Tuesday, August 14, 2007

BMW 550i: Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove

Well my BMW 550i finally arrived a few weeks back. I'm still in the 1200 mile break-in period, so I'm still babying the car: keeping the revs and speed down. The car just wants to go, go, go. The car is well suited for the autobahn, and it takes a light touch on the gas pedal to keep it reigned in around town. First gear is very short, launching from 2nd gear is the automatic's default unless you engage sport mode, or manually kick it down into first.

Ah, the V8 is a thing of beauty. Even keeping it under 4500 rpm and less than full throttle, there is gobs of power.

The sport automatic gear shifters on the steering wheel are awesome. I find myself naturally pre-selecting the next gear when braking for a turns. Shifts are super smooth and very fast. Supposedly shifts are even faster with sport mode engaged, but its way too easy to rev to redline in sport mode, and I'm still keeping the revs down for the break-in period. In sport mode the gearbox shifts for you, even in manual shift mode.

I'm feeling better about BMW's choice to make each "paddle" shifter symmetric, i.e. pushing forward sifts down and pulling back shifts up for both left and right paddles. This is contrary to what I consider the logical left for down, right for up as it is for paddle shifting in F1 cars, the Ferrari 430, and video games. The Acura I test drove had it right. The other issue with the BMW paddles is they are mounted to the wheel and not the steering column, which makes shifting while the wheel is turned a confusing proposition. At least with the 550i its usually easy to find the up-shift with the wheel turned, but shifting down is problematic. You're much more likely to be accelerating out of the corning and up-shifting anyway.

I though hard about getting the (very rare) manual option and I have zero regret about getting the automatic.

I did not get the dynamic steering assist option that changes the steering rate depending on how fast you are going. The steering is a bit heavy. That said, it feels spot on for highway driving and for spirited back road driving was very exact, ie point the wheel and the car follows.

Here is my take on the various options:

  1. Premium Sound: I ended up with the premium "L7" sound option. (I didn't get a custom option package, but found something very close.) I'm not a huge car audio fanatic, but its by far the best car audio I've experienced.
  2. iPod integration: OK, I'm a Luddite, I never owned an iPod until I got this car. I'm still in the "Holy crap! I have every song I own in my car." phase. The iPod is completely controlled via the iDrive controller. One issue is that qith several hundred artists on my iPod, it can take a very long time to scroll through to the whole list to U2, for instance. I gave up somewhere around Billy Bragg. The ipod must have some speed scroll mode that doesn't translate to the iDrive. My Sonos system at home has a "power scroll" mode that allows you to jump to any letter in the list, the iPod interface needs this badly.
  3. Heads up Display (HUD) : I didn't get this. I kinda wish I had now. I just cannot tell the difference between driving 60 and 90, so I spend a lot of time glancing down at the speed. With time, I'll get a better feel for speed/gear/revs but until then I set the speed limit alarm to chime every time I exceed 77mph. :)
  4. Comfort Access: This is BMW's new keyless entry system. There is no need to take the key out of your pocket to enter, start, drive, or lock the car. This is something that sounded lame when I read about it, but is just super cool. I find myself annoyed that I have to get my key out to get into my house.
  5. iDrive: I'm still getting used to it, but after just a few days its much easier. I still jog (push left/right/up/down) instead of rotate the controller occasionally, but less and less with practice. As a computer programmer, I consider it a point of honor to master it.
  6. Bluetooth: Rocks. My phone is paired to the car, and besides having to reboot my phone once, is perfect. I can answer inbound calls hands free from the steering wheel and even make calls using the voice recognition: push a button and say: "Dial Susan Home." No special programming, it just scans the cell phone's address book.
  7. Navigation: Its not as good as the Navigation in Susan's Honda Odyssey. The BMW system is not as intuitive, and the Honda Nav adds a touch screen. For instance, you rotate the iDrive controller clockwise to zoom out on the map, this is the logical opposite to me. Also, I can't figure out how to move the cursor on the BMW map. The Honda nav allows this and it is crazy useful for scanning ahead on the map to see your next turn or to find a nearby park for the kids to play in.
  8. Real Time Traffic Updates: The nav system can use the real time traffic data to route around slow traffic. Which sounds cool, but in practice in the San Francisco Bay Area is useless. Having the nav system decide that the 101 is slow during rush hour and re-routing me to the El Camino Real is a cruel joke. Thankfully the option can be turned off

That's all for now. I will write a follow up once I've gotten a chance to play with the sport mode and with DSC turned off.

1 comment:

Miguel said...

Wuau!!! This Bmw seems to be a Porsche killer. In Spain it isn´t available, unbelievable!