Category Archives: Editorial

Cooper Tire RS3-G1 Part 1: BMW 528i in Florida

“So, Ryan, what was the humidity like?” was one of the first questions I asked a best friend who just came back from six months in Orlando at the Disney College Program. “You just sweat constantly,” was his answer. I for one have never been to Florida, let alone the East Coast. In other words, I haven’t a clue what humidity is. I’m spoiled by the dry nature of California, especially having spent my University years in breezy Santa Barbara. So when I got an e-mail to head to Palm Beach International Raceway in Palm Beach, Florida to test a BMW 528i and Cooper Tire’s new RS3-G1 tire on both road and track, I was ecstatic for such an event. Then sank in the realization of the climate and season. Let me tell you plainly, humidity sucks. Luckily, not so much the car and tire, and who cares when it involves track driving.

“The RS3-G1 is a marvel of Cooper’s greatest cutting-edge technologies,” said Scott Jamieson, the company’s Director of Product Management for North America.

Now, let’s talk about why I’m really here. Cooper Tire and Rubber Company has just released their all-new, do-everything tire, the RS3-G1. It’s an all-season, ultra high performance, non run-flat shoe that joins the expanding genre of the like, along with Kumho, Continental, Pirelli, and Michelin. However, the Cooper has something going for it, and it’s all in the name: G1. It’s called the G1 because it can hold 1g of lateral grip, something unheard of in a tire designed to not only work in perfect climates. And this is an all-season tire, too; When it rains or even in light snow, you won’t be wishing you had opted for xDrive. The deep sipes and grooves in the tread also work to give consistent performance throughout the life of the tire help water displacing.

Cooper Tire Zeon RS3-G1

It’ll be interesting to see how the tires do on the 5-series, a car that comes standard, like nearly all new BMW’s, with run-flat tires. And not everyone loves run-flat tires. They’re expensive and can compromise ride quality and handling. However, they do offer the unique advantage of being able to still drive moderate distances even after a puncture. But the real question is, does the new Cooper make the 5 a better driving car? It does, but more on why later.

So, the car then. It’s a BMW 528i. Yes, it’s the same 528i that has been in production for over 5 years now. And yes, the new 5er is due out in showrooms early next year, but it’s never too late to once get a feel of what has been a great sales success for BMW. If you’ve been thinking about adding a 5 to your stable, now is the time to buy as dealer’s will likely be discounting heavily to make way for the new species. Right off the bat though, has the new Cooper G1 transformed the car? No. Is it better? Yes, not by much, but having a non-RFT sticking to the road is an improvement.

What’s the 5 like? I’ll just make a list. Hence, thing’s I like about the F10 5-series: the steering is better than a 3-series, offering more weight and accuracy. The thinner, leather-wrapped wheel is better to hold in my hands as well versus the thick and squishy M-sport wheel. The seats are very comfortable and offer decent support even for my thin frame. The small 2 liter four pot makes plenty of power even for a car of this size and masks turbo lag surprisingly well, also achieving 34.5 MPG on a crowded freeway run. And the 8-speed ZF gearbox is seamless enough to make you think it’s not even there. iDrive is also probably the best infotainment system of its kind.

BMW 528i Test Car

What I don’t like about the current 5… the steering is still not good, being too numb and pondering for an Ultimate Driving Machine. Imagine browsing for a show on Netflix, it just doesn’t know quite what it wants. The standard sheet metal is far too mundane with little drama; the optional M-sport package helps a lot in the looks department. The interior is dated. And the engine sounds like a diesel from the outside. It’s almost like having unknowing bystanders ask if your dry-clutch Ducati is broken, but no, that’s just the sound. And unlike the Ducati clutch clatter, it’s not exactly cool and exotic.

But do I dislike the 5? Heavens no. It’s a lovely car to mosey around town and do freeways, but it’s just not quite a real BMW. It could be brilliant, but blame BMW’s product planners and engineers for making a car that is more mass appealing. In other words, they made it too much like a Mercedes. But driving through both sun and rain in Palm Beach, it was a very nice place to be. And serious kudos to iDrive 4.2, which is now being dropped in favor of the new 5.0 system. Embarking on a small road rally, meeting at various checkpoints such as parks and Ragtops, a motoring museum, the navigation and voice recognition is a breeze to use. Want to find something? Say “Points of Interest,” wait a few seconds and then say, “Oceanfront Beach Park, Boynton Beach” and takes you right there. The A/C also works wonders in the high humidity of Florida’s summers. The car in general is just a nice place to be. And especially when, at this moment, I do not want it to be a sharp track-tool or B-road carver. If you want that, BMW also sells several for that purpose too. But for cruising around, the 5 works.

