Power to burn, for those with money to burn

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE CAR PAGES - War­ren Brown war­ren.brown@wash­post.com

It was a beau­ti­ful car, splen­did in al­most ev­ery way. It came with two keys. One prepped the au­to­mo­bile’s driv­ing con­di­tion — that is, ig­nited the en­gine, warmed or cooled the in­te­rior, en­sured seat com­fort, prac­ti­cally did ev­ery­thing. The other key un­locked the doors and ig­nited the en­gine in the man­ner of most com­puter/power keys used to op­er­ate mod­ern cars: sim­ple, to the point.

Why two keys? I sus­pect it was to ma­te­ri­ally demon­strate where BMW and much of the rest of the global au­to­mo­bile in­dus­try are go­ing with au­ton­o­mous — driver­less — cars in a world that isn’t quite ready to go there in terms of mass-mar­ket ap­pli­ca­tion.

I left the first key — the Do Ev­ery­thing Fob — in the “car bas­ket” at home. The sec­ond key, the “op­er­a­tions key,” was all I needed to go where I was go­ing.

I am a fan and sup­porter of au­ton­o­mous driv­ing, which is com­ing, like it or not. Iron­i­cally, al­though I un­der­stand its need, I am not ready for au­ton­o­mous mo­tor­ing . . . yet.

The sam­ple car in ques­tion was the 2018 BMW M550i xDrive. I think of it as a 2017 BMW 540i xDrive loaded with the very lat­est BMW M-class op­tions, nearly $30,000 worth.

It clearly, es­pe­cially at this eco­nomic mo­ment, is a car for the few. With once-op­tional equip­ment now in­cluded as stan­dard items, it will cost you $81,255. Add an es­ti­mated fac­tory-todealer ship­ment charge of $900, and you are look­ing at $82,155.

Yes, there are peo­ple world­wide who want and can af­ford that kind of au­to­mo­tive lux­ury. But they are very few, es­pe­cially in the U.S. econ­omy, where au­to­mo­tive an­a­lysts say it is dif­fi­cult for most Amer­i­cans to swing an av­er­age new car price of $34,800.

What are car com­pa­nies, politi­cians and other cor­po­ra­tions do­ing, be­sides mar­ket­ing and promis­ing, to keep car buy­ers buy­ing? I humbly of­fer sug­ges­tions: They can raise salaries and/or lower the cost of goods and ser­vices. They have to do some­thing!

Un­til then, I’ll en­joy the mo­tor­ing frus­tra­tions and hap­pi­ness of the priv­i­leged few. Frus­tra­tions?

Yes. They have to suf­fer traf­fic jams and obey rules on In­ter­state 66 as surely as the rest of us. Try ex­plain­ing to a law en­force­ment of­fi­cer that your M550i is a hint at the “car of the fu­ture.”

The of­fi­cer hap­pily will give you a cur­rent ci­ta­tion, with court ap­pear­ance date cer­tain. The like­li­hood is that you will be in that court­room with some­one tick­eted while try­ing to get to work in a Toy­ota Corolla.

Ah, but the beauty and glory of it all: sup­ple leather seats, er­gonomic ex­cel­lence largely un­der the con­trol of hand ges­tures, ad­vanced elec­tronic safety, mostly pro­vided as stan­dard equip­ment; and power enough to boost your fan­tasy that you’ve bought some­thing spe­cial. You have! You’ll pay for it. You bought a ma­chine with a 4.4liter, di­rect-in­jec­tion ga­so­line en­gine (456 horse­power, 480 pound-feet of torque). Whoosh! Don’t ex­pect fuel econ­omy. Com­bined mileage, city/ high­way, is 19 miles per gal­lon, us­ing re­quired premium grade. But there are so many other good­ies with this one, in­clud­ing a tilt/tele­scop­ing leather steer­ing wheel and four one-touch power win­dows.

You get what you pay for here. En­joy.

It clearly, es­pe­cially at this eco­nomic mo­ment, is a car for the few.


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