Ten years ago, the BMW 530i sedan weighed in at a very manageable 3,450 pounds. Over the past ten years it’s packed on the pounds, and not just a few. The current 528i sedan, its direct descendant, carries a curb weight of 3,814 pounds. Those 364 additional pounds means you’re essentially strapping Green Bay defensive end Johnny Jolly (after an all-you-can-eat buffet binge) to your previously rather light German steed, albeit without the elevated center of gravity. Sure, today’s 5-Series carries more horsepower and torque, as well as a slew of advanced technology and ridiculous levels of opulence; we also can’t leave out the numerous safety requirements that can’t be escaped my manufacturers. But what’s the result? Though newer cars might be faster, safer and better appointed, they certainly don’t feel more agile or connected to the driver. In the name of technology, most sports sedans have lost a purity that once existed across the segment. And there’s virtually no end in sight.
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Cars must now incorporate hundreds of pounds of safety measures that include low impact bumpers, pillar reinforcement for roof strength, air bags, OBDII wiring, and reinforced glass. That’s not to mention other expected but non-required items such as more insulation for increased sound-deadening, power seats/window shades/trunks/door closers, heated and cooled seats, and heated mirrors and steering wheel — and don’t forget really big wheels and tires. Though I laud increased safety, I can’t draw the conclusion that a heavier car is made any safer due to its weight. Furthermore, unless increased safety measures are aided by lighter space-age materials that currently only show up in pricey exotic cars, you won’t see significantly lighter and safer cars for the general public anytime soon.
The level of luxury amenities that current customers want, nay, expect, contributes to this whole notion of “more is more”. It’s no longer enough to have a well-made, sporty sedan that’s practical and hugely entertaining to drive. The car’s got to have everything from headrest monitors to power lumbar seats to heated and cooled cupholders! But more makes fat. I’d prefer to have so much fun driving that I forget about my quad Americano. Heck, I should be driving my car in such a spirited fashion that I’m afraid of spilling it.
I’d prefer to have so much fun driving that I forget about my quad Americano. Heck, I should be driving my car in such a spirited fashion that I’m afraid of spilling it.
Don’t get me wrong. I like horsepower as much as the next guy, but a big engine with big power numbers to make up for increased heft seems like a waste. While power-to-weight ratio is vital to a car’s performance numbers, how the car feels when you throw it into corners is a very different animal. You can put a twin-turbo V8 with 500 horsepower into a 4,000-pound car and it’ll surely blow the doors off a 6-cylinder, 3,300-pound car with 240 horsepower. The heavier car carries 8 pounds per horsepower, while the lighter car carries 13.75 pounds per horsepower. But how will the heavier car feel? Well, heavier.
A more rigid chassis, wider tires, a more robust suspension setup and electronic systems will all aid in getting that heavier car properly around a track, but you’d be hard pressed to call said car “nimble”. I recently drove the current M5 around Laguna Seca, and though the car was incredibly quick, I couldn’t get over how heavy it felt compared to my friend’s 2001 540i, which was far less powerful but more tractable by comparison.
I get that luxury is the trend, as is more power, especially for sports sedans. But most car lovers were drawn to sports sedans in the first place because they offered handling, speed, tractability and pragmatism wrapped up in a slickly packaged car. It wasn’t so much about getting every creature comfort slapped on to distract us from the drive itself. Unfortunately, it’s probably also true that affluent folks won’t necessarily line up for a bare bones German sports sedan, so the trend is unlikely to change anytime soon. That’s a sad thing: the purity of what once was seems to be gone forever.