or used) for that price? Well, you could get the ML450 with much higher miles or you could also get a BMW X5 with higher miles. Both would be great cars to own but I still think the MDX would be the better choice... at least for me because my wife would be the primary driver and in my opinion the MDX is much easier to drive than either the Benz or the Bimmer. Not to mention, it gets much better gas mileage.

Bottom line; the MDX is a car that I would feel completely comfortable placing my wife and kids in. If you're in the market for an SUV, I highly suggest you take a look at this one or any other MDX that eCarOne carries.

As always, good luck and happy driving.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Gotta Love the 5

Several weeks ago I wrote a post about my experience with eCarOne’s 2011 535i Sedan and I called it the Ultimate Driving Machine.  I have owned three BMW 5-seires in the past and the 535i was truly the best one I have ever driven.  This car was magnificent in every way, but it also has a $52,000 price tag so as magnificent as it is, it is unattainable for many.  So, last week I asked eCarOne for a newer model 5-series at a more affordable price point.  They gave me a 2010 528i xdrive (that is code for all wheel drive).  This car is priced at $34,000 and is still under factory warranty so I thought this would be a good alternative and thus I set out on my week -long ownership experience.

This particular 5-series was not fitted with the Sport Package but it did have almost every other option, so needless to say I did not miss any of the luxury of the more expensive newer 535i.  This 528i was black with natural brown leather and this is one of my favorite combinations.  It just felt luxurious and although I would have liked to have the sports seats, I had no complaints.  I know my little boy appreciated having the rear side sunshades in the 100+ degree weather we had.

So, now you’re asking…. How did it compare to the significantly higher priced 535i?  Well, it compared very favorably.  What made the 535i the Ultimate Driving Machine was the near perfect combination of driving dynamics, luxury, and practicality.  This same combination is also present in the 528i but in a different feel.  It would not be fair to compare the two cars simply because the price point is dramatically different.  However, I can honestly say that the 528i is a very good alternative to the 535i.  It has less power but more than sufficient for everyday spirited driving and highway speeds well beyond the legal speed limit.  It has excellent braking and a very well controlled suspension (even without the Sport Package).  It has a great sound system, it’s roomy, gets excellent gas mileage and has plenty of other creature comforts.   It’s also a BMW, so in my opinion, it’s still one of the best cars on the road.

There is not much to dislike, even the i-drive that some of the media complain about is intuitive and easy to operate.  If you cannot figure out the i-drive, then you’re going to have many problems owning a car in the future because this is where most vehicles are headed anyway.  Another minor complaint is the trunk release.  It is not fitted with shocks so when you release the trunk, it pops open very fast and if you’re not careful you could get hit in the face!  So, pay attention when you pop the trunk!  Other than that, I really enjoyed this car and although it is not a 300 HP twin turbo monster, it is still a wonderful car to drive and it awards you with a great ownership experience.

If you want the ultimate driving machine, you need to get a 5-series.  I suggest you take a trip to eCarOne and test drive one of several that they always carry.

Good luck and happy driving.

The Ultimate SUV

Four pre-teen girls, a 2-year-old boy, a very pregnant woman, a man who just got home from the office and a 2010 Mercedes GL450…. This is not the beginning of a joke and there is no punch line.  This was a brief description of last Tuesday night as I got home from work and buckled everyone into the GL450 to head for a 45 minute ride to the circus.  And I gotta say… the GL was a champ!

We decided to take our daughter and her three friends along with our young one to the circus.  We had 7 passengers with one of them riding in a car seat.  I didn’t think we could all fit in one car but the GL450 not only fit, it was quite comfortable and it got us there in style.

We currently own a small SUV that is comfortable enough for four but we are considering something bigger as the kids get older and the GL is at the top of my list.  Needless to say, this test drive from eCarOne was not only fun but also very helpful for me.  Other cars I am considering include the Toyota Highland Limited, the Acura MDX, and the new Infiniti JX35.  All those are great cars and I’m not going to compare in this post, but rather I want to talk about my impression of the GL450.

I picked up the GL from eCarOne about a week ago and I was a little concerned about the size of this vehicle, but my concern disappeared when I started to drive it.  Although this is one of the largest “mid-size” SUVs on the road, it did not feel that way at all.  I’ve driven a Range Rover and an Escalade and those cars feel like large SUVs.  They are generally sluggish and too soft for my taste.  However, the big Benz felt relatively nimble, well planted and very powerful.  .

