2018 BMW 440i xDrive Coupe

440i-8Ah, yes indeed, some days I get to drive around feelin’ like a bigshot.

You know you’re getting into a high-end sports machine when, after you take your position in the driver’s chair and start ‘er up, a little mechanical arm pushes out the shoulder strap of your seatbelt so it can be easily reached.

The seat bolsters cozy up on your sides (to whatever position you have set the memory seat to), and the projected heads-up display lights up in your field of view just above the hood line.

BMW offers one of the most comfortable seats I have found in any similarly high-end luxury/performance machine, with a full range of adjustment – which is great if you are a tall-and-skinny type such as myself, who enjoys the aggressive lumbar support and ability to lengthen the thigh support portion of the driver’s perch.

In fact, I would call it my favorite seat in the segment, except I think it may be tied for first place with the one found in one of the 440i’s closest home-country competitors, Mercedes’ E 400 Coupe.

(Incidentally, while the two are very similar in dimensions, the 440i is about 70mm shorter overall than the E400, but the wheelbase is longer by 50 mm).

My test vehicle is one of three of the available models under the 4-series umbrella – there is the Coupe, Cabriolet and Grand Coupé (which is a four-door, so yeah, I know, not technically a ‘coupe’, but what can I say).

A buyer can further make the choice between all-wheel drive (xDrive, in BMW parlance) and rear-wheel powertrains; and so it is that the full name of my test vehicle is 440i xDrive Coupe. Simple, no?

Additionally, this particular one is further enhanced by the addition of several option packages (which is why it tops out at over 70K).

Notably, the M performance package group, which adds not only a generous sprinkling of M-badging throughout the car, from kick plates to tailpipes, but boosts the horsepower of the 440i’s inline six-cylinder powerplant from its base rating of 320 ponies (and 330 lb.-ft. of torque) up to 355hp and 369 lb.-ft.

The takeaway here is that the 4 doesn’t lack power. Acceleration in any of the vehicle’s driving modes is quick – and I mean speeding-ticket quick; you’ll want to keep an eye on the digital speed readout on your heads up display – and incredibly smooth, as one might expect from BMW.

Handling is superb, the car’s ride is excellent, if decidedly tuned to the ‘sporty’ end of the spectrum (BMW boasts of a newly stiffened suspension in all the 4 series models, particularly the M Sport suspension) and an eight speed automatic transmission manages the power masterfully in my test car; but driving purists need not worry, the 440i can also be had with a six-speed manual gearbox.

Inside – in the front row, anyway – an occupant finds good headroom, tight everything else, but that is how it is supposed to be. The car is intended to hold you firmly (but comfortably) in place with all the necessary controls close at hand; provided you don’t mind BMW’s user-interface module (now called iDrive 6.0, which has also been made easier to work with for this latest generation).

Wrap all that up in BMW’s ever-evolving styling and you have one of the best looking two door coupes on the road. The 440i exterior is rolling sculpture from any angle, helped out by a reworked rear tail light treatment for 2018.

The interior is a coherent collection of high-end materials and a console-and-cluster layout that fans of the brand will love, but here’s the thing: you have to be a fan of the company’s design language.

That is pretty much the only major detraction for anyone considering the 440i (well, that and the price, but we’ll get to that). I showed my test car to a couple of owners of current Benz and Audi products, and their reaction was that the Beemer was a bit too austere for their tastes.

The sticker for a base 440i xDrive Coupe starts at $57,550, which is already more than I make in a week, but that won’t be the one I want.

No indeed, to get the vehicle up to the high level of comfort/ luxury/ premium-ness that I figure a buyer in this segment would require, a potential customer would have to consider the packages tacked onto this one, in order to feel like a bigshot like me.

By the time you add the enhanced Premium Package, the Driver assistance and Connectivity packages, the M Performance group and three standalone options, the car whistles past seventy grand and pulls up at $73,190

Fish Story: the 2017 MINI Cooper S Countryman ALL4

2017Countryman-6You know, at first I was just enjoying driving around in a Countryman test car for the sheer appearance of the thing and the attention to detail and design the manufacturer has lavished upon the interior.

FEF2

This, my friends, is Fuel Efficiency Fish

But then, I discovered Fuel Economy Fish.

A delightful cartoon sprite that lives within a submenu called “Minimalism Analyser”, and which can only be displayed when one has the vehicle set to Green mode, Fuel Economy Fish (which I am sure is not the actual name for the graphic) is a fun little metric that aims to aid a driver in achieving maximum efficiency by following some fairly simple rules for stretching one’s fuel economy.

So the takeaway here is that, yes, I spent most of my time in the vehicle trying to amuse a cartoon fish; but we’ll come back to that later.

So you know what happened, eh? I totally grabbed a photo of the Ford Escape interior here. (Fortunately, it was spotted by a real good dude and car enthusiast I met today at a small business networking hoe-down, here in Edmonton). Tragically, I have forgotten the gentleman’s name, but Bro, if you happen to read this let me know and I’ll credit you proper. Anyway, please welcome this 3/4 view in place of my original mistake. – Wade

As I am sure you know, the Countryman is the largest offering from MINI, more of a compact crossover-sized creature than the brand’s other, smaller members (which would be the Cooper, the first model reanimated when BMW bought the English company; and the expanded, five-door Clubman).

This latest generation of the Countryman has grown, being longer and wider than the previous model (it now shares its platform with parent-company BMW’s X1 crossover), and has toned down some of the more esoteric styling features within the cabin; and comes at a more competitive MSRP.

