Business cards are simple by nature. They’re meant to convey instantaneous understanding of who a person is and what that person does. Our card gives our name followed by our occupation: “Web Content Writer.”
When you go for a test-drive with someone and you pull back onto the lot and get out of the car, you’ll probably shake their hand and then receive their card, and under their name it might say something like “Sales Consultant,” or, if it’s a more lofty outfit, “Brand Ambassador.”
We recently went for a test-drive in a 2014 BMW 528i xDrive with Kent Beard, and his business card says “Dream Facilitator.”
Kent led us out onto the lot and let us choose the car we wanted to drive. If you don’t think this is a big deal, you probably aren’t aware what an enormous inventory that Leith BMW has. Not only are there cars out front, but there’s also a side lot, and even more behind the dealership.
Then there’s the variety to consider. With BMW, there’s a series for just about every digit plus a few letters, so already the choices begin to add up, but then factor in that each series has its own subdivisions. It’s not as simple as saying “I want to drive a 5-series” because you have to decide between the 528, the 535, and the 550, and then do you want to drive an inline 4-cylinder engine or the diesel? The choices keep piling up.
It’s only a problem if you don’t know what you want. This was our dream we’re talking about, and Kent knows that in our dream, we get to choose, and what we wanted to drive was the 528i xDrive. He approved and stepped away to get the key.
We got in on the passenger side first, as he breezed through the walkaround in order to maximize our driving time. The best part about dreaming is doing after all.
We did get a quick look in the trunk, which is spacious for a sedan. The rear seats fold down in a 40/20/40 split, and that twentieth in the center is perfect if you need to transport a few pairs of skis. There are also indentations in the side walls of the trunk if you need to fit a set of golf clubs in the back. If your hands are full, no need to worry about putting things down or fishing through your pockets for the keys. Just hold your foot under the rear bumper and the trunk will open automatically.
As we buckled up, Kent was running through many of the basic features of the 5-series, specifically media specs such as Bluetooth syncing, auxiliary and iPod hookups, and Sirius satellite radio. It’s actually possible to sync two phones via Bluetooth at once, enabling access to both sets of contacts, music, and whatever else might be on them. This is a great feature for couples or perhaps a carpool buddy. The front seats are power-adjustable, with lumbar support for both the driver and the passenger. Dual-zone climate control is standard, but heated seats and steering wheel require the Cold Weather Package.
Push-button start is also standard, so Kent put his foot on the brake and turned the car on with a simple press of the button. Then he walked us through the different driving modes. Primary driving modes are selected with the shifter. Pulling back will put the car into Drive mode. In Drive, the car defaults to second gear. Flicking the shifter to the left, toward the driver, puts the car into Sport mode. In Sport mode you will start in first gear, and you can manually select any gear up to eighth either with the shifter or by using available paddle shifters. To give the car more of a racing feel, you shift up by pulling the stick backward, and shift down by pushing it forward. As Kent explained, the car is totally “goof proof,” so if you’re in the process of learning when to shift into a certain gear, you’re in no danger of damaging the transmission.
He didn’t wait any longer to put the car in gear and drive us off the lot, clearly as excited to drive the car as we were. Kent is well acquainted with the German MO of building cars that are meant to be driven. “Is it fast? Does it handle well?” he’ll ask. “Who cares where the cup holders are?” Who indeed.
We set out in the direction of I-540 so Kent could show us the acceleration of the 528i and let us hear the exhaust note. Both are impressive. The car rushed up the on ramp with the engine roaring, a rich tone resonating throughout the chassis. Once the car got up to speed, the engine noise faded away and there was only the road. Kent then explained the secondary modes, accessible via push buttons next to the shifter, which govern the car’s Driving Dynamics. There are three modes to choose from at this trim level: Eco Pro, Comfort, and Sport. Each has their own personality based on how they individually tune the suspension, steering, and throttle. Eco Pro is the most fuel efficient, Comfort is the most stable, and Sport is the most aggressive.
Not forgetting that this was our dream, Kent pulled off the beltline and onto a side road so we could switch off, but not before demonstrating the 528i’s turning radius by doing a perfect curb-to-curb U-turn. Then he put the car in park and let us take the wheel.
Rapid i Movement
“This car loves to be pushed around,” Kent said while we adjusted our seat, mirrors, and the steering wheel. His message was clear: Don’t be afraid.
Just as an aesthetic note, from behind the wheel it becomes readily apparent that the car is designed totally for the driver. Nearly everything is oriented to face you, and everything is in reach. The shifter is situated in such a way that you can grasp and manipulate it without lifting your arm off the arm rest.
