Friday, June 5, 2015

David and Goliath: Suburban vs BMW

A few weeks back, I was driving to a random small town in northern California with three kids and my new trailer (cleverly named “Skippy”) loaded with goats.  Katherine (age 15) rode shot gun in the Suburban, Elizabeth (age 11) and Robbie (age 9) slumped in the back sea,t fixated on their screens.  They really didn't want to go to ANOTHER goat show, but they didn't have a choice.  As a consolation, and to keep them from driving me bat-poop crazy all weekend, I said they could spend as much time on their devices as they wanted.  You make these promises when you are a parent – long-term brain power vs. short-term quiet.

This was the eighth time I had driven a trailer – ever.  It was getting less scary but I was still surprised each and every time I made it to my destination without: 1) the trailer falling off the car,  2) the trailer not hitting another car while merging onto the highway, and/or 3) the car not exploding from the strain of dragging the "wagon" behind us.  Once you're on the highway there really is nothing to it.  It’s just getting there that is tricky.  The two-lane road with the construction “jersey barriers” on the side – scraaaape (not this time).  The angry people behind me, angrily tailgating me to push me faster than 55 mph (nope – that’s both illegal AND scary).  The little prayer I send up to the universe when I flick on the turn signal to merge onto the highway while the pedal is pushed to the floor (“oh please see me coming and make way”).

But there we were, chugging along in the slow lane at 55 mph.  I felt accomplished already.  I was contemplating my car and how I never, ever wanted this behemoth of a vehicle.  On second thought, it does have all the features of a European luxury car, and more.  Lets compare the Suburban 2500LT to a BWM 528i of the same year.


Feel the buttery soft leather.  In luxury cars, leather makes the car smell like a high-end luggage store; in the Suburban, leather seats prevent the car from smelling like goat musk, since fabric upholstery absorbs odors like a sponge.  And heated seats! Yes, both cars have heated seats – front AND rear.  In the luxury car, it keeps the back of your legs warm when you are wearing an Armani mini dress.  In the Suburban, it takes the sting out of those 2:30 am road trips to random towns to buy goats.  (More on that story later.)

Enjoy the freedom of climate control – the car is always one steady temperature, no thinking required, no distractions from the pesky A/C controls.  In the luxury car, it liberates the driver and passengers up to engage in esoteric conversations, meditate or simply observe the scenery.  In the Suburban, it keeps the air circulating to avoid that certain….musk.  And climate control lets the kids play the video games uninterrupted – wouldn’t want them to have to look up from the iPad.

Road noise is reduced to an obscure hum in the BMW.  The car body is heavily insulated to dampen out sound.  Yep, the Suburban has plenty of noise dampening panels, too.  If the toddler has a nuclear melt-down in his/her car seat, one can step outside of the parked Suburban, close the solid American steel doors (WHUMP), and, voila, silence.  Open the door, accosted by the scream.  Close the door, peace.  You choose.

And lets talk about interior passenger space.  The BMW boasts 41.4 inches of front leg room, front shoulder room 58.3 inches, and 40.5 inches of from head room.  The Suburban: front leg room 41.3 (what?! just move that seat on back a little), front shoulder room 65.2 inches (linebacker size), front head room 41.1. The back seat of the BMW provides its rear passengers with 36.1 inches legroom, 56.2 inches shoulder room, and 38.3 inches head room.  That middle row of the ‘Burb is a smidge more cramped: 34.9 inches legroom, 64.7 inches shoulder room (linebacker fits in the middle row, too), and 38.1 inches headroom.  But, wait, there’s a whole ‘nother row in the Suburban! Three more people back there.  Hah! Take that, BMW.  No huge carpools in the BMW.  Darn.

Cargo space is no competition whatsoever: BMW 14.0 cubic feet vs. Suburban 137.40 cubic feet--nearly 10 times more!  No XL dog crate (the size required to carry a full-grown, male pygmy goat) is ever, ever going to fit in that luxury car.  Too bad.  It deprives all those passengers of that certain… musky… smell.  They’ll just have to suffice with “luggage store” smell.

(Can you guesss which is which?)

On to the entertainment features.  The BMW spec sheet I’m reading includes: “diversity” antenna (huh?), 180 watts stereo output, auxiliary audio input and USB jack, radio data system (?), 10 (count ‘em, TEN) speakers, 2 subwoofers, AM/FM stereo, pre-wired for phone (do car phones actually still exist?), Bluetooth link for handsfree phone, and BMW assist telecommunications system.  Those silly Germans are so minimalist sometimes.  The Americans, on the other hand, they pile it on.  The Suburban has all of the BMW features PLUS: a CD player (um, BMW, what’s up with that?), MP3 decoder, AM/FM/SiriusXm Radio, and DVD player (that you can hook up with video games, too).  But wait, there’s more! My Suburban has 2 (count ‘em, TWO) “7.0”, multi-function display screens” – 1 for each of the rear passenger rows.  It’s like an airplane.  The Suburban has lots of speakers, too.  I just can’t find them all.  All of this luxury just to keep the restless children at bay on the 5-hour drive to the goat show.

Finally, the engine.  The BMW has a standard inline 4-cylinder, 2.0 liter engine with 240 horsepower and 260-ft-lbs of torque.  Suburban: 8-cylinder, 6.0 liter engine with 352 horsepower and 382 ft-lbs of torque.  Wow!  Then why am I going so god damned slowly?  The answer: the BMW weighs 4,971 pounds and the Suburban weighs a whopping 8,600 pounds.  The BMW is 0-60 in 5.8 seconds.  The Suburban 7.8 seconds.  I must interject here that I do not believe that the Suburban is actually that fast.  I demand a re-test, though I certainly will not tell my teenagers that 7.8 is the number to beat.

That good old American engine is what lets me drag my brand new trailer down the highway.  There is not a situation on god’s green earth where one would see a BMW 528i towing this 7,000 pound (gross, fully loaded) trailer down the road.  Nope.  Not going to happen.

The kids and I can’t complain too much, though, can we? The Suburban has all the same luxury features as the BMW (and more!) – just for much different reasons.

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