June 16, 2010

The BMW Innovation Drive And The New 5-Series

BMW Innovation Drive trackBMW occasionally let's you experience their gleaming new metal on a test track. You get to drive you the way you (probably) never do on the road: maximum acceleration followed by maximum braking. You learn how well the cars handle, which builds confidence and a tribe of True Fans. You have fun too.

Currently there are only six all-new 5-series on the road in the whole country. All here.

Then And Now

In Toronto, BMW previously used the runway of the abandoned Downsview air force base. The surfBMW lD lineupace has deteriorated. That may be good for SUVs but no longer suits cars.

There was lots of space and only one driver per car. You could drive the same car over and over if no one else in line. While waiting, you got to talk to the BMW driver-training driver for that queue. This was a great way to get questions answered from an expert. Pierre Savoy, BMW's charismatic chief driving instructor was available to answer the tough queries. Those discussions were excellent marketing: the drivers felt more credible than the commissioned sales reps in the dealerships.

This time, we drove on a parking lot at the Toronto Convention Centre. Each vehicle had two drivers. So you wasted half your time as a passenger. The track seemed shorter. So you didn't get to drive for long. Also, your car was queued behind several others. Who knew there'd be gridlock on a test track? We were not driving for the promised two hours.

Here's the big shocker: you were told what to drive. It was like being on a class trip. I especially wanted to compare the 535i and 550i but couldn't. I had no real interest in the 1-series and 3-series but we "forced" to test them. That's hardly torture but all six 5-series sat unused on a separate track. What did this accomplish?

New 5-Series

BMW Innovation Drive - 5-series
The new 5-series looks great again. The body has more lines, which makes the cars look more powerful. There are nice technological advancements. The display has very high resolution and is very wide. With cameras mounted above the front wheel wells, you can see obstacles clearly. There's a backup camera but I didn't get a chance to go in reverse. If you have trouble parallel parking, the car will find a suitable spot and park for you. We couldn't test this. This feature is probably an extra cost option.

The new 5-series feels scrunchier than the Mercedes E-class.

The 550i Gran Turismo looks like an interesting multi-use vehicle. Mercedes tried but came up with the R-Class, which looks like a station wagon, minivan or grownup B-class. The result? Poor sales.

In contrast, the 550i GT looks like a cross between a 550i and X6. There's lots of space with the seats down. You're seated higher than in a car but lower than in an X5/X6. This design shows promise and will probably appeal to more buyers than the X6.

Highlights

The 1-series is lots of fun. It's so compact, powerful and manoeuvrable. Perfect for zipping around. A real BMW. Compare that with the uninspiring Mercedes B-class which looks like a copy of the cheaper Toyota Matrix.

The 335d is a the first diesel I've driven. It was the biggest surprise. You get lots of torque to blast from 0-100 km/h incredibly fast. You then slam on the brakes as hard as you can and stop almost instantly. You get great fuel economy but we weren't testing that. Add the legendary handling of the 3-series and you've got a winner if you're looking for a car of that size.

My negative perceptions of diesel vanished instantly. That's the brilliance of a test drive. What do you let your clients sample to overcome their biases?

Disappointments

If you're looking to make a buying decision, you want to drive different cars. Last time the focus was on the 3-series. You got to drive different configurations and compare them with Audi and Lexus. I was especially surprised at how well the X3 SUV drove. That's very helpful in making a buying decision.

This time we couldn't compare with competitors. So we couldn't make an instant buying decision. We also wasted lots of time waiting. All revved up but no car to drive.

Next Time

As usual, BMW organized the event very well. Signs were large and well-placed. Registration was snappy. My stomach was queasy by the end but I'd gladly go back.

The Innovation Drive is further proof of BMW's commitment to performance. Memorable events like this set them apart. That's excellent marketing.

What will you do for your product or service?

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