2015 BMW 740Ld xDrive Sedan
Diesel power and a Long Wheelbase 7 series, together at last
If a full size, fuel-sipping German luxury sedan is on your shopping list, the usual suspects (Audi, Mercedes Benz and now, BMW) have you covered- all offer models with diesel power. BMW continues to offer a 7 series ActiveHybrid, but we’ve driven the technology on 3 and 5 series models- two examples that embody the Law of Diminishing Returns for fuel savings when you consider the premium you’re asked to pay over the standard version. That, and the stark reality that “Your Mileage May Vary” mean that these cars aren’t particularly good at achieving better consumptions figures than their conventionally powered counterparts.
If stretching each droplet of fuel as far as it can go is a high priority, diesel is the only way to go. A nice by-product of diesels is a deep well of low end torque, goading you to effortlessly harness the wave of thrust that results even from smaller throttle openings. The lazy and relaxed feel to the way these cars pour themselves down the road is perfectly fitting for a big luxo-barge. Although a tad late to the party, BMW will satiate well-heeled diesel shoppers with their excellent 3.0 inline six oil burner- the very same one found under the hood of the 535d.
PROS: Hedonistic luxury, torque rich engine does the ‘wafting’ thing pretty good, can still be a willing partner for fun despite its size.
BMW calls their entry-level driver training program “Advanced”, but don’t be mislead into thinking the curriculum includes storming apexes and trail braking behind the wheel of an M3. Those who are out to improve lap times will be disappointed; those that aim to improve their overall skill as drivers will be rewarded.
Like many driver training courses extant, this one starts in the classroom. Ex –racer Jason Carvahlo was acting as our chief instructor and went on to explain the day’s schedule, what exactly we’d be doing and some basic theory. The real fun began on the makeshift course BMW had set up- made even better by the fact that our steeds were 435i M Sports (the automotive gods blessed my co-driver and I with the only manual gearbox example on hand.)
2015 BMW 435i Gran Coupe xDrive
Yet another 3 series to choose from.
It’s a good thing that the BMW 3 series is inherently a good car. Otherwise, folks might get pretty annoyed that yet again, the Bavarian Motor crew has filled yet another niche no one knew needed filling. As of this writing, there are seven different takes on the old stalwart of BMW’s ever burgeoning lineup- wagons, convertibles, coupes and now this Gran Coupe, which isn’t a coupe at all.
Those familiar to this space know we’ve spent time in the Gran Coupe realm before, although that was in the much bigger (and more expensive) 6 series/M6. Need a refresher of what the heck a Gran Coupe is? No problem: it’s BMW speak for swoopy, coupe-like styling proportions on the basis of a sedan profile; you know, the kinds of cars with four doors (once you wrap your head around that fact, you won’t wonder if we’ve lost our minds calling a 4 door a coupe.)
PROS: Easy on the eyes, holds more stuff than a regular 3 series sedan, Gran Coupe sounds cooler when you’re telling people about the car you drive.
2015 BMW M235i xDrive Coupe
The darling of enthusiasts, now with more traction!
One of the most compelling cars we Road Tested this past summer was BMW’s renowned M235i. You remember that one; finished in Estoril Blue, it was optioned pretty much how we would have asked- a few niceties on the inside, yes, but most importantly an honest to goodness manual transmission. By now, you’ve heard how the M235i approaches the vaunted E36 M3 in terms of sheer joy to drive, and it’s muscled enough to post performance numbers that nip at the heels of one of our other all-time favourites, the V8-powered E92 M3. Enthusiasts take note- cars like this don’t come around too often, and this one’s made for you.
PROS: Peerless driving dynamics, four season usability, an automatic transmission that adds to the fun instead of taking away from it.
2015 BMW 435i xDrive Cabriolet
It’s never too cold to drop the top.
Although it may seem like we’re nuts for Road Testing a convertible in the depths of a Canadian winter, it gave us a chance to verify that yes, BMW’s trick folding hardtop on all Cabriolet models will work just fine in ambient temperatures of -40 degrees Celsius. Not many owners will decide to let the underwhelming glare of the winter sun into their cars, but count us among the slightly insane few who’ve tried it. Want another impressive tidbit? The insulation of the top deserves praise not only for the way it dulls road and wind noise but how impervious it is- I was amazed that a bottle of water that had frozen overnight had melted significantly after sitting in the parking lot upon arriving from work an hour prior- the way it held onto the interior heat was remarkable.