Then there’s the Head-Up Display. The HUD is one of the niftiest features that BMW has to offer by far, and it’s a safety measure, to boot. No more taking your eyes off the road – your speed limit is projected onto the windshield. It’s very subtle, hovering at the bottom of your field of vision, but it’s right there if you focus. It actually looks like the numbers are hovering out in front of the car, just beyond the hood. The HUD will also display navigation directions, as well as the radio station you’re choosing. Take note: If you wear polarized sunglasses while driving, you won’t be able to see the HUD as well. Not the end of the world since the feature doesn’t replace the instrument panel, and you can even turn it off if you prefer.
Kent led us on a diverse route so that we could see the multiple personalities of the 528i. We started on the beltline, cruising in Drive and Comfort mode. As we said before, the car accelerates quickly thanks to the 260 pound-feet of torque supplied by the inline 4-cylinder engine. After that, the 240 horsepower marvel keeps you going at a constant rate with no “turbo lag” like with other turbocharged engines.
As we discovered, the 528i is a very intelligent car, capable of adapting to the driver’s style and attitude. Linked to the key, the car’s memory will recognize when you like to shift gears, how and when you want to accelerate, and how often and hard you hit the brakes, and it will make minute adjustments based on how you handle the car. It gets to the point where the car knows what you want before you do, and it will gladly give it to you.
Soon enough, Kent got us to exit the highway onto Durant Road. Here he put the car in Sport mode for us. Kent likes Durant Road because it winds and dips a lot and it usually has minimal traffic, so you can really get a sense for the car’s capabilities in its natural habitat. Police presence is also infrequent… but that of course has nothing to do with why Kent took us there.
Right away, we could feel a difference in Sport mode. We felt a resistance in the throttle fall away as the car became notably more eager. We remembered what Kent said about pushing the car around and proceeded to do just that.
Whipping around corners, you can’t help but appreciate the advanced engineering of a BMW. These cars have flawless 50/50 weight distribution, and BMW’s Dynamic Stability Control keeps the car perfectly level as you round a bend. Sensors monitor an array of data points that include speed, steering, angle, yaw, and brake pressure to ensure constant traction. Combine these mechanics with xDrive, BMW’s all-wheel system and you’ll be hard-pressed to lose your grip on the road. We think this is a winning combination because it makes the car safe, and even more than that, it makes the 528i xDrive fun.
We had an absolute blast on Durant Road, flying down the long street with its green scenery. In many ways, it reminded us of some time we had spent in southern Germany. The car has speed sensitive steering, so when you’re going fast, it stiffens up to give you easier control. When you’re going slow, perhaps crawling through the parking lot at the grocery store looking for a place, you can easily turn the wheel with only a finger.
At one point, we came to a four-way stop just before a big hill, giving us an opportunity to gun it. No struggle at all, just that powerful exhaust note as we rapidly pulled onto even ground. As Kent put it, “If I were deaf, I would still enjoy driving this car.” The tone adds to the experience, but it’s the force and the speed that gave us a thrill.
As good as it is at moving, the 5-series also has excellent stopping power. It’s equipped with four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes. As part of BMW’s Dynamic Brake Control, you also get what is called Anti-Dive braking, which prevents the front end from dipping during a stiff brake like it would in other cars. Again, the car keeps an even keel, even when stopping.
At the end of the road, we took a right turn and got back on the beltline, heading toward the dealership. We were careening down the on ramp, but Kent urged us to keep pushing. “She can take it, you’re fine,” he said as we reached the apex of the curve.
It did not take us long to get back to base.
Discussing it afterward, Kent said he thinks some of the big magazines lose focus when they’re reviewing cars. They forget about the purity of the car itself, and forget about actually driving. Most people look at a BMW and see the kidney grille, the corona lights, and the antenna fin, and they think that’s all there is. You can’t understand why they call it an “Ultimate Driving Machine” until you actually get behind the wheel and lose yourself on the road.
The 5-series is an indomitable vehicle. It’s exceedingly comfortable just to sit in, but the real joy of experiencing it comes with your foot on the gas and Sport mode engaged on a long, winding road. You should feel totally at ease driving this car with its robust suite of standard safety features. Oftentimes it feels smarter than you are, and that’s ok. It’s just doing what it was built to do, and it was built to be driven. This car is a dream come true.
We want to give a huge thanks to our Dream Facilitator, Kent Beard, as well as the rest of the staff at Leith BMW for making our test-drive experience possible. If you have any questions about the 2014 BMW 528i xDrive, or if you want to take one for a test-drive yourself, please don’t hesitate to call or e-mail.