Darryl and I travel a number of times each year and when we require a rental vehicle, we use it as an opportunity to compare the BMWs and MINIs that we are lucky enough to drive on a regular basis to other offerings in the marketplace.
For this trip, from the Vancouver airport to the Four Seasons in Whistler, we rented a new 2008 mid-sized cross-over vehicle. A sort of car-truck hybrid. (My intention in writing this story is not to bash a company or any specific car so I think I will keep the make and model to myself.) It was large and spacious enough to transport 4 of us with all of our luggage and some ski equipment. It is about a 2 and a half hour drive with the traffic, so it gave us plenty of time to really experience what the vehicle was all about.

Here is what I missed most about my BMW:

1) Comfort
So yes, right out of the gate I am going to be a big suck. I love to drive and I do quite a bit of it. Being comfortable is of utmost importance and wow, is it ever something I have taken for granted. (I am currently driving an X5 Diesel.) BMW seats are SOOOOO comfortable, endlessly adjustable and they hug you where no one else will.
The seats in our non-BMW rental vehicle looked promising at first, they appeared suitably padded and featured the never optional (in my opinion) bum warmers. But after about 20 minutes on the road I was fiddling with the manual adjustment controls without much satisfaction. And the seat was either too hot or not warm enough, with no in-between.
Upon arriving at our destination, I scrambled from the vehicle as quickly as I could manage just to stretch the kinks out of my neck, back and legs. Blah!

The steering wheel on our non-BMW rental vehicle was in a fixed position. We could not move it closer or tilt it to a different angle. Quite unlike my BMW X5 Diesel which has a power tilt and telescopic steering column. Once Darryl had his seat into a position where his legs were somewhat comfortable, his arms had to stretch out to reach the steering wheel since it was not adjustable. Those of you familiar with proper driving position will know that this is not a good position especially for any long distance driving.

Proper driving arm positioning

To add insult to injury (literally) the driver's seat automatically went back to some sort of default position every time we had to turn off the engine. Darryl has those L-O-N-G legs and it irritated him to no end that he had to re-position his seat every time he got back in.

My BMW X5 Diesel has a memory function that stores two different configurations, including seat positions, exterior mirrors and steering wheel position. When I press the memory button on the side, my seat returns to my stored preferences.

To read the 'official' blurb on BMW Comfort Seats, click here:

Heated Steering Wheel

Lastly, the steering wheel was not heated. Enough said…

2) Drivability
For anyone used to driving a BMW this is pretty much a given. BMWs are all about the driving experience – actually the Ultimate Driving Experience, which is our brand promise. Again though, it is something you take for granted. So what makes a BMW such a superior driving machine? What was it specifically that I missed in our non-BMW rental vehicle?
To be precise; Active Steering, the 50-50 weight distribution, and the adaptive headlights.
Active steering is a technology used by BMW which varies the degree that the wheels turn in response to the steering wheel. At lower speeds, this technology reduces the amount that the steering wheel must be turned — improving performance in situations such as parking and other urban area traffic maneuvers. At higher speeds, the performance is such that steering becomes more responsive and provides improved directional stability.
The idea is to make the car feel more agile and nimble, and cut driver fatigue by reducing the input from the driver through the steering wheel. To put it in Carly-language, it is awesome!

Great short video on BMW Active Steering

Short video of Nick Heidfeld (BMW Sauber F1 Driver) talking about BMW Active Steering

BMW Active Steering Explanation

A more in-depth overview on BMW Active Steering.

50-50 Weight Distribution
Our non-BMW rental seemed to under-steer when cornering and was decidedly sluggish during any tricky maneuvering. The drive up the Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler is full of twisties and turns. Under proper BMW conditions I would consider it fantastic! We traversed our way up in the dark which was a little nerve-wracking considering all the construction. I felt like I was being flung from side to side.
Weight is something that BMW takes seriously. It is the even weight distribution between the front and rear axles that gives a BMW its trademark handling balance. It ensures neutral steering, excellent traction and optimum control. That agility and responsiveness was sorely missed considering that Darryl drove our rental like it was a BMW. Evidently it takes him some time to acclimatize…

Short video on BMW 50-50 weight distribution

Adaptive Xenon Headlights
Again, such a little thing but what a difference it can make. BMW adaptive headlights actually ensure that you have the best possible view of the road ahead, even at night. As you enter a curve, the headlight's beam turns to follow the direction of the road. So you always know what's ahead. Which would have come in quite handy.

BMW Adaptive Xenon Headlights

2) Safety
With my points on comfort and drivability addressed, the most sobering difference between my BMW X5 Diesel and our non-BMW rental vehicle was definitely the feeling of safety or lack thereof. I feel however that I have gotten slightly unwieldy in my story length here so I will save safety for next week.

Stay tuned for Part Two of 'Spoiled by a BMW'.