Which now brings us to the tires. And they’re good. Compared directly to the OE run-flats found on all new 5’s, the ride quality is slightly improved. Where run-flats can give a sense of crashing over imperfections, the Cooper’s are less harsh over potholes and road reflectors. They’re also very quiet on the 528i, with there being so little road noise. And I do think the steering response is better on this example as well. It’s a comfortable car made more comfortable. However, if you hit a nail, you better stop.

Why should you consider the Cooper Tire’s RS3-G1? The ride and comfort seems to be pretty darn good and they’re backed up by a staggering 50,000 mile tread-wear warranty when fitted in a square setup. So, for those whose climate requires all-season rubber, and especially running square setups, you can’t go wrong. And they’re going to be priced significantly cheaper than the Michelin equivalent too. Even on staggered wheels, a 25,000-mile guarantee is included. In this regard it could be a highly desirable option for those with older BMW’s such as E36’s and E46’s. Furthermore, it comes with GlideMount technology that makes mounting tires much easier. For those stretching tires, this could be handy.

Bet now you’re wondering about the performance of the tire. What about that 1G of grip? Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to drive the cars hard on the street, but did get to hammer open-wheel cars the next day wearing the same rubber. Part 2 at Palm Beach International Raceway, coming soon.

Performance Cars

Germany Banning Gasoline and Diesel by 2030?

Electricity is coming.

Say what? Yes, unfortunately it seems that time is running out for our beloved fossil-fueled machines from not only Munich, but the rest of the world. News has recently reported that German legislation is seeking to ban all new cars not capable of producing zero emissions. Though I can go further into questioning where and how electricity is produced (looking at you especially, China), the sad truth is we must prepare for a world of electricity. Tesla is showing that their surprisingly successful Model S can be a mainstream device with gobs of real world performance. However, this comes at a both a serious cost and weight penalty.

Furthermore, their incredulous straight line performance can’t be replicated on a circuit, falling easily to hot hatches even. BMW has made their own strides already into this market, with the I3 city and I8 sportscars. They’re even adding in so-called ‘I Performance’ models in the shape of the X5 40E and now 330e, both capable of limited electric-only range. The I3 has not been exactly the sales success BMW hoped, but having spent some seat time in a few, they’re a surprisingly a fun steer. With fantastic response from the 22kwh battery pack with the down-low power that only electrons provide, it’s truly not terrible. The steering and handling aren’t bad either, actually maintaining the feel of a (modern) BMW. The strikes against it though come in the way of range, or lack thereof, and the looks which are too polarizing. While I’ve seen some owners who regularly achieve 90+ miles of electric-only driving, it’s just not enough.

The updated 2017 promises about 120 of electric driving, but with Chevy’s Bolt coming at the turn of the New Year and promising 200 miles for less dosh, BMW will have to go further. It is, however, the most efficient vehicle on the planet per EPA ratings, thanks to a lightweight construction. Also, as with all electric vehicles, they take too long to charge. It’s not range anxiety by way of how many miles are available, but how long it’ll take to charge those miles back. Even with DC fast chargers, 30 minutes is a lot longer than popping in for gas for 5 minutes. But this can be expected, as the technology is still very new.

Can it improve though to the tune of 300 miles and quick charging in 15 minutes? Most batteries are lithium-ion based and I’m no scientist here, but if a battery uses a reaction with an element to produce energy, can the labcoats coax more energy out of the same amount of lithium without just increasing its mass? It seems that with electric cars, the only way to increase the range is to make a bigger battery, not a more efficient one. For now it seems batteries are not becoming more capable, but only larger. And yes, batteries are heavy, monolithic chunks of granite. Seriously, ever look up the curb weight of a Model S?

But this is all insubstantial to the real issue here. Can BMWs still be BMWs when every model is electric? Since they helped invent the sports saloon, BMW has always been the driver’s choice when it comes to luxury saloons. The 2002 and resultant 3-series threw the world on its face with their patented combinations of driver interaction and practicality. And then came the others. The M-cars. What will the world be like with electric M cars? Would they still be Ms? I honestly have no idea.

