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Cooley On Cars
The new BMW 4 Series (CNET On Cars, Episode 35)The BMW 428i explained, why smaller cars can be more dangerous, and how to drive an automatic transmission. (No, seriously!)
-Come on. BMW 4 Series explored. You don't need to push it really hard to feel it. The real story behind car size and safety. And how to drive an automatic. No kidding. It's time to check the tech. We see cars differently. Nice. We love them on the road and under the hood, but also check the tech and are known for telling it like it is. Ugly is included at no extra cost. The good, the bad, the bottom line. This is CNET on Cars. Welcome to CNET on Cars, the show all about high-tech cars and modern driving. I'm Brian Cooley. You know that BMW 4 Series is actually as much a story about the BMW 3 Series, upon which the company did major surgery to basically cleave it into two models. Why they did this and how takes us on the road. As BMW is reworking the bottom half of their lineup, there's been a lot of changes and the most interesting outcome, I think, is this guy -- the new 4 Series. Let's drive this 428i and check the tech. The 50/50 weight balance, that's a wonderful thing in this car. You don't need to push it really hard to feel it. Compared to the 3 Coupe that it replaces, this car is longer, lower, wider, and pushes the wheels out to the ends of the car. The biggest difference is that wheelbase, a full 2-inch difference, but also the height, losing three quarters of an inch, that's dramatic in automotive design terms. In spite of that roof coming down, though, headroom in the front went up almost an inch and a half. Spotting a 4 is easy. Just look for what you think is a 3 Coupe driving behind and realize it looks like it's been melted and pulled from end to end, front to back. You've also got much more of a gentle fastback than a 3 Coupe ever had, and this little filigree up here is unique to more modern BMWs. 3s don't have this. Now, inside the 4, it looks a lot like a 3, no dramatic re-architecture going on here. This is kind of the fashion these days, this kind of toaster slot screen where the LCD sticks up. I think they're doing it 'cause it kind of says, "I'm like a tablet," but it also does free up a lot of area here that would, otherwise, be taken up by the head unit, gives just some nice vent registers. And in this case, we have a more basic sort of a radio audio layout right here with our optical disc quite below it. Even though we don't have nav, though, this LCD is part of it. It's what they call a display radio in auto jargon which gets you to most of your basic infotainment and communication functions. Now, it's not a touchscreen, of course. It's a German car, don't touch. So, instead, they use the iDrive even for this basic head unit, but this is the simpler version of the iDrive controller. If you already get the nav head unit, you get iDrive 4.2, which includes a bigger controller with a touchpad on the top of the knob for finger input. Now, in typical BMW fashion, lots of stuff is optional. You do have Bluetooth base, thank you, but enhanced Bluetooth is an extra cost option. Rearview camera is an extra cost option, as I believe are the all-around sensors. Surround sound is ala carte, and you can get a head-up display which BMW is just about the best at, the best in terms of color, information, presentation, and good tight resolution. Now, controls that relate to actual drivetrain, well, our car has got the eight-speed automatic. Top two gears are overdrive by the way. This is how most of these guys are gonna ship, but you still can get a six-speed manual. If you want to, I would do so quickly. I don't know how much longer they'll be offering that. Alongside are some drive mode profiles. You have this Eco Pro and Sport and Sport Plus. Sport Plus cancels the stability control. You're not gonna use that too often, but I find Sport as a good mode. We'll get on the road with it momentarily. Paddle shifters go with the automatic, obviously not on the manual. And over here at the start/stop button, you've got the auto start/stop defeat. Hit that once and the car will not down itself when you come to a red light. We'll see how smoothly it operates when we get on the road. And unlike a lot of its competition, BMW doesn't put any augmented LCD screen between the gauges. And unfortunately, instead of that, they offer what I think is kind of a dumb MPG gauge, a swinging needle that kind of flies in the wind as you drive around and doesn't tell you much of anything. It's a BMW thing. I don't know why they still have it. Now, because we have a 428i, that means we have the turbo four-cylinder. This is kind of a new thing for BMW. They've got rid of the non-turbo 6 in this class of car. It's a 2-liter, so it's not even a big 4 and it's very compact and almost sits entirely behind the front axle line that makes the great weight distribution. In fact, this car is almost exactly 50/50 weight thread and that's really quite an achievement. How about some numbers? 