Past to Present
In all our living memory (about 20 years, in our case), BMW had been cars to turn heads and cause a distinct sensation churning in one’s stomach. The beady-eyed glare accompanied by the growl from those engines could indeed stoke one’s desires. However, the 1980s German car scene was dominated by the Mercedes and the Opels, with just a smattering of BMWs. Their relative rarity helped make them even more desirable, though service and parts from the previous distributor were reportedly expensive, in both money and time.
When the car industry began to boom in the 1990s, particularly for the prestige European brands, BMW was quick to assert its presence here. Assembly rights were awarded to Asian Carmakers Corporation, in its Bicutan, Metro Manila plant. The 3 and 5 series shared the plant with Subaru wagons, Mazda sedans and Kia hatchbacks. Dealerships were set up in several locations within Metro Manila. One problem was that some dealers displayed the BMWs right next to their Japanese littermates. The general public knew who assembled the German cars, and stories flew—at least several true—about overheating engines and interior bits falling apart. Many 3 series drove around the Metro with water sloshing around in their taillight lenses.
The boom years soon ended, and many luxury marques were forced to rethink their strategies to survive. Audi picked the wrong dealer and all but disappeared from the market. Volvo closed some dealerships but continued to bring in new models. Mercedes came with all guns blazing, bringing in the complete range, from A to M to V class.
BMW hasn’t been lounging around, either. In 2001 the German principals decided to take over the assembly themselves, to improve real and perceived quality, and perhaps give the buyers what they deserved. BMW is still using the old plant for now, but reportedly have knuckled down and drastically improved build quality. The long-awaited 3-series sedan was released, with choice of inline-4 or inline-6 engines. A splash of newspaper ads heralded the re-launch of the marque, one of the ads featuring not a hot new car, but a smiling Filipina girl, to say that BMW cares most about the people. A new approach indeed. Not to worry, though; hot cars soon followed.
Indeed, the 3-series lineup was soon completed, with Touring, Coupe and Convertible flanking the sedan in the showrooms. The 523i soldiers on, still unchanged but for new financing schemes to cushion the initial cost of ownership. The Z3 gets a 2.2 liter inline-6 engine to boost its performance. According to Ms. Cynthia Mangahas, Corporate Communications Manager for BMW-Prestige Cars Libis, this is only the beginning.
As if to prove her point, BMW has been bringing in several of its exotics. Alas, they were for looking and touching only, but not for driving. First to arrive was the 400-bhp, Porsche 911 and even Ferrari 360-clobbering M5. Then came James Bond’s latest toy herself, no, not Pussy Galore—the Z8. The Z8 looks retro, but all the technology underneath, including the V8 shared with the M5, is all thoroughly modern. (More of the Z8 in our photo essay.)
Guess Who's Coming
The 3 may just have been launched here, but a facelifted one is already set to debut. The updated version features even beadier eyes, contributing to a overall meaner glare. It does look make the 3 look even more aggressive, and should boost its sporty image no end.
The only 3 that’s absent here is the 3 Compact—the hatchback. The new Compact shuns the inferior rear suspension design of the old model and now shares the rear Z-axle of the sedan. This should pay off well in ride and handling.
Smaller even that the 3 Compact is the German in British clothes : the Mini. The Mini is essentially a 1-series BMW, with styling evocative of the 1959 original with 21st century materials and assembly precision. Nothing is sure for now, but we’re hoping to see the Mini arrive here in 2002.
A sure arrival is the X5, the 4x4 “Sport Activity Vehicle” based on the 5-series chassis. It may not be as voluminous as your typical full-sized SUV, but it will surely outsteer and outhandle all of them, including the M-class. The X slated to come here is the 3.0-liter diesel. Don’t start thinking slow and smoky, though. The new diesels from BMW and other Euro carmakers are state of the art, replete with turbochargers and direct injection, supplied by very-high-pressure fuel systems. These ensure minimal noise and emissions, and huge amounts of torque at low rpm. The X5 diesel, for instance, generates 193 bhp and can propel the X5 from 0-100 km/h in about 9 seconds. The cheaper cost of diesel fuel won’t save you enough to recoup the approximately 4 million peso price tag (about USD 75,500), but at least the fuel bill will stay reasonable.
Having been out-classed (out-S-classed, that is) by main rival Mercedes, the 7 series is set for a strong return to top form by 2002. The 7’s profile is a sharp-looking counterpoint to the smoothly sloping S. It’s distinctly angular, and a classy interpretation of the traditional BMW profile, with the trademark dogleg rear door opening. The engine will probably be the 4.4 liter V8, pumping out 330 bhp, or the 3.0 liter turbodiesel. We probably will not be treated to the 400- bhp 6.0 V12 in our parts. For the first time, a BMW car will not have an available manual transmission. BMW is instead relying on the world’s first 6-speed automatic, manufactured by ZF, to be adequate for any driving requirements. Expect McPherson strut fronts and multi-link self-leveling rear air suspension.
Another radical departure will be in the interior, which features only a single knob on the center console: the i-Drive joystick. The driver will be able to access electronic features such as the stereo and telephone system, the climate control, GPS and trip computer without actually having to look down at the joystick. The large LCD display at the top level of the dash will show the menu and command selection. This is a rather risky move on BMW’s part, as joystick controlled systems like MB’s Comand and Sony’s joystick control for car stereo proved counterintuitive. Maybe they got the ideal from Gordan Murray’s control layout on the F1.
The gearshift has been moved to the steering wheel, with reverse gear accessible with a lever mounted on the steering column. The handbrake is absent, but you won’t have to use your foot to engage the parking brake; the 7’s is electric, and a push of a button will do the job. Keycard entry and a start/stop button complete the electronic toys. Prices are expected to start at USD62,000 and rocket up to USD130,000. We don’t even want to compute for the peso equivalent.
Soaring prices aside, due to the weak local currency, the BMW lineup is looking more and more promising. Here’s hoping they all make it here, glare and growl intact.
By Jason Ang | Photos By Ulysses Ang
Originally Published July 2001 Issue