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Picking up a new BMW in Germany – Part 2

January 17, 2011

Arrival into Munich

 Our nonstop flight from LAX to Munich was smooth and Lufthansa lived up to its top-notch service reputation I had recalled from my European travels in college.  Jen and I arrived late afternoon on Thursday quite refreshed and energized, ready to take on the two weeks ahead that would take us to five cities in as many countries, over 1,400 miles of roads and finishing with more than 3,000 photos to capture it all.  Upon arrival at the airport we were met by a most courteous driver who was referred to me by members of the Bimmerfest forum.  A man who would become our new friend, Rolf is a retired BMW Engineer who takes joy in assisting those who are making the journey from the U.S. to pick up their vehicles.  For less than the cost of a taxi and just a bit more than the train, Rolf acted not only as a driver but a pre-trip tour guide and pseudo “father figure” as well.  A distinguished older gentleman with a tweed jacket but a youthful demeanor, he first guided us to a table at the airport where he sat us down and provided a nice rundown of the do’s and don’ts while visiting Munich.  Highlighted on a map were specific points of interest we should see close to our hotel as well as elsewhere in the city.  He also gave us a nice day-trip destination to visit upon picking up the car the next day, along with specific tips on navigating the BMW complex.  For a young couple in a foreign country it gave us the warm feeling that we instantly had a “friend in town.”  He gave us his mobile number and said in very good English “Give me a call if you have any trouble with anything, I’m here to help.”  We answered with our best-practiced “Danke shön.”

After the briefing he led us outside to his personal 3-series wagon, where we loaded our luggage and were off to the hotel. 

 Our first night in Munich consisted of a nice walk around Marienplatz, the city center plaza, followed by a wonderful dinner and beer at the Augistiner Beer Hall.  Having last been to Munich more than seven years prior I had forgotten how good the hearty food and drink had tasted!  That night we did our best to go to bed at a reasonable hour to stave off jet-lag and prepare for our subway trip to Olympiapark, the home of the 1972 Olympics as well as the BMW corporate complex in which we would take delivery of our new car. 

The BMW Welt

“Welt” is the German word for “world,” and the BMW Welt certainly is a world of BMW paraphernalia to be sure. Being the company’s face to consumers in Munich, it is a sort of a gallery/gift shop that is free to the public, showcasing exhibits of automotive technology and a series of the latest BMW cars and motorcycles.  Located across the street from BMW’s world headquarters, museum, and a 3-series manufacturing plant, it also serves as a delivery space for customers from both the U.S. and in Germany. 

Upon checking in at the front desk we were sent to the second floor customer area, where we met with a representative who helped us sign some insurance paperwork and review all materials pertinent to our driving the car in Europe.  She then led us to a customer waiting lounge where we could enjoy some food and drink, use the internet, or read a magazine while we wait for our name to be called.  It was a very upscale, relaxing environment that certainly made one feel special while there.  There were a small handful of other customers there as well, to include a man and his college-aged son from Irvine who were on their second European Delivery experience in as many years.  About ten minutes later another representative came and asked if we were ready to see our new car.  Jen had selected to also participate in an introductory session prior to delivery, which turned out to be an amusing demonstration of the latest features of the car, as presented on an LCD screen, followed by a humorous driving simulator that got us all laughing a bit.  Watching Jen try to keep the virtual car on the road was a pleasure all in itself.  But alas, it was finally time to see the real car in person.

BMW does a good job of displaying customer cars around a nice, winding track on the upper deck of the Welt, and the walk down the stairs is led in a dramatic, if overdone, fashion as to enhance the experience.  At the end of the day it was all very impressive and one could tell the company takes great care in the image it projects to its customers. 

The car was beautiful and spotless, and we were excited to finally see it just a week or so after being built.  After a “victory lap” around the track we drove down to a valet who would handle our car while we visited the BMW Museum across the street, followed by an impressive factory tour of the same facility in which our car had been made.  The museum is a must-see for any automotive buff who visits Munich, as it showcases some of the most important street and race cars in BMW’s history.  Having recently been remodeled, it is a very modern yet comfortable place to wander and get caught up in childhood dreams.  The factory tour was very good as well, despite having a guide who was neither impressive nor enthusiastic about being there.