Part of what makes an E46 M3 so special is the emotion of revving the S54 to oblivion as it floods your senses with inertia and noise. The torque-heavy shove of atoms in an I3 is fun at lower speeds, but there’s no soundtrack to make it a thing of beauty and the acceleration drops off quickly. You could argue that I  overrate how important sound is in a sports car, but I don’t think I can. A true petrolhead quivers and gets sexually aroused at the sound of a beautiful engine. Ever hear the M88 in an M1 Procar in person? Or what about an E60 M5 with an Eisenmann exhaust fitted? They’re pure theatre, a proper symphony worthy of being preserved in the Library of Congress. That’s how much I love and, frankly, need a sound. And back to weight again, how on earth would an all-electric M3 weigh 3500 pounds? Carbon can only do so much.

I think though, depending how electric road cars develop, there is one route I hope BMW follows in pursuing an exciting sound for an electric M: that of an LMP1 Hybrid. Watching Le Mans this past weekend, I did thoroughly enjoy the sound the Audi R18 and Porsche 919 made when riding onboard. During acceleration, it’s the not the  internal combustion engine that provides the majority of sound, but the whine of electric motors powering the Rohirrim. I mean, seriously, it sounds like a TIE Fighter straight out of Star Wars. And more substantial, it’s bloody well cool and makes an LMP1-H one of the fastest accelerating things on the planet when coupled with the ICE. At lower speeds, an I3 makes a slight hum, but it’s mostly irrelevant. If a future M3 can pull off the sound of science fiction, then maybe, and this is a big maybe, it could somewhat replace the howl of individual throttle bodies and quad exhausts.

Perhaps the first step is to move all models into the realm of these sports hybrids. With the carbon and battery know-how that BMW has learned from the I8 and I3, this can be directly instigated into the next generation of M’s. I’m not against a hybrid M car, as long as the philosophy is to  use electricity to supplement performance, like a Mclaren P1, rather than make an eco-minded car that also possesses speed.

Could a law  define a zero emissions vehicle by its  ability to go as long  on electrons as what an engine/onboard range extender can take it? Say BMW makes the 2030 M3 capable of 200 miles electric driving, but then  has an angry turbocharged 4 or even 3 cylinder that activates at full throttle or when put in a dedicated track mode. Maybe this could be a loophole for BMW and others to create wild hybrid sports cars. I’m sure some carmakers will get their lawyers going on a similar idea. The truth though is that we will just have wait and see what BMW and the rest of the car world comes up with to satisfy our petrol cravings.

Is Power Everything?

Some say that power is everything. Well it can be, a lot of the time actually. But I truly believe that power isn’t everything in making a good car worthy of its commending adjective. In the pursuit of the thrill of driving, the holy grail sensation that is pursued by motoring enthusiasts nearly as much as bedroom pleasure, power does not have to be the definitive factor. Rather, I have a yearning not for power, but for connection, feel, and an interesting engine.

imageAn interesting engine doesn’t always have to be powerful. A Honda 2.0 liter from a Civic SI may only make 200 horsepower, but the way it revs and screams to be submitted to the dominance of your right foot is a carnal kaleidoscope. Higher horsepower models of perfection are BMW’s S54 and S65, which follow the practice of an explosive top end married to the sound of Gabriel’s horn. New turbocharged BMW’s, though they may make massive power compared to the old N/A mills of days past, are really not that interesting when you consider they have an table-flat torque curve, which thereby gives lots of power down low, but up top after 5k, there’s little more to give as the rate of acceleration fails to increase. Even new M-cars don’t give that last dash to the redline that their predecessors were known for, though they are devastating power plants in their own regard. To show that outright power isn’t the singular virtue of a terrific car, I’m going to take you through one of the best drives of my life, delivered by a car where power is not first priority, but still stimulating given it’s bodacious sound and chassis and eager nature to rev: my old E36 325is.

