My wife decided we needed to try a camping holiday with the kids. My son will be five this year, and my daughter just turned one. Already this sounds like a bad idea… one child who won’t pay attention or do what he’s told most of the time, and one who just learnt to walk and wants to practice all the time… everywhere… continually.
I relented as I didn’t do much camping when I was a boy, and it’s an experience I want to make sure my kids had. I have now changed that opinion… I want my kids to have that experience when they are both older… much older!
However, there is a silver lining to the trip (apart from the friends we went with who were great)… The silver lining in this case was the car I had for the long weekend. This was by far the best thing of the break and it continually put a smile on my face.
I had arranged to test an estate from the corporate team at Cotswold BMW, and to be honest I was expecting an entry level model or maybe a level or two up. I was therefore pleased to be presented with an M Sport model – very pleased! My only initial concern was the automatic gearbox. It’s been a while since I drove an automatic and my memory of them is poor – the gearbox deciding when to change up and down, the pre-determined revs at each gear change defining your driving style and the less-than-smooth manner of the change.
All I can say is that I was wrong. The BMW eight-speed automatic box was seamless, reactive and seemed almost intuitive. The gear change was always pretty much exactly where I wanted it to be, smooth with the eight gears and the kickdown when you need to overtake was great. It gives an instant jolt to the lower back in the body-hugging sports seat to tell you the power was there and was being used – and with the next gear change only coming in at a little over 4,000 RPM… it felt good, it sounded good and again, every time put a smile on my face. If, and I think this was an incredibly rare occurrence, I wanted a little more control over the gears, a quick leftward tap and the stick acts as a sequential shift, or you can use the paddle selectors on the wheel. But really this isn’t needed… the electronic mind of the car has been well programmed to answer the needs of the driver.
So the gearbox works, what about the engine? Smooth, powerful, without the usual tell-tale ‘feel’ of a diesel – it really did act like a petrol engine in its delivery of the power and the way it responded to the throttle. The ride? Considering those low profile 19-inch tyres, very good… even fully laden with a family of four and all the accoutrements of a camping weekend, it felt good. The seats were supportive in the bends, the car was stable and handled the bumps of the roads in the Forest of Dean without any drama.
So it drives well, it felt good, it sounded good and the switchgear, including that for the navigation and media system was very good. Without instruction I quickly found my way around the system, without any confusion and the navigation system was clear and effective, allowing active zooming when coming to junctions to be sure of your route.
The adjustments of the driver’s seat allowed my friend to sit comfortably behind the wheel without issue – and he’s 6’4 – while still leaving adequate leg room in the back for an adult. Storage space was great – good door pockets in the front, a centre console storage cubby as well as a decent drinks holder in the rear between the seats, but the real benefit was in the boot. Where the spare wheel would have been was an additional deep storage area – useful for unusually shaped items while not intruding into the generous boot space.
We were worried at one point that we wouldn’t fit everything in… tent, inflatable mattresses, cases, travel cot, buggy, stove, food, bottles – camping with a baby means a lot of stuff – but the boot swallowed it all. Interestingly some fellow campers with similar aged kids had brought their Volvo XC60, with a roof box, and still had to take their VW Golf as well to fit everything in, so a definite victory there of German automotive excellence over the Swedish offering!
The car also received the glowing seal of approval from my son, who was very sad that I had to give it back. To sum up, practical, fast, efficient, spacious and so much fun. I was unsure that it would do much more than look good, but I was wrong. Very wrong – and that, in this case, makes me very happy indeed.