240 horsepower out of this guy, 255 foot-pounds of torque, 0 to 60 with this 3,470-pound beast comes up in 5.7 seconds. Your MPG will be 22/35 unless you get the six-speed manual and then you give up 1 MPG on the highway. It's basically a pick. And of course, rear-wheel drive is your base configuration. All-wheel drive is available. All the modern tech is here -- direct injection; a two-stage, twin-scroll, single turbocharger is not much missing from the sheet. Let's go for a ride. There's one thing that remains a truism in automotive technology and that is a 4 with a turbo feels different than let's see a bigger 6 without one. It has a lot of power. It just doesn't come on the way a bigger engine would, not in my recollection. The outgoing inline non-turbo 6 that this replaced had less power, and yet, somehow, I recall it feeling a little more satisfying. Nonetheless, this is the smart motor to go with. It's higher technology, better efficiency, lighter weight, smaller packaging. It's a very neutral-handling car. You never feel like you're plowing a big heavy nose around in turns. It's a little doughy on the road. You can-- You can hot up the suspension more. We've noticed that in 3 Series lately that they've lost a certain road going edge in favor of more ride quality. Some people like that. Some people don't. I suspect the majority do that's why BMW did it. They wanna sell more cars, not necessarily more cars to the buffs. Okay, let's price our 428i, starting off just a little below $41,500, 2-liter turbo 4, rear wheel drive. If you want all-wheel drive, you gotta add 2 grand on top of that. Adaptive LED front headlights with automatic high beams, nearly 2 grand more. Tech package with apps, real-time traffic, navigation, the touchpad and head-up display, it's chunky at $3,150. If you want the park sonar and rear cam like we have, 950 more. Add surround cameras, lane departure, adaptive cruise, and stop-and-go control and that's gonna be almost 2 grand more. Semi-self-parking is a surprisingly cheap, 500 bucks, that's one little bone they throw us. All in, CNET style, this car is pushing $53,000. You buy one because a 2 Series is just too little and a 6 Series is biting off too much for your paycheck. It fits nicely and is very distinct in the BMW line, and I bet they're gonna sell as many as they can make very quickly. Find our full review on that 428i by the way over at cars.cnet.com. Now, as you know, conventional wisdom has always hailed that little cars do worse in the crash than big cars, especially when the two mix. But then, how do you explain the fact that the little, tiny Chevy Spark has as good of Crashworthiness ratings as the thousand-pound heavier Honda Accord Coupe. It's because technology and engineering mean the things are not always what they seem on the scale. How little cars perform in accidents is of keen interest of to the modern smarter driver. The "big car is safer" concept needs a little nuance. There's weight, proportions, engineering, and technology. Weight is obvious. A small car has less mass to resist being accelerated, in other words, drop-kicked by the bigger car it collides with. That, in turn, means things inside the small car may be more violently accelerated as well. Then, there are proportions. A small car means less car around you, front and rear in particular. That gives engineers less room to create crumple zones that dissipate the force of an impact into the bending of metal instead of the bending of you. Up next is engineering. Sophisticated design has overcome some of the weight and proportion disadvantage. Hence, some small cars get better crash course than bigger ones. Key is structural integrity, to reduce or prevent intrusion into the passenger cabin of either the other car or parts of your own car. And finally, technology. It used to be that small cars were cheated of things like anti-lock brakes and airbags and stability control. Today, all of those are on virtually every new car and more advanced tech like pre-collision braking and airbags in exotic places are no longer just the domain of the $100,000 Mercedes. Now, most recently, the IIHS found that only one of the 11 minicars tested were able to get an acceptable rating in the new small overlap crash test. Given how important such ratings are in the showroom, expect the engineering and technology folks to at least narrow the gap on this lousy performance. -A small overlap crash can