I got a call from Performance Motor Limited (“PML”) about a private sale, so guys being guys, I agreed to go down. Of course, I brought the wife along so she can play “finance manager” and say NO in case I get tempted.

So the private sale was like this – you must be on the invite list, and must have a car to trade-in and they offered an insane price for the trade-in. The trade-in price was easily >$30K above market prices, which brought the BMW 318i price down from $180,800 to $14x,xxx or a BMW 320i from $203,800 to $17x,xxx.

The discounted price for a 318i is good considering that a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord are selling at the same price in the current market.

But I was more interested in the 320i. That’s a crazy price for a car, I’m sure. But I was pleasantly surprised by what the latest model offered – all the electronic gadgets makes me pee my pants. It has 17″ rims, iDrive with built-in navigation, bluetooth telephone w/address book and voice activated dailing, in-vehicle information display such as service intervals and other mechanical status of brakes, engine, blah blah blah, timer for air-con recirculation so you don’t get into a baking hot car parked under the sun, and here’s the best part – INTERNET. Yes, bluetooth tethering with the iPhone.

The 320i also has fold-down rear seats (the old one didn’t, or was an option) and the audio system has been marginally improved with more powerful bass (up to +/- 10 step adjustments instead of +/- 6 on the old models).

I also test-drove the 318i which had the new electronic steering system and it was indeed much lighter and easier to park the car, but there’s a slight lack of “road” feel. I still like it though, cos the wife doesn’t like the heavy steering on the old model.

It was very tempting at $17x,xxx. Damn bloody expensive, I know, but I really liked it – it’s a dream car. We spent a few good hours in the showroom, and the salesman started giving an additional 1-2K off. But the wife said NO. Sigh. No new high-tech ride for me.

So being unconvinced that BMW was the best car around, I went pouty faced over to Lexus to test the new CT200h which they claim to be oozing with technology. It is lower in price too due to government discounts on green cars.

What a disappointment. The interior looks sub-par (compared to the BMW) and the sales guy also sucked – he treated me like I couldn’t afford a Lexus. Yeah, maybe I can’t but the showroom looks pathetic – it’s was EMPTY.

The base model at $154K didn’t have leather seats so I asked him how the fabric looked like. His reply was, “Huh? Cloth lor.” I was like WTF? Like show me some samples? He said they didn’t have any.

Anyway, no leather? For a Lexus? Borneo Motors, I don’t know what you were thinking.

The higher “Plus” model at $158K had leather seats. That was the only difference – top up $4K for factory fitted leather.

So I decided to cut the crap talk and asked for a test drive. Here’s a summary of my experience:

The seats were manually adjusted. For a $158K car, I wouldn’t expect that.

The moment I pushed the START button, the car feels weird – it was silent except for the air-con blower. I got on the gas a bit – still silent.

Then at approx 30km/h the petrol 1.7 litre inline 4 engine kicks in and you suddenly hear a low rumble and more power.

My first foot on the brake in the carpark felt weird too – it wasn’t progressive and the braking effect was sudden as if somebody else was braking the car harder than you wanted for you. My feeling is that it’s caused by the car engaging a flywheel of sorts to charge the NiMH batteries.

After getting up to speed, braking felt slightly better but still weird – it’s just not progressive. Adding to the weird braking behavior, you could hear the whine of the dynamo/generator which was a little annoying.

I was still driving in “normal” mode all this while. Then I switched to the “sport” mode – oh what a difference. The CVT gearbox kicks me into a lower gear and now the car takes off on it’s 1.7 litre engine. But again, this felt weird. The change was too abrupt – from a tame hybrid it was suddenly TOO responsive and I had to change my footing.

Then finally I tried the “eco” mode which was oh my god slow as a turtle. I couldn’t stay on it for more than 5 seconds, so I switched back to “normal”.

It was a short test drive, but it wasn’t a good experience at all. As a driver, I felt weird. The car’s behavior was abrupt, unpredictable and unrefined. The wife sitting quietly at the back also said the ride was rough and the interior didn’t give her a “wow” feeling. The audio system was terrible – in fact worse than my Nissan Latio. On the level of sound insulation, the BMW wasn’t any different. So whoever that tells me a Lexus is silent, I’m going to beat you up.

At $158K, I’d rather buy the BMW 318i which would be packed with slightly more features and a more refined drive. The $10K difference could pay for lots of fuel – at least 3 years’ worth.

I think that these hybrids still need some time to get their act right. To achieve 24km/l it might be worth considering a Toyota Prius instead.

I’d love to test a BMW ActiveHybrid if it comes here though. I have confidence in BMW’s engineering to build a more progressive and predictable hybrid.

OK, enough for the day. Back to reality. No high tech cars for me! 🙁