BMW designs cars for savvy motorists

To the well-heeled motorist, spending $32,000 on a car that gives under 20 miles to a gallon of gas may be a breeze, but to the bulk of new-car buyers, opting for an $8,000 subcompact is jolt enough.

With the price of the car out of the way, the BMW 733i easily makes the grade , whether it's performance, Style, appointments, comforts -- you name it.

While not the most expensive BMW automobile around, the four-seater 733i nonetheless carries the title of flagship of the BMW fleet.

The costliest BMW road car has to be the M-1, a race competitor for the factory and a superb expression of sports-car mobility for the few more motorists worldwide who have one in the garage. With the price up somewhere around $100,000, only a few hundred have been built and no more than seven or eight are in the US. Whether or not production will start up again, who knows?

So that puts the 733i at te top of the pile in road-holding, luxury, and happiness awheel -- and deservedly so.

No one buys a BMW for luxury alone. Performance -- with a great big P -- is usually at the base of a decision to buy. In other words, the buyer wants to really drive the car and bask in the aura of a welltuned, quick-handling vehicle that puts some fun back into the jobs of sitting behind the wheel.

The full spread of vehicles by this Bavarian motormaker does just that.

Too, he or she is usuall a sophisticated motorists who know a lot more about his or her auto than the average car buyer.

The full-size luxury 733i includes a 5- speed manual gearbox as standard equipment -- the only luxury sedan on the market with this performance feature. It's usually the other way around. A 3-speed automatic transmission with cruise control, however, is an option.

A BMW sports machine should be driven -- and to many motor buffs that means a smooth transmission with "5 on the floor."

The highly refined engine is an overhead-cam, in-line "6" rated at 174 horsepower at 5,200 rpms.

Bayerische Motoren Werke, located in Munich adjacent to the 1972 Olympic Games site, is not a large company, yet it has cut out a niche in the m arketplace which enables it to pit its highly refined cars against some of the best in the business. Daimler-Benz is located some 200 miles away -- in Stuttgart. And Volkswagenwerk AG, which has factories all over West Germany, is based in Wolfsburg a few hundred miles to the north.

BMW will never be able to compete in the mass market, but it doesn't want to, anyway. Its cars have a narrow appeal, but large enough to keep the wheels turning as fast as the automaker wants them to turn.

"We don't try to sell a car to everybody," says Jack Cook, head of BMW in the U.S. "For the person who wants basic transportation, the BMW is not a choice."

The BMW -- whether it's a 320i, midsize 528i, luxury 633CSi coupe, or the flagship 733i -- is built and sold as "driver's machine." The company slogan, "the ultimate driving macine," makes sense, considering the thrust of its marketing around the world.

Performance and "feel" are what it's all about, but form and style are important as well. The combination of steering, suspension, drive train, and weight distribution -- both front and rear -- makes a BMW perform.

Trying to protect its hold on the market, the company is looking to better fuel economy in the future, while still holding to the image for which it is well known. For one thing, the Munich-based company is planning to bring in its so-called eta gasoline- fueled engine -- eta: a Greek word for efficiency -- which is designed to get good torque and power at a saving in fuel. The eta also is slower-revving than other BMw engines. A new "5" series with an eta engine under the hood is due out next year.

"A turbo diesel is a little farther off," says a BMW spokesman.

Meanwhile, BMW engineers don't seem to evince much interest in front-wheel drive, a trend that's sweeping the world's auto industry from one company to another.

When the front-drive Cadillac Seville compares its benefits to some of the competition -- Mercedes 380-SEL, Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit, Jaguar XJ6 Series III, and BMW 733i -- it makes the point that it's the only front-drive in the lot.

Nonetheless, the BMW 733i is in pretty solid company -- even with power at the rear.

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