“Twenty Years of Pride” 2011 BMW 328i

2011 BMW 328i

In October of 1991, Motor Trend magazine selected BMW’s 325i as one of the “Ten Best” automobiles of the 1992 model year.  BMW had (and has) produced automobiles since 1929 and along the way also produced airplane engines (WWII)  and motorcycles.  The highly anticipated 325i had been totally restyled and featured a 2.5 liter, 189hp, DOHC in-line, six cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission.  The reputation of BMW had been burnished into the minds of the motoring public with the production of the 2002 during the sixties and seventies.  That “New Class” compact sporting sedan featured the celebrated M10 four-cylinder engine as well as independent suspension, MacPherson struts, and front disc brakes.  The 2002 was the precursor to the famed 325i that was introduced twenty years ago this month.  The 1992 325i weighed a ton and a half, was 175” long, and reportedly accelerated 0 to 60mph in 8.0 seconds.

Twenty years have rolled by since the 325i introduction, and now the model most akin to that car is the 2011 BMW 328i.  I recently was able to drive around in one with all-wheel drive and a 3.0 liter, 230hp, DOHC six-cylinder engine and six-speed Steptronic automatic transmission.  I have never owned a BMW, but after some time behind the wheel, I see why the car has such a sterling reputation.  This 2011 BMW 3 series is superior in virtually every way when compared to one sold twenty years ago.  Consider that the 328i: will go an additional 2 highway miles on a gallon of gas,  will go zero to sixty in two seconds less, and will top out at an additional 15mph when compared with its 1992 counterpart.  And the price has gone from a base of $28,000.00 to a current $36,600.00, a REDUCTION when inflation is factored in.

The Tasman green four-door sedan I had the pleasure of driving had saddle brown Dakota leather upholstery, 3-way heated front seats, tilt-telescope steering column, and all the power accessories including moonroof.  The trunk is a rather large 14 cubic feet, and the wheels were 17”, ten-spoke alloys.  Other amenities too numerous to mention were present in this “Ultimate Driving Machine”, and the  MSRP, as equipped, was $42,550.00.

When behind the wheel of a BMW, you expect (and receive) a taut, supple ride, lots of acceleration, and crisp cornering capabilities.  The car met my expectations on this day, and I also enjoyed the firm, well-bolstered bucket seats and sensible instrument panel.  Rear seating is, might I say, limited, but the car is manufactured with the people up front in mind.  And up there the driver enjoys the aforementioned 0 to 60mph acceleration of 6 seconds and BMW’s Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) for braking. That system includes stopping functions for  deceleration, wet weather, incline, and heat control.  Bottom line; the BMW provides the GO! and the WHOA!.

For twenty years BMW has avoided any bankruptcies, bailouts, or boondoggles. Just steady progress that followed that 1992 Motor Trend Top Ten selection and proceeding to today’s sleek, technically advanced, fifth generation 328i.  Car & Driver magazine agreed with that 1992 selection, and tacked on 19 more in succession to include the car that I drove last month.  I’ll second that (those) notion(s).

2011 Volkswagen Jetta SEL

Jetta at Chapungu Sculpture Park

Volkswagen was originally founded in 1937 by the German Labor Front, a Nazi trade union.  The venture included production of an inexpensive car for the common man along with state-sponsored financing (“five marks a week you must put aside, if in your own car you want to ride”).  Previously, Germans could typically only afford a motorcycle, but with the advent of this new Wolfsburg factory, hundreds of thousands could afford this new “Beetle”, designed by Ferdinand Porsche.  World War II cut off civilian automobile production, but not before Adolf Hitler received a Cabriolet model for his 49th birthday (1938).

Fast forward to 2011, and we find that Volkswagen (People’s Car) has enjoyed almost 60 years of success in the United States, with sales peaking in 1970 at over a half million cars (7% of the U. S. market).  Current market share has been cut roughly to half of that,  but the company has a long-range U. S. target of a million cars and trucks, counting Audis, by 2018.  Audi is the premium automobile brand of Volkswagen AG.

The number one selling Volkswagen is the Jetta, produced since 1979.  It is currently in it’s sixth generation form, this new model having been introduced in June of last year.  A Candy White 2011 Jetta SEL2.5 four-door sedan was brought to my home on a recent Monday morning, and I immediately got inside to check out the amenities.  Heated seats and mirrors, plus color-screen navigation and Sirius satellite radio: check.  Power lumbar “V-tech” leatherette Titan black bolstered buckets  and leather wheel: check.  Metal pedal covers/ door sills and Bluetooth and IPod connection: check.  Pushbutton start (on the console) and six-speed automatic Tiptronic transmission: check.  Although most of the buzz this summer is about the new masculine (supposedly) Beetle introduction, this Jetta is almost the newest VW in the lineup and, as mentioned earlier, the most popular.  It’s easy to see and feel why, because this is a real nice car.

