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|BMW 3 Series Coupe
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The Coupe Conundrum: Offer Less But Charge More
PAU, France I hate to admit it, but sometimes there are cars that succeed, and I just don’t understand why. Every time I see an MG TF two-seater, I want to stop the car and say to the driver Hey! Why didn’t you buy yourself a Mazda MX-5, save about £2,000, and bags of trouble? I also can’t figure out why anyone would want to buy a car that was basically the same as another model, but because it only had two doors, and did roughly the same thing as the original car with a bit of added style, it actually cost more.
This is my coupe conundrum. How can a car company offer less and charge more. How do you quantify style, and is it worth paying more for?
I can understand this when the coupe version is so different, more powerful and so utterly adorable, that it would transfix buyers. The old Peugeot 406 coupe, designed by Pininfarina, was such a car. It was simply beautiful, still is, and for a while I almost convinced myself for the first time to buy a Peugeot. Needless to say the replacement Peugeot 407 Coupe doesn’t have the same effect.
Clearly, the 3 Series Coupe has been a big success for BMW, so I shall have to try and re-programme myself to see its benefits.
Who are these people buying coupes?
According to BMW there is a wide age-spread, with most sales accounted for by 30 to 59 year-olds; nothing typical there then. 82 per cent are male, although the fact that the buyer is male doesn’t necessarily mean that car is destined for a bloke. 75 per cent are “senior business people”, (or buying with somebody else’s money), and average income is £74,000 (€109,000).
“Asked about their principal motivations for buying a 3 Series Coupe, the top 5 reasons given by customers were style, performance, handling and road holding, comfort and reliability,” says BMW.
The latest iteration - the fifth generation in fact doesn’t really grab your attention at first, although it did start to grow on me after a couple of days. BMW says that externally, the coupe retains only 3 parts from the 3 Series saloon. You would think that was a formula for something radically different. First impressions suggested it was not much different from the saloon and rather dull and overweight-looking. BMW said, hold on, you will start to like it more when you get used to it. On day two, guess what, it started to look better.
BMW is using the launch of the coupe to flaunt some of its state-of-the-art high technology, super fast engines. The range-topping engine is the 335i, described by BMW as the world’s first straight-six engine with Twin-Turbo technology. This 3.0 litre direct injection petrol engine produces 306 bhp and has a small turbo which quickly gets into action before handing over to a bigger beast to handle the rest. This solves the dreaded turbo lag problem, when high-powered turbo-charged machines find it difficult to respond quickly to the need for acceleration in mundane situations, like moving from rest or slow speeds at roundabouts, or gathering initial momentum at road junctions.
Like a 4.0 litre V8
I can report that on the highways and byways around Pau in South West France, this new engine performed fabulously well. Steering and handling was just what you would expect from a BMW impeccable. The 325 version, with a 2.5 litre straight six engine though felt sluggish, unless you really ripped the rev counter towards the red-line.
You can also choose a 330i petrol version, a 335d variable twin turbo diesel, or a 330d conventional diesel when the car is launched this month. Next year, when the range is being produced at maximum pace, there will also be a 320 diesel and 320 petrol engine.
The new coupe is bigger and more spacious than its predecessor and weighs less. There is more room for the passengers and more boot space. There is an automatic seatbelt device which feeds the belt to the driver and front passenger when the ignition is turned on and the doors closed. New technology options include Active Steering, and Active Cruise Control. The dashboard will display how the brakes are wearing, and the computerised system which controls traction and power will also dry the brakes, prime them for emergency use, and stop the car rolling back on hill starts.
Six-speed manual standard
The 3 Series coupe is a magnificent driver’s car which comes with all the quality and high technology you’d expect from a BMW. But I can’t bring myself to embrace the coupe concept. Maybe BMW has been toying with novelist Kingsley Amis’s famous dictum, when he said while commenting on the expansion of higher education back in 1959, that “More means worse”. If that’s true, then by offering customers less, like fewer doors, they can somehow be persuaded that it is worth paying more. So far, it seems there are a lot of Kingsley Amis fans out there, as the tactic has worked rather well.
Neil Winton September 20, 2006
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