be devastating because often the main structural elements of the vehicle are bypassed. If the vehicle is not designed for this, it can lead to a massive collapse of the occupant compartment and a big reduction in survival space. -It pays to double check how a car you're considering really does in crash tests and not just rely on conventional wisdom. Coming up, how to drive a modern automatic transmission when CNET on Cars rolls on. -The GP is supposedly the ultimate Mini, the Mini that will excite more than any other, the car that will make you go wobbly at the knees. So, is it? Come on. What do you think? This is a car that's been boiled down and distilled to create the most entertaining driving experience possible. This is the essence of John Cooper Works of Mini at the moments of fun. Think of John Cooper Works now as Mini's M division. -Find more from the XCAR team of CNET UK at CNET.com/XCAR. Welcome back to CNET on Cars, coming to you from our home at the Marin Clubhouse of Cars Dawydiak, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Well, our how-to segment this episode may strike some of you as a bit ridiculous. How to drive an automatic? But I've received quite a bit of e-mail about this because today's shiftable automatics with different interfaces, different shift programs, and different behaviors are not as simple as those gearboxes used to be. Here's how to deal with them and get the most out of them. -It's new, the latest development in the industry. A selector lever and dial replace the standard gearshift control. And here is just how simple driving can be with the marvelous new Merc-O-Matic drive. -Now, it used to be that driving an automatic was brain-dead simple. Pull it out of park, roll past reverse in neutral and stick it and drive, and then push the pedal on the right. -When you desire a burst of speed for passing, you just press the accelerator to the floor. -But the high-tech automatics today have a lot more new ones than that. The shifters you find on the actual lever on the paddles are not literally connecting you with the gears, but they are connecting you with the software that runs a transmission. You can get in there and just about call all the shots as if it was a manual except the actual guts of the transmission remains different than a manual. Now, we're in a Mazda 3 which is pretty classic as today's high-tech automatics go. You've got your Drive mode over here, manual position, shifted there, nothing too uncommon about that. And you've got paddles on the wheel. You can invoke a shift with these paddles while in drive and it's a temporary shift. So, let's say I want a downshift now down to third or second gear, the RPMs go up, and then after about five, six seconds, it goes back into Drive mode and drops down the RPM shifting up the gear. If I move the lever here, I can also put it into a Manual or a Sport mode. Now, my shifts done either with the paddles or through this lever are sticky. The car will hold the shift that I select all the way to red line and all the way down to engine lung. Let's say I wanna pull a lot of downshifts here. I could run this thing way up. Here I am, first gear 5,000 RPM. It will hold that right to red line. It's totally in my control. And same thing could be done over here at the leverage. It just replicates what the paddles are able to do. Now, on this car, as you can see, I've got a paddle over here on the right for upshift. There's another one over here on the left, that's for downshifts. Not every car does it that way. Some cars, like Porsches, for example, come to mind, they are bilateral. There is a shifter on each side of the wheel that will do up or downshift depending which way you push it. This is a little more common, though. So, what's the best way to use this technology? Well, several ways. First of all, you need an immediate burst of better acceleration on the car is geared for at the time, snap it down a couple of gears. Momentarily, for five or six seconds, it will hold. And then, let the car go back into drive for best fuel economy. Another way, you're going up for a nice drive on a nice country windy road, snap it over into Manual or Sport mode and choose your position, either lever or paddles, to get fully engaged in the drive trans, one of the nice benefits here. Here's another one. You've got really challenging conditions -- gravel, mud, snow, and for whatever reason you think the car is not handling it well. Sometimes, it's really nice to have a more granular gear, typically a lower gear to modulate your power on uneven surfaces. Up next, your great car tech ideas and the top five ways technology is reducing driving as CNET on Cars rolls on. -This is a Pagani Zonda. More importantly, it's a Pagani Zonda