LA Auto Show 2018: The buzz about BMW



For all the hype surrounding the drive systems showcased by the Vision iNext concept car, these other machines at LA are a reminder that BMW remembers its roots

LOS ANGELES, USA — What’s in a 3 Series? Only the very essence of BMW. “All of our cars contain the sporty and dynamic genes of the 3,” said Klaus Frohlich, the board member in charge of development at BMW, at the brand’s presentation at LA.

The new 3 Series was a major highlight at September’s Paris show — BMW says it is the world’s single best-selling premium vehicle — but BMW is choosing LA to showcase the highest-performance version so far, the M340i.

55kg lighter than its predecessor, it’s powered by a straight-six, 3.0-litre turbo, which sends 382hp to the rear wheels through an eight-speed auto, giving the BMW the beans to hit 100km/h from standstill in what we reckon should be around 4.5 seconds.

For once, what’s interesting about this new M Performance label car might be not what’s under the bonnet, but perhaps the bonnet itself; the M340i’s standout grille shows that BMW intends to get more aggressive with the styling of its high-performance variants, in a bid to make them stand out more from the mainstream models.

The M340i is now the most powerful 3 Series ever produced (short of an M3). BMW already has prototypes of the next M3 running, and its launch will kick off an aggressive model onslaught from the go-faster division. Industry speculation says there will be 11 new M cars and 15 M Performance cars on sale by 2021.

Three of those will be BMW M8s. Fresh off taking the wraps off the new 8 Series coupe and letting us have a go (see CarBuyer 276), BMW unveiled this Convertible version at LA. The cloth roof works at up to 50km/h and takes 15 seconds to take the car’s headroom to infinity.

For all the hype surrounding electromobility and autonomous drive showcased in the Vision iNext concept car, the 8 Series range is a reminder that BMW remembers its roots, and that fast luxury coupes and convertibles are still relevant to the brand.

The coupe was first launched as a racing car, remember, and the road version is heavy on go-faster tech such as all wheel drive and rear-axle steering. Presumably the Convertible is no slouch, either.

A four-door 8 Series Gran Coupe will be this model line’s next spin-off car, as BMW keeps the product pipeline flowing in an effort to reclaim the number one position in global luxury sales from Mercedes-Benz. The three versions of the 8 Series will be tuned by the M division, said Klaus Frohlich, the board member in charge of development at BMW.

The first 8 Series from 1990 was only ever offered as a coupe, but BMW did develop a convertible version. It was just never launched. But according to Mr Frohlich it was the i8 Roadster that told BMW that customers enjoy open top driving.

The 8 Series Convertible enters production in March, but don’t expect to see it in Singapore until the end of 2019, which puts 2020 as the likely launch date for the 8 Series Gran Coupe.

BMW will also start building the new X7 in March, with the plush new seven-seat flagship sport utility vehicle (SUV) due for launch in Singapore in May 2019.

The X7 is also generating its fair share of buzz at LA, with a constant media stream flowing around the car. In the flesh it doesn’t look that much more bulky than an X5, and its large double-kidney grille (the largest in the range for now) does give it a prominent look that should sit well with buyers who want something grand in the driveway.

The car comes with seven seats as standard, but the more upmarket option is to have six seats. “It’s not a bus,” said Joerg Wunder, the project leader for the car.

Why pay more for fewer seats? Because the six-seater X7’s 2-2-2 seating layout creates plush seating for the middle row — think of airlines that offer 2-2-2 seating in Business Class versus those that use a 2-3-2 layout.

Product planner Carsten Groeber told CarBuyer that the X7 was created because there was demand for such a car in the market, and until BMW didn’t take advantage. The car gives buyers something to think about other than a Mercedes-Benz GLS or a Range Rover.

The decision to go ahead with the X7 has been a valid one so far, said Mr Groeber. “The order funnel is filling up,” he said.  In the US, the X7’s main market, the car is off to a strong start. Before its LA debut, BMW already collected 1,500 pre-launch orders.

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Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.