Versus the competiton:
Do you leave your teeth in a glass when you go to bed at night?
Then you are a candidate for a station wagon.
Do you keep a set of racing gloves next to those choppers on the night stand?
Then make it a BMW station wagon.
BMW used to be known as the poor man’s Mercedes. Then BMW started to take itself seriously and tried becoming Mercedes-only with the emphasis on performance first, luxury second.
But a European performance car is one thing; a European performance car that can stay out of the ditch in the Snow Belt is another. More than one rear-wheel-drive Bimmer was spotted treading snow in those ditches during thiswinter’s storms.
In June, July or August a Bimmer scoots and scats and weaves in and out of traffic with the best of them. But when nature flexes its muscles, Bimmers sometimes are best appreciated parked in the garage with a “Don’t open until spring” sign on the door.
Some argue that rear-wheel-drive cars and snow weren’t made for each other.Some argue that rear-wheel-drive cars and snow can coexist, but that rear-wheel-drive cars and thin performance tires such as those on a BMW aren’tgood companions.
If you had a nickel for every BMW that acted like a whirling dervish here in January and February, you probably could afford to spend those months in Florida or Phoenix and not give two hoots about the plight of Midwesterners.
The sight of performance sedans tiptoeing on the roadway as Civics, Escortsand Saturns blew by should have served notice to those who have a Bimmer or long for one that about Nov. 1 it’s time to head to the shop and have a set ofsnow tires put on.
We tested a BMW 525i wagon. Rather than calling it a wagon, BMW calls it a Touring, which means even the automaker realizes that “wagon” has a negative connotation. Not exactly the car we had in mind when BMW called and asked whether we’d like to take a spin without worrying about taking a spin.
The wagon was decked out with AST, or all-season traction, which means thatwhen the surface gets slick the tires will stick to the road, provided you addsnow tires and remove the Michelin or Pirelli performance tires that come withthe car. Snow, ice, water, gravel. With AST and snow tires you have a fightingchance. Without AST and snow tires you better tiptoe or leave the Bimmer home and take the Grand Cherokee instead.
As luck would have it, the minute the snow treads were fastened to the testcar’s wheels, nature took pity and kept the roads clear of gunk. With performance tires and clear, open roadways you focus on 0-to-60 m.p.h. acceleration times, flat cornering and slipping into the passing lane and burying the pedal each time you run up behind a Mercedes.
With snow treads, regardless of the condition of the pavement, you adopt a more conservative attitude. But at least you don’t have to worry about alternate transportation if the snow starts to fall .
Hmm. Dry roads, snow tires and a station wagon. This experience with the Bimmer was a bummer. In fairness, the wagon offered decent ride and handling. The suspension kept just about all harshness from being transmitted from the road into the steering wheel or seat cushion. A rather pleasant experience, considering that the vehicle of chance was one of those whose purpose it is tocarry little kids and their throne with the removable plastic bottom.
But we didn’t get to try AST-at least, we didn’t get the chance to experience it with 6 inches of slop on the highway. But we can’t understand why anyone, especially someone who lives or passes through the Snow Belt, would purchase a high-performance rear-wheel-drive car-actually, any car-without wanting traction control.
AST previously was offered only in the top-of-the-line 700- and 800-series BMWs. For 1994 it’s available in all BMWs except the base 318. The system performs three tasks to keep the whe els from locking and the car from skidding. It reduces the throttle opening, reduces ignition timing and appliesbrake pressure to the rear wheels.
Most of the Bimmers we saw digging ditches during the snowstorms were oldermodels, obviously without AST and burdened by BMW’s former front-heavy weight distribution. For 1994 the engine is moved farther back in the compartment to distribute the pounds more evenly.
The wagon we drove offered the choice of three shift settings for the automatic transmission: “automatic,” for economy shifting; “manual,” to enableyou to start in a lower gear, such as when leaving the light when the intersection is buried in snow; or “sport,” for higher-r.p.m. shifts for aggressive driving when the roads are dry and the performance tires are on thewheels.
The 525i is powered by a 2.5-liter, 24-valve, dual-overhead-cam, 189-horsepower, six-cylinder engine rated at 18 m.p.g. city/25 highway.
The base price is $40,600. The list of standard equipment is long, including four-wheel anti-lock brakes; dual air bags; power seats; leather upholstery; air conditioning; foglights; central power locking; and AM/FM stereo with cassette.
The test car added AST at $995; front and rear power sunroofs for $1,325; aluggage net at $260 (save the money and apply it toward AST if you have to pinch pennies); heated front seats at $370 (along with the savings from the cargo net, you just about have AST paid for); and Pirelli snow tires at $132.50 each, a hefty price but still much less than paying the bills for a tow truck and a body shop when you get stuck in a ditch.
However, if you have more than $40,000 to spend on a vehicle and purchase astation wagon, you probably are missing more than just a set of teeth.