S7.3. It comes with a 7.3-liter V12 that pumps up 547 brake horsepower and 553 pound-foot. Its top speed is 220 miles an hour and it will hit 62 miles an hour from rest in 3.7 seconds. This particular Zonda's owner is a lovely chap, Horacio, and he offered me a ride and drive in his own car. I've wanted to sit in one of these for years. I'm a very excited man. -Find more from the XCAR team of CNET UK at CNET.com/XCAR. Welcome back to CNET on Cars. I'm Brian Cooley. Time to get to your e-mail. Whole slew of them this time related to one top-five we recently did, my top five super simple technologies that I think every car should have by now. You took a look and named a whole bunch of other ones I hadn't thought of. These are really good. Check it out. Mike says, "Every vehicle sold today should have a built-in OBD code reader that shows the codes automatically when your check engine light comes on." Absolutely. Rick says, "I've yet to see a tailgate open indicator on a pickup. Most cars have door opener, trunk or jar, but what about the tailgate?" From Scott, "Why not add an electric heater to run for those minutes it takes for the engine to warm up on a cold morning, so I don't get blasted with cold air." Terence says, "Reverse camera should have an automatic on feature, so even if you have your head unit or radio turned off, it will wake up the screen when you put the car in reverse." That makes total sense. Annie says, "Why doesn't cruise control automatically adjust to the posted speed limit. It knows what it is." Steve says, "How about a speedometer display capable of multiple ranges like 0 to 80 or 120 or 200 allowing city drivers to easily identify speeds like 15, 25, 35, etcetera." And we also hear from Corey, "Why don't they have presets for cruise control, so I'm not always having to manually hunt each time the speed changes. You can just punch one of several buttons, it will take you to a well-known posted speed." These all make a ton of sense and I think we all need to get together, form a little startup, and go get some venture capital and take him to Detroit and Japan and Germany. Now, we talk a lot about modern driving around here, but I'm telling you, to be honest, modern driving is actually less driving. Since 2004, at least in America, per capita average miles driven per year has been on a very slight but consistent down cycle. Here's a top-five list of technologies that I think are responsible for that. Number five, bike sharing. I put this at number five because, let's face it, most of us are lazy and the appeal of riding gets a little narrow when it's snowing or you have to go pick up your dry cleaning. But there is no denying an increase in city bike fleets that wouldn't work without digital technology that keeps the bike secured and authorizes their usage by members. Number four, ridesharing. Rideshare networks like Uber or Lyft or SideCar transition you from driver to rider in someone else's vehicle. And taxi services are also adopting apps to let you interact with them as well. Both trends make being a rider versus a driver just more satisfying. However, I ranked this fairly low for now at least because cabs are nothing new and the impact of ridesharing services is still taking shape regulatorily and otherwise. Number three, mobile phones, not the use of them but the cost of them. One of the major theories out there about why younger people have been buying fewer cars is that the money they would use to do so is already going to T-Mobile and Verizon. A plan and a subsidized phone can pretty easily hit 135, 150 bucks a month even. Well, that's a cheap car and basic insurance. Number two, e-commerce, no kidding, one of the size mix shifts. It used to be that shopping and cars were synonymous. But today, almost anything can be bought and at your doorstep in a day or two without the hassle of having to go get it at 56 cents a mile. On the other hand, as big as this trend is, I don't rank it as number one because we still do a lot of driving to go and look at things in stores that we then go buy online. Number one is, of course, remote work. Whether you're telecommuting from home or a nearby shared workspace in your neighborhood, driving to work everyday is no longer a given. This is huge because commuting accounts for some 64 percent of the total average miles driven by each of us each year in the U.S. Remote work technology, nothing new, but increasing acceptance of digitally being somewhere makes it more common and less likely will raise the boss's eyebrows. Thanks for watching. Hope you enjoyed the show. Keep those e-mails coming. You know we read everyone of them, and as you can see, they frequently end up in our segments. I'll see you next time we check the tech. Okay.