Early February saw an invite to DriveLife from BMW New Zealand to catch up on their latest general news, and also to spend a day driving four models around country roads south of Auckland.

After presentations from both Karol Abrasowicz-Madej, Managing Director of BMW Group New Zealand, and Tim Michaelson, Product Manager for BMW New Zealand, all seemed bright and shiny in BMW world.

According to the statistics supplied, BMW has nailed more than a few ‘Number 1s’ in different segments in the New Zealand market, even allowing for the virus that shall not be named. Not just locally either. We were told that global sales are up just over 50% year-on-year despite the pandemic.

Back to the New Zealand market, the MINI Electric (that we reviewed last month) reached 18.5% of total MINI sales, making New Zealand one of the highest electrified markets for MINI worldwide. Admittedly, it’s a great little car and deserves to sell well.

Sales of BMW M and M Performance track steady as performance car-loving New Zealand remains one of the highest M share markets in the world. We’ve heard the same sort of stats for AMG and Audi RS models, so no surprises there. BMW says one in four BMWs sold is an M car, or M Performance model, so the numbers prove New Zealanders love performance cars.

According to BMW New Zealand, they were the only premium segment company to register more than 2,000 units last year, an accolade they were obviously proud of. This includes both BMW and MINI brands, selling a total of 2,255 units in 2020.

There was a big spike in December for some reason, with BMW sales jumping 50.6% over the same period in 2019.

Other highlights across the BMW model range include the 1 Series and 2 Series Gran Coupe, which registered a +17% figure in registrations for 2020. The 3 Series sedan/touring walked away with segment leadership for the year, and the BMW 7 Series surged ahead of the competition to become the best-selling large luxury sedan. Finally, the BMW X7 topped the charts for large-sized luxury SUVs, says BMW.

BMW iPerformance registrations performed some 400% better year-on-year in New Zealand, thanks to expanded offerings like the 330e, 530e, X5 45e, and 745e providing enough range for an emission-free daily commute into and out of Auckland.

IX COMING SOON

There’s a lot of anticipation for this smaller EV SUV, and sales will be online only. This is part of BMW’s core strategy, ‘The Power of Choice’. Karol mentions that dealers will always be part of the sales process, but buyers are now more familiar and more comfortable with ordering online – even a new car.

The all-electric IX is being built on a new EV platform, will have a 2.4-ton towing capacity, and should have a 600Km range. Big claims, and we look forward to reviewing the car when it arrives in Q4 of this year.

There’s also the IX3 in the wings, smaller than the IX but it will have a 450Km range.

The new EV models are all part of BMW’s drive towards sustainability on all fronts, and Karol was keen to point out that BMW takes the #1 spot in the Dow Jones index for sustainability for auto manufacturers, beating 38 other companies.

DRIVE TIME

M340i Touring

Part of coming to this event was to spend some time behind the wheel of cars we have yet to review. This meant taking a day to travel from Auckland City, driving south through Clevedon, Whitford, Maraeti, Kawakawa Bay, and other southern areas of Auckland.

I was keen to jump into the AWD M340i Touring. After spending a week in the Audi RS4 late last year, this is BMW’s answer to that car. I loved the RS4 and declared it the best car I had reviewed in 2020. So no pressure on the M340i at all.

It’s powered by a 3.0-litre, six-cylinder turbo-petrol engine putting out 285kW of power and 500Nm of torque. This means a 0-100 time of 4.5 seconds, pretty much on par with benchmark for smaller performance wagons, the RS4 at 4.1 seconds. This car was finished in Portimao Blue Metallic, and looked stunning. During the day, whether it was in front of me or behind, it looks like a performance car. Low, and a little mean.

This car was optioned up with a full panoramic sunroof, which made the interior bright and airy. It sounded awesome too, quiet on the motorway – in fact, there was almost no wind, tyre, engine or road noise on the motorway – but wind it out to the redline and it growls at you. The whole car feels tight to drive, and getting behind the wheel of a BMW after our tour of the lower South Island last year brought back memories. All the controls are in the same place, and this was repeated when I went into the other two BMWs on this day.

BMW say this car is $20,000 cheaper than the RS4, at $132,900 without any options. Will that tempt buyers away from that iconic wagon? Possibly, but as always we’ll reserve opinions until we have one for a full week to review.

X5 xDrive45e Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV)

It might have the longest model name, but the X5 Hybrid still impresses. This was my first time behind the wheel of an X5 since the M50d quad-turbo diesel in 2019, and I was very keen to see and drive it in hybrid form.