IMG_0902

Let me tell you a little about this drive/adventure. Santa Barbara, in case you haven’t been, strongly resembles a Mediterranean paradise from the French Riviera. Think Cannes. And like the South of France, Santa Barbara is abundant in great driving roads. In fact, the FIA should hold a round of the World Rally Championship here even. On one of the outer ‘ring’ roads, Cathedral Oaks, lies the turnoff onto the hallowed Old San Marcos Pass, the source of today’s fun. While many know San Marcos Pass as the alternative name to the 154, a superb highway winding through the Santa Ynez Mountains, there is also the Old San Marcos Pass, a snaking stretch of road leading to the same destination. It starts at only 50 feet above sea level before reaching 2,000 feet in not even 5 miles, while also remaining serenely scenic during the ascent through the rolling hills, canyons, and mountains of Santa Barbara. Just be careful for cyclists and skateboarders though. The Old Pass has a collection of beautiful flowing 30-45 MPH sweepers with positive camber, and several extremely tight 1st gear hairpin switchbacks. Power is good, but not entirely necessary here. The 189 horsepower my E36 325 makes is still mountains (no pun intended) of fun, though more would be welcome. I figure the 240 HP an E36 M3 makes would be absolutely perfect – an M4 would frankly be overkill here and likely launch you through the Armco if DSC is turned off.

At the bottom of the climb I pull over to allow the pickup truck ahead of me gain some distance—wouldn’t want to be stuck behind him the whole way up! Waiting what felt like an eternity, a minute and half, I pull back onto the road, get up into third and hit it. It starts off with quick sweepers—the camber given by the road engineers is most welcome. Even at 45 MPH, throwing the Bimmer into the banking allows some freedom of chassis rotation and roll. Thank you 225 width tires. Nothing crazy and exuberant, but it’s great to feel the chassis really work. The natural balance of the E36 inspires loads of confidence too, but I try not to get carried away and push too hard; this is a public road after all.

For the first third, it’s just switching back and forth between third and second gear through the quick direction-changing bends, never even exceeding 60 MPH. That’s fast enough here, especially when braking down to 15 for the first of the hairpins; when the sign suggests 5 MPH, you know it’s going to be tight. Heel-and-toe down a gear, turn the wheel hard, and then just lay the power down. The super slow stuff is the only time an E36 will really show understeer, but luckily a little power later and the rear tires let go a little, allowing a swift drift of oversteer to point me in the right direction. It’s a beautiful feeling and responsible for the biggest smile yet. From there it’s a run of hairpin to hairpin, maxing out second gear between each braking point—addictive stuff, and fortunately it repeats and repeats. Right when the M50 hits 3500, the nature of the engine transforms from docile to a feral fantasy as the VANOS variable valve timing advances, lunging for the limiter. And the noise, with a carbon intake and axle-back exhaust ignites the Santa Ynez Mountains with a Bavarian thunder.

Near the top of the pass I begin to reflect on the journey thus far. First, I’m thankful I didn’t completely bin it anywhere, even driving still well below maximum attack, that’s most important. But I’m also just thankful for roads and cars like this existing.

I reach the top of the pass, pull over and take a quick snap of the scenery behind to capture the moment. My god is the view something—you can see downtown Santa Barbara and a couple of the Channel Islands 30 miles off the coast. Here you feel like on top of the world, looking down at the magnificence of the Earth and my vanquished mountain. This is the thrill of driving, and I’m so glad something in me turned me onto cars all those cars years ago, otherwise I wouldn’t be here right now.

Which brings me back to my first point about power. Sure, power is nice, but it’s not all that matters in a sports car. I’d take a car like this, with a huge sense of feel and immersion but with less power than one muted to gray-scale and all-around numbness but with a startlingly powerful engine. If that’s the case, the car would be so uninspiring and lack the necessary confidence to use the power. I must also ask, when will cars become too powerful to fully enjoy? A powerful motor can never trump an interesting motor, which is probably why my favorite BMW I’ve ever driven still remains the E46 M3 with its masterpiece of a chassis and powertrain. As long as it’s got a manual, of course. I would rather BMW make turbocharged engines with a sense of turbo-lag engineered in and give a huge rush to the red line by restricting peak torque to a higher engine speed than 1500. This would, in a general sense, make an engine inferior and less efficient, but it’d be more interesting as well once boost comes on. Maybe to make new turbo engines better, we must first make them worst. I do miss that E36, but the thrill of driving remains in my newly acquired E46 330i ZHP (six-speed, of course). Next time I’m in Santa Barbara I’ll have to venture again up the San Marcos pass in that. And hopefully one day in an M3 at 8k.