I jumped in and took off for Ft. Collins for some lunch and a test drive.  A real firm ride is in store for the operator; a feeling of quality (and quietness).  The steering wheel is rather thick with lots of buttons, and the transmission is a treat.  One complaint I had is that it travels up to top gear rather hurriedly, but two solutions exist for that problem – the sports mode and the Tiptronic (manual) selection.  Operating this car manually is a snap; the best I have driven.  Speaking of snap, the five cylinder, 2.5 liter, 170 hp engine provides plenty of that.  More, in fact, than would seem available with that horsepower rating.

Guiding the little Jetta up the Interstate is pleasurable.  Once again, the ride is a little firm with our beat up Interstate along the Front Range.  I had plenty of punch for changing lanes and running by service trucks and seniors.  At the Charco Broiler parking lot I stepped outside to view the styling of the VW.  It’s good, if not spectacular, and looks particularly nice from the front.  The mirrors have lighting stripes on them and up front are good-looking fog lights.  The new Jetta, brought out last year, is longer than its predecessor, resulting in an enlarged back seating area.  Indeed, there is legroom for a big human being.  Plus the trunk is the biggest in its class, at 15.5 cubic feet.  Also in the center of the back seat is a flop-down armrest/cupholder and this VW had a power moonroof.

After lunch, I drove to Centerra shopping area and took photos of the Jetta at Chapungu Sculpture Park.  This is the best-looking Jetta to date, and has 17”, fifteen-spoke alloy wheels to dress it up.  The back windows do not roll out of sight, as do those of many models that compete against it.  But bottom line; I’d own a car like this, perhaps in a more exciting color.

2012 Infiniti FX50s AWD

Infiniti FX50S

Last week in Phoenix I was able to test drive a 2012 Infiniti SUV courtesy of PageOneAuto of Chandler, Arizona.  Carrie Owens of POA was nice enough to have the vehicle waiting at Sky Harbor airport for my visit to the Valley of the Sun.  Ruth accompanied me and we stayed in Scottsdale, visiting Rockie spring training and as well, we attended the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Speedway.  The Infiniti was brand new and painted Graphite Shadow dark silver with matching graphite quilted leather interior.

Infiniti has been producing the FX series of vehicles since 2003, and is the luxury division of Nissan Motors of Japan.  The FX is a mid-size upscale crossover and the FX50 has a 5.0 liter V8 with 390 hp (@ 6,500 rpm) under the hood.  Torque is 369 lb-.ft., and the engine is mated to a seven speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode.  Big magnesium paddle shifters are behind the steering wheel to take care of shifting with both hands under heavy acceleration.  The economy ratings are 14 city/20 highway, and during the week I was pleased to observe an overall mileage rating of 18.8 mpg.  The car has Intelligent All-Wheel Drive with snow mode, and reportedly accelerates from zero to sixty in 5.4 seconds.

On Sunday morning we jumped in the FX and blasted off for Avondale, AZ, home of the Sprint Cup race track and NASCAR racing action.  It was a pretty good distance from Scottsdale, and allowed us to get a feel for the big Infiniti out on the Interstates.  I’m calling it big, but in fact it is less than sixteen feet long with a wheelbase of 113.6”.  But it weighs 4,557 lbs., so therefore it has a big vehicle feel and ride.  The FX has ample clearance for a crossover, but is in fact built somewhat low to the ground like a sports car.  It rolls on 265/45R21 V rated tires and 21” (TWENTY ONE!) 6 spoke alloy wheels.  The styling of this four door is dynamite – I have admired them since they were introduced nine years ago.

The interior of the Infiniti is first class in both upholstery and electronic gadgetry.  The hard drive nav/backup camera has an 8” split screen and voice command.  In the screen the driver is able to view “eye in the sky” location of the car for parking or backing up.  All the power options are on hand including tilt/telescope, seating (both heated and cooled up front), flop down rear seating allowing for 62 cubic feet of cargo space, 11 speaker Bose stereo with DVD player, Bluetooth music and phone connection and the technology package.  The last item provided adaptive cruise control and a lane departure prevention setup that I found helpful.  The package added $2,900 to the base price of $59,350, and a sport package was another $3,100.  Total M.S.R.P. came to $66,545.00, a little below average for a vehicle in this class such as a Porsche Cayenne or BMW X6M.

I found myself enjoying our vacation in Phoenix a little more due to the top flight wheels Ruth and I had to move around in.  We put on about 500 miles and were able to show it off in the Salt River Fields parking lot for a spring training game with the KC Royals.  The Rockies were not winners on that day, but the Infiniti FX50s was and is one, both in looks and in operation.