Priced at $137,800, the X5 Hybrid will go about 80Km on a charge, if you force it into EV mode. After that of course, the engine kicks in, charging the battery back up as well as driving the car. Like all PHEVs, the car starts with no engine at all, starting it when required. I left it in ‘Auto’ mode so it did just that. Prod the gas pedal hard enough, and the engine will start giving you a lot more oomph. Speaking of oomph, this car has some. 100km/h comes up in just 5.6 seconds, as the combined power output is 210kW and torque is 600 Newton Metres. It really does boogie when you want it to.  It may be a plug-in hybrid, but this car still has a 3.0-litre, six-cylinder petrol engine.

After the M340i, it did feel a bit wallowy in the corners we were on, but that’s more because the M340i seems to handle so well, rather than the X5 Hybrid being bad. 21” rims are standard on this car, and once you get used to it, it can be hustled about quite quickly. When you are moving quickly, the engine makes great noises, too. Not quite like the M340i, but still very pleasing. I liked this car a lot.

I was glad to see BMW haven’t messed with the stunning shape of the X5; other than a flap on the front guard to charge the car up, it looks like a normal, everyday X5, and that was fine by me. Our X5 was finished in another blue – Phytonic Blue Metallic – and it totally suited the car.

The leather inside was ‘Vernasca Cognac’ and was excellent. I’m over black leather, so was very happy to see BMW throwing some different colours into the mix. Long may it stay that way. This car was fitted with some options; the paint, sun protection glazing, a towbar, the Comfort Package, M Seatbelts, and the Vision and Sound package, rounding out the price to $150,390. There’s a lot of high-spec standard equipment on this model, including a heads-up display, laser headlights, a split electric tailgate, heated and cooled cup holders, Parking Assistant Plus, Qi wireless phone charging, and a long list of other items.

Fuel economy is started as 2.5L/100Km. A pretty bold claim, and again we’ll wait until we test one to check that number out. CO2 emissions are very low, at a stated 56g/km. All the other vehicles today are well over 100 in comparison.

420i M Sport Coupe

After all the fuss over the huge grille on the 4 Series, I kind of liked it. It’s very much a ‘looks better in the flesh’ thing and finished in black very much suited the 420i M Sport Coupe. Driving in front of the car and seeing it in the mirror, it’s hard not to like it. Proportionally, the grille looks spot on. I know – a whole paragraph on a grille, but at the time of the first photos of this car, that grille was a Big Thing, and many wrote it off as too much, too huge. But I’m now a bit of a fan of it.

The shape is great too – just the right angles, nice lines, and looking good, even in Mineral White.

This model has a 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder petrol motor, giving you 135kW of power and 300Nm of torque. I’ve got to say, it felt a little underpowered. The torque just isn’t there low down, and you really need to rev this car out to get it to move quickly. If you don’t ever drive like that, it’s fine, but with the looks and the M Sport in its name, I expected more from it. It felt like the slowest car of the day, and by the numbers it is equal with the MINI Cooper S Countryman, getting to 100km/h in 7.5 seconds.

The ride was a highlight – excellent, even in Sports mode. It’s a quiet car too, with barely any sound coming from the engine, even holding it at almost the red line. Combined fuel consumption is listed at a low 5.8L/100Km.

The base price is $81,900 and this car was optioned up with the Comfort Package, Vernasca leather upholstery, sun protection glazing, metallic paint, and a few other items, to bring the price to $92,290.

MINI Cooper S Countryman

After testing the MINI Electric last month, this was another car I was keen on driving. It’s about the same price as the EV model, but has two more doors. Make no mistake, this is a big car. It also has a 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder petrol engine, putting out a little more power but a little less torque than the 420i at 141kW and 280Nm. It’s amazing how much faster this car feels though – even though it has slightly more power, it’s a lot higher up than the 420i Coupe, so should feel lots slower. But it doesn’t, and it wants to go so bad. It begs you to drive it quite hard, but it’s still happy to dawdle along around town. I drove this car back to the airport in traffic, and it was easy. Great visibility, good performance and plenty of torque. Not only that, but the engine sounds terrific. It’s like the MINI and the 420i have their engines swapped around. Even on back roads, I managed to get this car to keep up in the corners with the others without really trying. There’s plenty of grip, and handling is more than reasonable.

This car was finished in Sage Green Metallic; it looks almost grey, with just a hint of green. Still, it’s a good looking car and like the M340i, looks excellent either in front of you, or in your rear view mirror.

Base price on this car is $64,590, and it had no options at all.  

So that was our day over, and it was a great way to spend it. All of these four cars are so different, but each was a fun drive. I’d be happy with any of them in my driveway, but I think the M340i Touring has got to be my pick from these four. 

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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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