The First Drive

Our first drive in the new 335d came later that day, where we took a trip to Andechs, just outside of Munich.  A tip from our new friend Rolf, the town was in a nice picturesque Bavarian setting that provided much in the way of photo ops and gave us a chance to get to know the car a bit more.  Sometimes I forget why all the automotive journalists gush over BMW’s so much.  That is, until I drive one.  Despite having the Sport package, which has high performance tires and a stiffer suspension among other additions, this car rode remarkably well on all types of road surfaces. Handling, braking, and acceleration were all superb, and the aforementioned torque came quite in handy while passing on the Autobahn. 

While on the topic of the Autobahn, our first experience on it gave us a new sense of respect for the way Germans treat driving.  I had never seen such an orderly conveyance of vehicles in my life, at any speed.  What I had read prior to the trip was true for the most part; slower vehicles do indeed stay to the right, and if someone is tailgating you and you’re in the left lane it is because you are going too slow, which is considered rude, so it is customary to move to the right.  I think a lot of people who asked about our Autobahn experience expected stories mass chaos and drivers flying down the road at unsafe speeds.  Quite the contrary, the Germans handle speed limits in a very logical manner:  In major metro areas speed limits are controlled via overhead digital signs that change with traffic and weather conditions.  During low to moderate traffic there will often be a “No Restrictions” symbol displayed that essentially provides no speed limit.  In areas surrounding interchanges and elsewhere you will see posted speed limits in the 100 to 130km/h (62 to 80mph) range.  It was all quite orderly and the roads were superbly maintained for the most part. 

In the end it felt like this car was designed for these kinds of roads.  High speed driving was effortless and it truly felt like the car was not working very hard as the speedometer leapt past the 100mph mark.  The engine has a menacing roar at full throttle, which happens in conjunction with pinning passengers to the backrests of their seats.  At the same time this vehicle is quiet and comfortable at cruising speed.  The car’s behavior strikes the balance between comfort and speed; it is poised and easy to drive smoothly around town, yet power is always at the ready should you need to get somewhere fast. 

Parked Safely

As anyone who travels in major cities knows, driving and parking can oftentimes be a hassle that is gladly skipped if possible.  The nice thing about the folks at the BMW Welt is that they allow customers to park, free of charge, in their secure garage for up to several days following delivery.  This gave Jen and I the peace of mind that we could leave the vehicle safely with the people we got it from, while also allowing us to use Munich’s excellent public transportation system during the remainder of our time in the city. 

That remainder of time provided us more opportunity to soak up some additional beer hall culture, witness Oktoberfest’s chaotic first day of opening on its 200th anniversary, visit some breathtaking churches, do a bit of shopping, and return on Sunday to pick up the car.  That day a sunny morning gave way to a stroll around Olympiapark itself, which was undergoing a facelift in hopes of securing yet another Olympic bid in the future.  From there we retrieved the car once again and were off to Dachau Concentration Camp to take in some somber but perspective-giving history while on our way to Prague. 

Road Trip Highlights

The remainder of our trip was bountiful with experiences that made our journey one that, what I often tell friends, was the first vacation I had ever had that felt as long as it was.  You know how most people always say “that trip was great but the week went by fast”?  Our two weeks certainly weren’t long enough, but at the end of the day it felt like a full 14 days of adventure. 

Prague ranked #1 on our list for crazy cities to drive in, especially upon arriving into town during rush hour traffic only to find our GPS trying to take us down the same road that is closed each time we pass it.  Having almost gotten run off the road by a streetcar that shares the same lane also made me appreciate checking over both shoulders when squeezing into traffic!  The city also captured our hearts and imaginations as we found an incredible mix of old architecture, history, and more good beer, coupled with an obvious injection of newfound wealth, development, and Westernization.  We were also grateful to have the company of two great friends from the States who had made Prague theirs over the past several years.

Driving to Budapest, and along all other legs of our trip, we were reminded of how recent the European Union had been formed.  Former border crossings were no more than empty structures that once divided countries for decades.  The only official stops we made between countries were for temporary toll stickers that would later become treasured souvenirs of our journey. 

From Budapest to Vienna, we witnessed a sea change in culture and development that was a stark reminder of how different countries fared following two World Wars.  After a few days in Austria’s largest city, we ventured back into the Czech Republic to visit Cesky Krumlov, a town that is a step back in time to simpler days and well-preserved medieval architecture.  Winding cobblestone streets, a celebration in the town square, and a flea market welcomed us and other visitors to this newly “discovered” gem.  Talk to anyone in Prague about must-sees in the area and Cesky Krumlov will be toward the top of the list.  Visit soon, however, because you never know how long it will be before a Starbucks shows up in that town as well.

