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July 21, 2013

High tech makes BMW 3 Series luxurious

Sometimes I feel sorry for the manufacturers of luxury cars. Their job used to be much easier, because the autos available to us ordinary folk once were such rattle traps that differentiating high class, high quality models that stood above the rabble was easy.

Today the quality, content, and plain old desirability of ordinary cars is much higher. In fact, the luxury levels available in middle-class cars today seems astounding. So it’s harder to make legitimate luxury autos stand out enough to justify the higher prices that premium rands command.

Instead, the high-flying makes lather on slick technology. It’s not frivolous stuff. A lot of the gear – like all-around obstacle detection and distance sensors, radar-guided cruise control, head-up information display, blind-spot monitor, and traffic and weather updates – really makes motor travel easier, safer, more comfortable, effective and efficient.

But every high-tech gizmo costs money. Some cost a lot of money. That’s exactly why luxury car companies love electronic driving aids so much. People buy luxury models to buff their image and self-esteem as they trundle around town in vehicles most other people can’t afford. While they sell their drivers that privilege, luxury manufacturers still have to give their customers more physical stuff to justify their cars’ higher prices. Highly capable electronic gear fills that need very well.

I love the stuff for how well it works – most of the time.

My most recent exposure to luxury-car gadgetry was in the BMW 3 Series sedan I test-drove last week. The 3 Series consists of three primary models, each distinguished by its engine. New this year is the 320i, with a 180-horsepower, twin-turbocharged four-cylinder engine, starting at $33,445. It joins the 328i and the 335i. Starting at $37,745, the 328i uses a more energetic, 240-horsepower version of the four-cylinder engine. The 335i features an inline six-cylinder that delivers 300 horsepower, for an opening list price of $44,045. All models are rear-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive available for an additional $2,000.

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