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Just back from Euro Delivery of my 540i (long) (archive)

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Posted by Nicole Hamilton on August 18, 2000 at 08:24:20:

My kids and I just got back the night before last from a wonderful time in Europe with our 540i. This was the best vacation ever.

Over the 12 days we were there, we visited Munich, Salzburg (Austria), Vienna, Innsbruck, St. Moritz (Switzerland), Lucerne, Paris and Heidelberg and put just over 2000 miles on the car.

The people at the factory are very nice. My older boy is infatuated with the Z8 so they rushed around to go find one he could sit in. I mentioned I'd brought over a BMW CD-changer to go in the trunk that I was expecting to install. No problem, they'd do that for me and put one of their "electricians" to work on it. Turned out that was fortunate as there were 4 mounting screws missing and they had to run off to go find just exactly the right size.

The people at the shipping company, EH Harmes, where you drop it off for shipment back at the US (they have a couple dozen drop-off locations all over Europe) insist BMW does not save anything (e.g., on customs by trying to claim the car is used) but cuts the price for European delivery purely because they want people to find out what the car is like on European roads where you can really see a difference. The hope is you'll then go back home and tell others.

Having done this, I believe it. This was really fun. We had a great vacation and while I knew I was getting a fun car, there's no way I'd have easily realized what it can do on our American roads in everyday driving. Just for starters, on the autobahns, I was shifting into 5th at 80 mph and into 6th at 100 to 110 mph. Where am I going to do that here? :) The car's so stable, it doesn't even start to feel fast until you hit about 130 to 135 and there's not even any noticeable increase in road noise or "lightening" of the steering 'till about 150.

But also, the handling, especially on the breathtaking drive from Innsbruck to St. Moritz right through the Alps was just amazing. What can I say? I knew I was getting a fun car; I had no idea I was getting a mind-blowing car. About the only things you see on the roads in Europe that outperform the BMWs are Porsches (only by a little) and of course the exotics like Ferrari. You also see a lot of Audis and Mercedes being driven aggressively but it's pretty obvious they're not in the same class with BMW.

If you think you might ever be interested to do European Delivery (oh! you should! :) be sure to get the navigation system. It was superb. It flawlessly directed us everywhere with voice instructions and the LCD display. (E.g, "in one-half mile, keep to the right" or "in 400 feet, take the second turn on the left" or the ubiquitous "if possible, make a U-turn.") If somehow we missed a turn (was that a road or a driveway? :), it'd just recalculate a new route. When we came into a city, it even let us call up a list of local hotels and (except in France) find out their prices and whether they had parking, etc. We'd pick one by clicking on it and it'd take us right to the door. It made driving through Europe so easy.

Only a couple (minor) complaints: If you miss a turn, it's a bit slow to recalculate a new route, which leaves you driving in what you know is the wrong direction but without any idea what you should do instead. Also, probably because of the imprecision of GPS, short distances are not always correct; when it said 400 feet, that looked more like about 50 to us a lot of the time. :)

The only thing difficult about driving in Europe that we found was dealing with the horrible parking garages. The one at the Hotel Cristal in Munich was probably the worst, but not by much. It had this tiny, dark one-lane ramp wound in a tight corkscrew up from one level to the next. They had a traffic light to indicate whether it was, at any given moment, an up-ramp or a down-ramp. On a motorcycle it'd have been claustrophobic to squeeze through there but in a brand new car it was insane. I had about 3" clearance on either side trying to do this and with the tight turn, it wasn't like you could just line it up and go straight through. I was sure I was going to scrape the car though fortunately I got through it with only a nick on one of the wheels.

The good news about the garages is that people seem to be very good about taking care not to open their doors into your car. I guess cars are still not something every European can afford so they treat them as more special.

Also, I think maybe that leads to a different selection process. Here, being stupid, lazy and unemployed is clearly no barrier to owning a car. There, they just can't afford it. So if you take all the really stupid people off the road, guess what?, driving is a whole lot nicer experience.

A couple things I learned: the sport seats are great, at least for me. I was worried about that from some commments I'd read from people who found these seats hurt their back, especially given that I hadn't ever had a chance to try them out before ordering. The very first day, it seemed like the lumbar support might be too much when I first sat in them but after that, I never noticed it again. They certainly were great seats for whipping through the turns in the Alps.

This car is powerful enough. I've been reading so much discussion of people wanting to get various chip and suspension upgrades that I was beginning to think maybe I'd want that. Don't be silly! :) Just as my salesman had promised, this car is an animal that eats everything else on the road. It does way more than I can ever use on the American roads.

When you go to pick up the car, you'll have coupon for a free meal in their cafeteria, right up the steps from the waiting room. Don't wait to be invited as we did. As soon as you check in, go get your free food as you'll have at least an hour before they call you. By the time we figured out we were on our own to get our free meal, they'd already closed the cafeteria except for just some snacks.

No matter what anyone tells you, you cannot drop off your car just any old time you want. I had been told it was 24-hour dropoff and that calling for a couple days before was merely a formality. Not so!

We were flying back on Wednesday morning and I expected to do the drop-off Tuesday night. I tried calling in to the drop-off center on Monday as we drove from Paris to Heidelberg but was out of range for the Omnipoint cellphone I'd rented. No problem, I figured, I'll just call Tuesday morning. Well, guess what? That was some who-knows-what national holiday in Germany and it was fortunate they had their office phones forwarded to someone's cellphone who was on call and agreed to send someone in to meet us.

Btw, do rent a GSM (European standard) cellphone before you go. It paid for itself when we tried to find the dropoff center. It's not marked well and the only way I found it was by calling them to say, "I'm here, where are you?"

What else? Well, the whole thing was easier than I expected. Except for days at the beginning and end of the trip in Munich, we did not have reservations anywhere but that turned out not to be a problem. It never took more than two tries to find a hotel that had a room. Prices were much better than we expected. Generally, our rooms -- and we stayed right in the middle of the cities, e.g., a block from the Champs-Elysees in Paris -- cost us about $130 to $140 a night for me and the 2 kids, including continental breakfast. Switzerland was the exception. Everything's very expensive there and our room in Lucerne was about $200 a night.

The only thing difficult about the trip is getting back on US time, going back to driving my old Honda again for a while, and dealing with the over 1500 emails (yes! really!), 27 lbs of regular mail and 1/2" of faxes that have collected while I was out. Those of you who also are entrepreneurs know about this. :)


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