2015 Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E Platinum
Change is a-comin’.
You may be forgiven for passing over the S60 you see here as just another Volvo, albeit one with a healthy level of optional equipment in Platinum trim. The ordinary vehicle you see here is actually much more than that; it packs some serious tech under the hood, thus making it a harbinger of the sorts of things to come from Volvo in the future. The Swedes are betting the farm on new engine technologies that promise to deliver the efficiency we expect nowadays while prolonging the weaning of our long built up dependency on the instant gratification of power afforded by larger sized mills.
How do they aim to do this, you ask? A serious weight reduction regimen? Diesel engines? None of the above. Volvo is heading down a decidedly more complex road to achieve their goals, and their new “Drive-E” engines will be small displacement four cylinders with artificial aspiration. In the case of our T6 tester, our 2.0 lump under the hood was a double pumper, meaning it possesses a turbocharger as well as a supercharger. The supercharger fortifies the engine with good low end response, and above 3,500 rpm the turbo takes over. It’s all completely transparent, but more on that in a moment.
Another look- 2015 BMW M4 Cabriolet
Is the end of December a good time to grab the keys to a seriously high performance drop-top? No, it isn’t, a fact that should surprise exactly no one. What is surprising is how good the BMW M4 Cabriolet fares as a winter car- it’s amazing. After getting dumped on with 20-plus centimeters of accumulation and bone chilling temps, I was gleefully shocked that the M4 performed so well, even as CUV’s around us with jaw-clenched pilots promptly turned generic all season rubber into wheel spin and smoke.
BMWs all have always been inherently blessed with good balance, and their chassis bits try to make the most of their job in flattering the driver, especially in vaunted M trim. Throw a good set of snow tires into the mix, turn off stability control entirely and you have the makings of a vehicle that will get you to and from the office no matter what’s going on outside. It was great fun steering the car effortlessly with the throttle (the Active M Differential really earns its value here too) and we even put the top down for a few moments, much to the startled glances of fellow motorists.
Another Look- 2015 Volvo V60 Polestar
A couple of months ago, we Road Tested Volvo’s hottest offering du jour, the S60 Polestar. We enjoyed the experience quite a bit but were left wanting somewhat. As good as the sedan was, we couldn’t help but wonder why anyone would choose it over its significantly better looking and more practical wagon stable mate you see here, the drool-worthy V60 Polestar.
We auto scribes have never been shy about professing a deep love for wagons, but it seems that these warm feelings are slowly permeating mainstream tastes- more and more manufacturers are coming around to the fact that some folks don’t need the sky-high ground clearance, frivolous weight and ghastly fuel economy of an SUV. Slap on some go-fast chassis bits, up the horsepower and slather it in Rebel Blue paint and instantly you’ve got a compelling choice in the premium wagon marketplace that is anything but crowded- other than the certifiably bonkers Mercedes Benz E63 wagon you aren’t going to be spoiled for choice. Although the ballistic German will trounce the Polestar in every measureable performance measuring stick, it still demands a soaring premium over Gothenburg’s finest.
2014 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD
Mom would approve.
The Volvo XC60 is the vehicular equivalent to eating granola or running that extra mile- you feel good about driving it. During our time with the turbocharged CUV we kept arriving at the same conclusion- the XC60 is good for the soul.
For starters, it’s pretty darn comfortable. We’ve gone on and on about the sinful comfort of the thrones in Volvo cars, and the XC does not differ from that path. It’s also quiet, nicely refined and reassuringly solid. A cornerstone of Volvo’s reputation is founded upon safety, and you get the feeling that they sweated the details in keeping you and your passengers as secure as possible.
2014 Ford Focus SE
All the Focus you’ll ever need.
It wasn’t that long ago when auto scribes lashed out at Ford for not supplying North America with the light-years better Focus they’d been enjoying in Europe for years. In 2011, Ford provided us the keys to the first “world” Focus (the same kind whether you’re in Kapuskasing or Kuala Lumpur) to get us to stop complaining. The strategy worked; we, along with the small car market took notice and gleefully embraced Ford’s compact offering as best in class- an honor it wholly deserved. Nowadays it would just feel weird complaining. Keep reading…