March 16 2011

A quick glimpse out the window today reveals only the slightest remnants of one the most crippling snowstorms ever to pound Chicago. What is now barely a mound of dark grey, gravel-infused ice was once an insurmountable heap of fluffy white snow, piled high by plows that cut nearly two feet deep to find our parking lot. The storm was given names of catastrophic elusion — Snowmageddon, Snowpocalypse, and so on — and yet our two-wheel-drive 535i tore through it like the Tasmanian Devil.

We’ve said it before and we’ll no doubt say it again: the right tires make all the difference. As confidence inspiring as all-wheel drive can be, we’ll always take two driven wheels and snow tires over AWD and all-seasons once the white stuff is flying (the best solution, naturally, is all-wheel drive and snow tires, which we highly endorse). Our Michelin Pilot Alpin PA3s struck a damn-near perfect balance between quiet, dependable performance on cold, dry asphalt (80 percent of our winter driving) and sure-footed traction when conditions degraded to snow, freezing rain or ice. Some staff members felt they lacked enough ultimate grip in snow, but the rest of us found the performance more than acceptable, and more important, the breakaway was always predictably linear. More aggressive snow tires would have allowed for better grip in snow specifically, but we would have also been subjected to the chunky roar of a more open tread pattern and ultimately lower grip on dry winter roads. The compromise, we felt, was justifiable for the relatively short time our roads were actually covered.


Another by-product of our unusually heavy winter event was a non-stop onslaught of salt-infused slush on our shoes, threatening to sully the pristine nature of our 535i’s Venetian Beige interior. We were admittedly late to acknowledge just how delicate the carpets and mats really are, but not too late. Snow is indeed still melting off in some places (shopping center parking lots, for instance, still have an abundance of the filthy frozen crust) and the upcoming Chicago spring season will no doubt bring with it a month of rainfall. So in the spirit of “better late than never,” the discolored mats (particularly the driver’s) were plucked and the nearly virgin carpets covered with a set of molded plastic floor liners from WeatherTech. These impermeable inserts not only fit the exact shape of the floor, they are also designed with a high lip to retain a significant amount of liquid runoff. We also like the fact that the edges of the mat happen to tuck up under the front sills and kickplates, providing a gap-free zone that ensures nothing foul gets between the liners and the carpet on entry.

The odometer rolled through the 15,000-mile mark on this morning’s commute, and so far the car has required nothing in the way of service since driving it home last May. One glitch that came up and promptly disappeared was a “low battery charge” warning during a particularly long stretch of sub-zero weather following the big blizzard; it lasted for a day and was never again seen, with no change in the car’s performance. The service indicator tells us we’re 2600 miles from the impending visit with our local BMW dealership, an expense that will be covered by the 4-year/50,000-mile scheduled service plan.


By that time it will certainly be wearing its 19-inch performance wheels and tires again, all the better to take advantage of the 300-horsepower twin-scroll, single-turbo engine. To be honest, it has taken us a long time to warm up to this engine, especially after having lived with the twin-turbo six in our 135i for more than a year, but we’ve come to appreciate its gentler, less peaky character in the big sedan. The key to waking it up is pressing the sport button on the center console, which not only tweaks the responsiveness of the throttle but also tightens up the dampers and steering and makes it feel, I don’t know, more BMW-like.


Over the months we’ve groaned a bit about the lack of luxuries we’ve come to take for granted, such as seat heaters and sat-nav. We still lament their absence, but even without them the current 535i carries itself like a small 7-series. And that’s not all bad.