BMW builds exceptional automobiles and Sport Activity Vehicles. Safety, performance, comfort and a remarkable driving experience are the hallmarks of the brand. But a new BMW can be a blank canvas, ready for the next Rembrandt to paint from a very personal palette. While options are personal, their costs can add up very quickly making what is an affordable purchase out of reach for all but the most affluent buyer. Case in point, the last BMW 5 Series we test drove had nearly $20,000 worth of options, making an already pricy 535i roll out the door for about $77,000 instead of the nicely equipped base that stickered for a tick over $57,000. Here is our take on the options that we have found that offer better safety, comfort and performance without breaking the bank.
Safety – There are several options that we recommend improve safety. First is the Driver Assistance Package. Part of the Driver Assistance Package is Park Distance Control (PDC) and Rear View Camera (RVC). PDC has sensors built into the bumpers and beep at increasing frequency as your vehicle approaches either another vehicle or similar object thereby helping prevent damage. The RVC is integrated with the PDC to not only show the driver what is behind the vehicle, it also has technology to show the vehicle’s path based on the steering wheel angle – showing an outline in the shape of an arc to help the driver maneuver safely. Offered at $950, it will pay for itself the first time you avoid running over a bicycle left behind your BMW in your driveway. On higher priced models, they offer side and top view cameras. This system gives a virtual bird’s eye view of your BMW, as if taken from a height, and shows the obstructions on all sides. It’s well worth the $750 price tag.
The Next recommended option is the BMW Lighting Package. This gives the driver brighter and whiter LED (light emitting diode) head lights. While that sounds so simple that it almost sounds unnecessary, the first time you click them on and realize how much further down the road you can see, you will be glad you have them. The $700 package also includes LED fog lights but we have driven BMWs with fog lights for over 20 years and have never needed them, except on the fog-bound coast roads of Mount Desert Island. Sadly, some inconsiderate people leave them on all the time, thereby blinding oncoming drivers. So, if you buy this option (recommended) use the fog lights only when it’s foggy (highly recommended).
Active Cruise Control is a remarkable bit of tech that let’s the driver select his or her highway cruising speed and preferred following distance. Once established, there are sensors in the bumpers that sense when the car in front has slowed and, by varying the throttle and even applying the brakes, maintains the safe following distance you have selected. Cruise control helps reduce driver fatigue and Active Cruise Control adds another layer of safety. Certainly not an inexpensive option at $1,200 but one that has lots of potential benefits. On some models, a Collision Mitigation feature will read the traffic ahead and apply the brakes sharply to prevent rear-ending a suddenly stopped vehicle. Also included on some models is blind spot detection – a warning system to tell you that a car lurks on your side, outside the coverage of your mirrors.
For the top of the line BMWs, they offer a $2,300 “night vision” option that senses infrared head signatures from cars and pedestrians. At night, it projects these images on a central screen, giving the driver more time to see objects and creatures (like deer) and react safely. Again, only offered on their very expensive top of the line models but something worth considering.
Head Up Display is possibly the most valuable safety feature that BMW offers and it has worked its way from an option to a standard feature on most models. This feature projects – directly in your normal line of vision – your speed and any GPS data (if the BMW has that feature). This prevents the driver from having to take his or her eyes from the road ahead to check speed or directions.
Comfort and Convenience – In the North East, the most welcoming option is heated seats. on a crisp fall or winter morning, clicking in the $500 heated seats quickly warms the driver and passenger. With leather seating, usually not that comfortable in cold climates, heated seating changes a shiver into a smile.
Even more tempting is the heated steering wheel option. If you have ever grasped an ice cold steering wheel in the winter, you will appreciate having a toasty warm wheel. Well worth the $400 it costs when selected as part of the Cold Weather Package.
Performance – We have saved the best for last. BMW is the Ultimate Driving Machine but they offer packages and options to raise the bar even further. Here are a couple we like and worth ordering (depending on the model purchasing). M Sport Suspension turns your BMW into a race track demon. Adjustable and adaptive shock absorbers with a slightly lower suspension and wider rims and tires give your BMW rock steady handling without a rock hard ride. Worth the $2,500 price tag and you will be reminded of that fact every time you drive briskly on an exit or on-ramp.
The Track Handling Package option at $1,700 is probably the package every performance oriented driver should select. It incorporates M Brakes (amazing!), high performance wheels and tires and a fat, easy to grip M Steering Wheel. Probably the best deal if you ever plan to take your BMW to the track or auto-cross.
Those are only a few oft he many option BMW offers. However, be warned, the prices can add up quickly so order with care and keep our suggestions handy to get the maximum value from your BMW purchase.