Rental cars, they’re usually total crap that you’re only willing to put up with for a few days because they serve a purpose. Some trips can really use a bright spot, though, and for us gearheads a car can be just the thing to brighten up life.
I lost both of my grandmothers this summer, within a month and a half of each other. What can I say, it hasn’t been ideal. It was just my mom and I going on the trip, out to Tucson, Arizona last weekend. My dad was away singing in China, and my girlfriend had her busiest work weekend of the year. We were flying out to Phoenix, and then driving 100 miles, or so, down to Tucson. While we were definitely looking forward to seeing my mom’s side of the family and catch up with everyone, it was still a trip meant for saying goodbye to my grandma, Jody, who we all hold very dear in our hearts.
This trip was definitely one that needed as many bright spots as we could give it. So, when the rental car lady told us we could have a BMW 528i for only $20/day more than the Chevy Malibu we had booked, we were like, “Oh hell yes!” If we were going to be cruising through the desert at high speed, we might as well aim to be as comfortable as possible.
I hadn’t even planned to do an article on this trip, but when life hands you a Bimmer….
I’ve driven and written about many BMWs for this blog, even the mighty M5, the big daddy to this more basic 528i. It was interesting to have some seat time in a medium-range BMW model again because it made me realize how even their normal cars still stand out in the automotive crowd.
BMW in general makes some of the most solid, well-rounded cars in the business, and it’s easy to forget that when you’ve only been focusing on the cream of their crop. This 528i can do everything. If you want comfort, it has a comfort mode, where it’s soft and relaxing. If you want fun, click it into sport mode and enjoy sharp throttle response, lively steering, and crisp gearshifts. It’s all the car, and much more, that any normal driver could ask for.
The 528i isn’t really fast compared to most focused high performance cars, but again, on the road compared to most other normal cars, it’s quite a performer. Its 2.0L turbo engine offers plenty of grunt for real world maneuvers, and it is able to cross into autobahn speeds without even lifting a finger.
What impressed me the most had to be the confidence in the Bimmer’s chassis. It felt so solid at every speed, and it lets you feel every bit of the road beneath you, but it’s never even close to jarring. There’s a reason why you always see BMW’s driving fast. Many people just think the drivers are A-holes, but in reality it’s more because the car is so comfortable at a higher pace. The 5 series is definitely one of those cars you could accidentally cross 100mph in, and wonder why you’re being pulled over when you see flashing lights. Everything about it is just so darn smooth.
The interior is also leagues better than anything you’d get in a typical rental car, with plush leather and wood and metal trim throughout. The seats are also fully adjustable so you can sit “just so” on a long drive. There’s nothing awkward about it at all, and it just feels, oh, so right.
This was also my first time playing around with the newest generation of BMW’s iDrive. The system works really well, overall, for anyone but the technically illiterate. The highlight for me had to be the new touch pad, where you can write letters and numbers with your finger instead of scrolling through options. It’s a total gimmick, but it’s friggin cool!
My time in this 528i reminded me how much I love BMW’s ZF 8 speed automatic transmission. It’s programmed so well for what you want the car to do. In comfort mode, it’s smooth, but reacts attentively to your right foot on the gas pedal. In sport mode, it gets really crisp, and bangs through shifts quickly with a satisfying jolt. It feels a lot like a dual clutch, but it is indeed an automatic with a torque converter. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
It’s really nice driving a car that’s so overqualified. In fact, I had to be careful cruising on the highway because the car want’s to run at a fast gate. It is an autobahn cruiser after all, however, Arizona has some of the most asinine and obnoxious speeding laws of any state. 20mph over the speed limit is an arrestable criminal offense. Can you believe that? That’s entirely excessive and unreasonable, especially in a place that consists of 90% wide open desert, with nothing but tumbleweeds to hit.
Basically everyone stayed just below 90mph on the highway, with the speed limit set at 75. The Bimmer definitely wanted to cruise faster, and would’ve been totally safe doing so, but I didn’t feel like becoming anyone’s new girlfriend for the weekend.
What I came away with after a few days in this most-average BMW is the feeling that this has to be one of the best everyday cars money can buy. Sure, the running costs will be higher over time than many other cars. While that’s a big consideration, not many other everyday cars drive as well as this BMW 528i does. Like, not even close. It’s a car anyone will enjoy driving, car enthusiast or not.
There’s a reason why people buy luxury cars like this, and it’s because they are more pleasant to spend your life in than an economy car. Most of us spend quite a lot of time in our lives driving, so why shouldn’t that time be enjoyable? That’s what BMW is all about. I know many have criticized a lot about them in recent years (myself included), but there’s no denying that their products are really well executed.
So if you’re at a rental car counter, and you can upgrade to a BMW 5 Series for a reasonable price, I highly recommend you do it. Your bum will thank you.
I enjoyed my time driving this 528i, and it helped, in its own way, to make our trip as good as it could be. We actually did have a fantastic time with everyone, and the service for my grandma was a beautiful tribute to her life.
PS: Sorry for the crummy cell phone pics, but again, doing an article wasn’t the point of this quick trip.