Bavarian Bounce-Back

With the arrival of the turbocharged 991.2 Carrera (which is apparently brilliant), the classic rear-engined Porsche now starts at prices north of ninety grand.  That’s all fine and dandy if you’ve got that sort of dough, but your humble author does not, and therefore his eyes will sometimes find themselves wandering from their favored marque to gaze at more attainable brands.

One such brand is BMW.  While the Bavarians placed themselves in a rough spot in the not-too-distant past, aiming for compliance and mass appeal over visceral driver enjoyment (cough cough numb F30 3-series steering, cough cough fake engine noise through the speakers in the turbo M5), they seem to have somewhat regained their poise of late.

Full disclosure: what got me in the door to the just-renovated showroom at my local dealer was the redesign of the X1.  What was formerly a small rear-drive wagon is now, horribly, a not-a-real-BMW super-trendy small luxury crossover with a Mini Cooper S engine and a front-wheel-drive platform.  Fellow blogosphere resident thetruthaboutcars.com says the X1 “for purists…is an abomination; an affront to everything E46 M3 owners hold sacred.”

Fine.  But it’s also a nicely proportioned, efficient runabout with some incredible packaging work done.  Many of these small crossovers are just TOO small, even if they offer decent driving dynamics (looking at you, Mazda CX-3).  With the X1, I could actually pick up my 6’1” father from the airport and not feel bad about putting him in the rear seat, even with the panoramic roof option installed.  His luggage would fit easily into the cargo area, and we could still get home quickly, since the direct-injected 2.0L TwinPower Turbo 4-cylinder makes 258 pound-feet of twist all the way from 1250 to 4500 RPM.  A zero-to-sixty time of 6.3 seconds is nothing to sneeze at (0.2 faster than a ’65 Shelby GT350, among the manliest of manly-man cars), and meantime we would still manage better than 30 MPG highway.

Beyond the X1, though, there’s a raft of other fine vehicles churning out of the Werks in Munich.  The M235i has already scored a place on Car & Driver’s 10Best.  The just-released M2 is garnering plenty of praise.  Jeremy Clarkson chose the i8 over the new M3, but then moments later reverted to form and backed the M3, effectively showering praise on both cars.  The M4 bested a base 991.1 Carrera in a C&D comparison back in summer of 2014 (perhaps urging forward Porsche’s turbocharging-the-base-models program).  The price-leader 320i offers four doors, rear-wheel drive, three pedals, and a shift lever for a very reasonable sum.

It continues as you climb on up the money ladder, too.  For right about the same-sized briefcase-full o’ cash as you’d need for a stripped down 991.2 Carrera 3.0, one could have the very same cylinder count and displacement in a new 740i with a fair number of pretty incredible toys (I think the “Panoramic Sky Lounge LED Roof” is my favorite, or maybe it’s just those beautiful leather seats).  The new 7-series is about as far removed from the bloated last-generation one as it is possible to be—it redefines the concept of long, low, and sleek.  Thanks to a ton of carbon fiber (lessons from the i3 and i8 apply here) in the construction, it trims 285 pounds from its bulbous ancestor.  Unsprung weight drops fifteen percent.  Someone should tell Q Branch that the 7-series is once again ready for double-oh duty.

7-series rear seats

One more Top Gear note—in the final series, the chaps took some fast GT cars to the Australian Outback.  Clarkson himself helmed a BMW M6 Gran Coupe, and had the following to say about it:

“In the early days, BMW’s M cars sounded like 500 yards of ripping calico and they had telepathic steering and they were magnificent. In recent years, though, some of the magic has sort of gone. With this one, though, it is back. It is properly back. God, this is just electrifyingly good.”

Porsche SUVs and Cars 2014-2015_cr edit

So while Porsche becomes an SUV brand (see above) that also makes a few expensive sports cars on the side, it must remember that its competitors have been making reasonably attainable, reasonably high performance vehicles for a long time.  One day when a child sees a 911 and, surprised, asks, “Porsche makes little cars too?”…well…that will be a sad, sad day.

Complexity or Electricity

A few auto-journalist personalities recently published some material that dovetailed rather thought-provokingly.  First was Aaron Robinson of Car & Driver, who penned an article titled “Have We Reached Peak Engine?”  Next was Freddy “Tavarish” Hernandez of Jalopnik.com, who wrote a somewhat less-cleverly-titled piece called “BMW Engines Are Gigantic Pieces of Sh*t.”  Tavarish’s rant sent Road & Track Editor-at-Large Sam Smith into a Twitter flurry that really got me thinking.

The overall thrust of those bits is as follows: internal combustion engines are so boxed-in by a combination of market vector and government regulation that they are becoming too complex and too prone to expensive failure to remain viable in the long term.  This is tragic because very few modern cars, brilliant as they may be in the showroom and on the test drive, will survive long into the future because their very hearts are terribly over-stressed from the moment they begin beating.

In 1997, the newly redesigned Corvette made 345 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque from a 5.7-liter naturally-aspirated V8.  For 2017, Porsche’s 911 Carrera S houses a 3.0-liter horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engine that makes 420 horsepower and 368 pound-feet.  That’s 75 more horses and eighteen more torques from an engine barely over half the size of the Corvette’s LS1.

This is, of course, only possible with massive added complexity: twin turbochargers, each with its own manifold, wastegate, and diverter valve, direct injection with the fuel atomized into the cylinders at up to 3625 psi, millions of lines of engine management code, a two-stage water pump for cooling, and an automatic engine stop/start system.  Generally, the more components something has, the more likely it is that one of those components will break.  I shudder for the hapless third owner of a 2017 991.2 Targa 4S who gets a “great deal” on his flashy new-to-him ride in year 2025.  Actually, I do more than shudder—I flee to listings of Lexuses with Toyota’s ubiquitous 3.5-liter V6 in them, because if I’m not already saddled with a car payment I fear I’ll wind up becoming that very same Targa-buying idiot.

But nevermind—the point of all this is that if an automaker wants to build and/or maintain a reputation for long-term reliability, they must consider electric-only cars as central to their future, because electric motor/generators are by their nature just the opposite of the complexity I’ve just described.  They’re very simple things—all you need are some loops of wire, a magnetic field, and some motion.

Porsche does have a reliability reputation worth protecting.  It has shown serious intent to protect that rep by launching itself down the electric path—and investing heavily in its Misson E concept.  Seven hundred million euros have been set aside for Mission E-enabling upgrades to the already-existing factory in Stuttgart.  Workers at that same facility have “agreed to abandon future wage increases along with other concessions totaling several hundred million euros” in order to free up the cash so Porsche can make the Mission E into production reality.  And the car itself, well…just look at it.

06-2048-2048

The future is those achingly beautiful lines wrapped around an eight-hundred-volt electrical system that produces over six hundred horsepower.  The future silently carries four passengers three hundred miles at speeds up to 155 mph, then recharges back up to 80% range capacity in 15 minutes.  The future is simpler, it’s better, and it’s coming in 2020.  I need to start saving my pennies…and avoiding anything overly complex in the meantime.