Aside for the great driving dynamics, this GL450 had a lot of luxuries you’d expect from Mercedes.  I loved the dual sunroofs, the power trunk, the power folding third row seats, and the super comfortable leather seats with memory.  Again these items are expected, but nonetheless they are nice to have.   Another welcomed surprise was the sound system.  This car was not optioned with anything spectacular but the standard sound system was way beyond standard.

As for dislikes, there were one or two.  In particular, I didn’t like the fuel consumption.  During my week-long partnership with the GL, I noted roughly 14-14.5 MPG during mixed city/highway driving.  I think this is a bit below other comparable SUVs.  Another dislike was the blind spot.  However, this car was not optioned with the blind spot detection and I’m sure this would come in handy.

All in all, I truly am impressed with the GL450.  For what eCarOne is asking for this car, I can’t see a better choice.  I am sold on this car and I may actually end up owning it very soon.

Thanks for reading and happy driving.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Other M3

If you’re a purist, you’ll shoot me because to you there is only one M3.  Well, this may be right but there is another car that I will put up against an M3 anytime and I’ll bet I’ll also have more fun owning it.  It’s not an Audi or a Mercedes or a Porsche.  It’s another BMW and it’s less expensive than the M3.

A couple of weeks ago, the guys at eCarOne gave me a 2011 BMW 335is for a week.  Yes, it’s just a 3-series coupe so how can I say it rivals the almighty M3?  Well, it’s a 3-series coupe outfitted with a stiffer suspension, fatter tires, and a bad-ass twin turbo six-cylinder that pumps out over 300 HP and about the same torque.  Ok, that’s 100 less than the M3 so I’m still blowing smoke…

It’s a smaller engine so yes, out of the box it is rated at roughly 100HP lower than the M3.  However it's twin turbocharged and this means there are many more options to getting more power than the non-turbo V8 that comes with the M3.  Here is my case in point.

About 3 years ago, I purchased a 2007 BMW 335i coupe from eCarOne which is essentially the same as the 2011 model I drove except the 335is comes with stiffer suspension, more aggressive body styling, and bigger tires.  But if you read anything about my history, you’d know what’s coming next.  Immediately after buying the 15,000 miles 335i from eCarOne, I took it to a local performance shop and added a free flowing exhaust, upgraded engine software, a short-throw shifter, bigger tires and wheels, lowering springs, and more aggressive front and rear bumpers.  All in all, it cost me roughly $5,000 in parts and labor on top of the $33ish I paid for the car so I was all-in under $40k.  We put the car on a DynoJet chassis dyno and it made close to 370HP at the wheels.  This translates to roughly 450HP at the engine, which is the number you see published.  More importantly, it made 350 lb-ft of torque at the wheels which translates to 440 at the engine.

What does all this mean?  It means that car would blow the doors off the stock M3 any day.  It also blows the doors off most Porsche 911s and the like.  Ok, why not modify the M3?  Because it’s a naturally aspirated V8 and short of spending $20k to supercharge it, there is not much more you can do to get any decent increase in output.  The moral of the story is that I think BMW will hurt M3 sales by offering the 335is because anyone who knows about turbocharged cars will always take the 335 and spend some money on it and have a car that is better than the M3 in many ways.

In my opinion, this is why the M3 sedan always suffered in the US market.  The sedan buyer has a practical side and hence is more influenced by cost than the coupe buyer.  Someone who’s buying an M3 sedan may not necessary want an M3 but is rather looking for a fast, good handling car that will fit into his family lifestyle.  Since BMW has a 335i sedan that is very fast and very capable of any twisty road you venture upon, the M3 then becomes a non-rational decision.  A guy buying a 4-door always has a logical side and will always think about money.  To me, I’d take a 335i sedan and spend $5k in aftermarket parts and end up having a car that is every bit an M3 for $10,000 to $15,000 less.  Plus, I get better fuel consumption.  What more do I want?

If you want an excellent road car that has been named Car and Driver top 10 for as many years as I can remember, you need to do yourself a favor and go drive this 2011 335is at eCarOne.  You’ll know what I’m talking about after you drive it.

Good luck and happy driving.