Don’t think of the Countryman in the same terms as the regular MINIs – being much taller and overall bulkier, it doesn’t bring the go-kart feel of the smaller original, nor bite into corners with the same adrenal thrill – but it works much better as a practical and useful all-round daily driver.2017Countryman-2

Four doors and big (power) hatchback that raises to expose a goodly amount of cargo space ensure its appeal as a family car; the added height make it friendlier for people of all physical abilities to get in and out of, and the newly expanded legroom in the rear seats are more welcoming for second row passengers.

A heads-up display (always a favorite for me – the digital display is comfortably within a driver’s line of vision) rises up from the dash when the Countryman is started greets you when you push the start switch, and a comfortable seat with a great range of adjustment await. I should mention, too, that with the one I used, the front passenger seat also gets the same range of adjustment, which is not always the case with a lot of vehicles.

The instrumentation and switchgear is unlike anything else in the segment, and imparts a science-fiction spacecar feel to the well-finished, sculpted dash. In addition to being interesting to look at, the controls on the center stack are pretty easy to figure out and find your way around, and I daresay a lot more intuitive and user-friendly than I usually find in many German-influenced autos.2017Countryman-3

The Harmon Kardon stereo system option (one of many packages crammed onto the loaded test car I drove) makes the interior sound as good as it looks and feels.

It isn’t intended to be a performance hotrod, of course, but the Countryman isn’t sluggish, either. A turbocharged 2.0 litre engine under the hood can deliver 189 horses and 207 lb.-ft. of torque – more than adequate to haul its bulk around, though by no means segment-leading – gets it up to speed easily (and in fact, this is one of those vehicles that you can easily accidentally get into speeding ticket territory before you even realize it).2017Countryman-5

Put it into Sport mode and the shift-logic gets more aggressive, holding gears longer and making the accelerator noticeably more responsive (the base model Countryman can be had with a manual transmission, but this one employed an eight-speed automatic).

For the most part, I found little to disdain in the vehicle, especially as well-equipped as it was, but here are a couple of dislikes – the sliding mesh cover that closes beneath the moonroof, and the door opening lever in the front row.

I like a moonroof cover that is totally opaque, like my mind, when closed my friends, and the translucent mesh of my MINI let in just a little too much glare.

The interior door handle thing, though, is maybe not a bad thing. I didn’t like the way it forced me to bend my hand into an uncomfortable crooked shape to open the door, until I realized that opening the door with my right hand was not only easier, but also maybe intentional on the part of the manufacturer.17Countryman-17

Opening the door with the right hand forces you to turn your body, ever so slightly, and what that in turn does is allow you to see more of what’s coming up beside you – so that, for example, you don’t door-whack a cyclist who happens to ride by at that exact moment – so maybe this is exactly what the engineers intended.

In the Netherlands, for example, there was a public awareness campaign that advocated right-handed door opening for this very reason.

But enough about that. Back to Fuel Efficiency Fish:

FEF

FEF approves

Fuel Efficiency Fish actually works as intended. When the display first pops up, FEF is just sort of sitting there, gawping at you quizzically with little animated eyes. But as you earn points (or stars) by driving in a practical manner – which isn’t that hard to do, really, just avoid hammering the gas/brake haphazardly, coast whenever possible and don’t unnecessarily over accelerate – the fish becomes progressively happier. He does a little flip every time you add another star to the performance graph.

It’s pretty cute, to be sure, but the thing is this: I achieved really decent mileage by doing this exercise. 4.6L/100 km is practically hybrid numbers, for gosh sakes; and almost unheard of in an AWD crossover vehicle, at least in my experience.

And finally, the price was the icing on the (fish) cake.

The MINI Countryman All4 came in a lot lower than what I had guessed when I first laid eyes on it. A base model starts at $31,990 and my test piece, loaded with option packages only pushed that to $44,880 which makes it comparable with RAV4, Sportage, Escape and several other, less cleverly styled vehicles.

Here's the complete list of options, including Fuel Efficiency Fish

Here’s the complete list of options, including Fuel Efficiency Fish

Defacing hotel bibles is a big part of what I do

Now, some may find this sacrilegious, but I must respectfully and humbly disagree – it’s sacrilarious!

Roaming the length and breadth of the world, I spread the very cream of human goodness at every step. Sober, chaste and sane, I leave a trail of goodwill in my wake, and practically spew happy thoughts in all directions; like a fragmentation bomb made of teddy bears.

Thus it is that I have begun the Hotel Bible Defacement Project.

Every time I find a bible in a hotel, I draw a picture in it. This room, in Munich, had a three-language version in a drawer.

Unquestionably, this is a really good idea, and a kind of public service as well.

I figure anyone grabbing for the Gideon in a hotel room in the middle of the night has probably already got a note written and both barrels in their mouth; so why not give them something peculiar and funny to jog them back into a better mindset, rather than a bunch of mumbo-jumbo written by a pack of long-dead demagogues?

 

 

The next one will feature Jesus H. Christ hisself, flying around in a spaceship – you know those Jetsons-style ones with the big dome on top, so you can see inside – and stuffing seagoing members of the weasel family into his mouth and singing, to the tune of an old country standard:

“All day I race/ through outer space/ and stuff my face with otters”.

It may be years before anyone sees my illustrations, I have no way of knowing; but I’m not in it for fame. It’s all about the teddy bears.