Salzburg ranked #1 on our list for exceeding expectations, as we arrived into town in time to celebrate the name day of the city’s founder, which in conjunction with their own Oktoberfest, is cause for a giant celebration of food, drink, music, dancing, and fireworks in the town square.  It was Sunday night and it seemed that just about everyone from Salzburg was there. 

A drive the following day to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest provided some of the best vistas and photo ops we had all week and is a must-visit for any road-tripper in the region. 

Before returning back to Munich we spent a night in Füssen, a Bavarian town that serves as the launching point for the scores of travelers seeking castles from the King Ludwig era.  Some beautiful driving was ahead of us as we found the landscape and weather (light rain and clouds on and off) to be just right for a mystic, romantic drive.  Our last night in Munich, while unloading our car in front of the Airport Marriott, a new 550i pulled up behind us to check-in.  I noticed the European tourist plate on the front and asked the gentlemen if he too was in the European Delivery program.  He smiled and said he had just picked up his car from the Welt.  As happy as I was that we were going home I was a bit jealous that he and his wife’s journey was just beginning. 

Different Cars

As a lifetime car guy who has that annoying ability to name the make, model, and year of random autos on the road in traffic, I was like the proverbial kid at a candy store in Europe, spotting a plethora of brands and models we never see stateside.  From the Italians like Fiat and Alfa Romeo (which will end up here after all thanks to the Chrysler merger) to the French like Renault, Citröen, and Peugeot, to Czech Skodas, there was a lot to gawk at.  Euro-spec only models were also abound, and remind one that oftentimes Americans get only the upper end of the model range.  An obvious result of both a differing marketing strategy as well as a much higher cost of fuel, it was interesting to see so many German models who wore nameplates that signified their lesser-sized engines within.  Go to a Mercedes-Benz dealer in the U.S. and ask for an E-class sedan and he will sell you an E350, E550, or E63 AMG with a large V-6 or V-8 engine.  Take a quick look around the streets of Europe and you will encounter models such as the E200 and E270 CDI (diesel) in very high supply.  Even our own BMW had a much larger engine that most 3-series cars we saw.  316i, 320d, 330d and 325i were the most common sightings as we made our trip.  Much of this, no doubt, is a result of U.S. emissions regulations that require costly federalization processes and can limit which motors foreign manufacturers send overseas.  The case of our car is a prime example.  BMW wished to sell diesel cars in America back in 2009 and wanted something they could offer in both the heavy X5 SUV as well as in a sedan.  The motor they chose would have to satisfy the power needs of an SUV buyer but also fit into the 3-series.  Thus we have the mighty twin-turbocharged monster that is the 335d. 

Final Driving Impressions

As mentioned before the car was fantastic in the city, on the motorways and through the Autobahns, and provided a comfortable and entertaining way to travel.  We averaged over 30 mpg during our 1,400 mile journey that included our fair share of city traffic, economic cruising, and long jaunts averaging 90 to 110 mph.  Our top speed on the trip was 140mph, which again was quite comfortable and limited only to traffic on the road.  Jen’s big problem now is trying to keep the car within the speed limits on our local Southern California freeways, where all of a sudden 75mph feels slow. 

A Brilliant Brand

Having a day-job in the consumer products industry myself I know how important it is for a brand to connect not only logically with a consumer but also emotionally.  It is here where BMW has scored a homerun with its European Delivery program.  For evidence of this you need look no further than the pages of Bimmerfest’s online forum, where scores of drivers wear with pride having completed two, three, or more European Deliveries since the program’s inception in 2007.  The opportunity to combine the purchase of a new car, one that is an emotional experience for many already, with the joy of a vacation to a faraway land is certainly a recipe for success.  Add in first-class treatment and discounted pricing and it’s no surprise that even before our trip was over we were discussing how we would plan the itinerary for our next European Delivery.  After all there is much of Germany we haven’t seen yet, and neither of us has been to Switzerland, or Southern France, or Spain…

Inside the BMW Welt

Inside the BMW Museum

Motorsports exhibit at the BMW Museum

Jen with her new car in Southern Bavaria

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ross Jones permalink
    February 9, 2011 6:11 pm

    My ED experience was OK (the European part). But the dealings with the US dealer were so bad that I’m still thinking I’ll never buy another BMW.

  2. Susi Nord permalink
    May 20, 2012 9:16 am

    Loved your ED story. We’re thinking about doing ED this fall and I was wondering about the Lufthansa 2 for 1 rate. How did that work? Did you get something from BMWUSA to redeem for the special rate?

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