Broken Coyote

A Dog's Eye View of The World

- don't you just wish that you could make half the speed I do?

Sometimes, It's Not Good To Be Right
After having returned my León to the dealer at the end of its leasing term (with a whole load of stone chipping on the right side of hood), I got a BMW 330d x-drive station wagon as a temporary car.

Remember how I wasn't at all happy after checking out a 3-class BMW? It turned out that I didn't get any happier actually driving one.

Let's mention the positive things first: most of all, its engine. It's a powerful, mean-sounding, smooth-running, straight-six diesel. With winter tyres on, I can't check out how fast it is altogether since they're limited to 210 kph, but I expect it to be able to easily hit the 250 kph mark, where it'll be governed at. [Edit: it turned out later that it's governed at 258 kph.] On the other hand, it's about as fast as any other car with about 230 hp. The AWD (x-drive) provides an impressive "traffic-light start" acceleration, too.

And there's the distinctive BMW look.

And it's roomy with a huge moon roof (after all, it's a station wagon and has the space for that).

And the strips of alcantara on the seats provide a very nice feeling.

And it has keyless access and the audio system sounds fine.

So far, so good, but it about ends here.

The rest started when I picked up the car hearing the words "it needs to go to the garage during the next days, there's oil on the transmission." I also found out that the USB connector in the glove compartment doesn't work. It is used for copying MP3 files to and from the internal drive. And after opening the moon roof, I found a rubber gasket hanging down from its rear end. I stuffed it back into the space between headlining and roof and told a company secretary to notify the garage.

When it came back from the service, the secretary told me waht the shop had said. The oil on the transmission comes from "somewhere" and means nothing. The USB port is "for service only". And they couldn't find anything wrong with the moon roof. About the USB port, I showed the secretary a quote from the user manual saying what it's really to be used for. About the moon roof... I opened it again, which resulted in the following:

I left it that way, and, eventually, the gasket fell onto the rear seat, where it still lies.

But there's more.

First, the price. It matters since I have to pay income tax on the car. I wonder how the previous owner managed to pay this much for the car, which apparently doesn't have all that many extras. Well, first it's got the "M" sports package for more than 6000 Euros. The most noticeable effect it seems to have is to provide an ugly aluminum trim in the interior. There's the big satnav system, the moon roof, keyless access and the partially alcantara-covered seats and not much else, for a total of 65k euros.

And the satnav is just a big annoyance. If I want to drive from A to B, I may or may not enter that route into the satnav, but either way, I like to be able to check the traffic situation on alternate routes. Like taking the A8 or A6 going towards Frankfurt. In my León, used to hit the "Traffic" button and scroll to "A6", "A8" and "A81" in the list of traffic announcements and know what's going on. Sorted by road name, they're easy enough to find.

Not so in a BMW. You take the control knob and scroll through a menu until you see the small "traffic information" symbol, then you press down the knob to see the list. And someone thought it's a very neat idea to list the traffic announcements by distance. That's right! Standing downtown, I get a list that goes "B14, B27, L1100, B27, K13, A8, A81, A8, A6..." Of course it tells me about the incidents on the calculated route right away, but everything else needs to be thoroughly searched for. If a traffic jam on the autobahn towards Munich and on some irrelevant overland roads are closer than the traffic jam on the autobahn I want to take, they get listed first.

And in that list, you'll see things like "A8, traffic jam, between Someplace and Anywhere, 45 km". First question: "where are Someplace and Anywhere? Towards Karlsruhe or towards Munich?" Second question: "45 km?" Oh no, that's not the length of the traffic jam. That's the distance from my current position. Pretty useless for getting an oversight about the general traffic situation. If I drive southbound for 400 km from central Germany, I have to dial through the list until I find stuff that's farther away to be sure that it's not relevant to me anymore. But before that, I got to look through all of the traffic jams between Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne and Munich.

Driving to your destination, you'll notice that there seems to be no setting that makes the satnav display upcoming rest stops on the roadmap. Neither does it display map-based speed limit information. It's arguably useless anyway, but with everybody else doing it, why can't they? It also takes a while to make it find gas stations. Compare:

León: hit button "Nav" to enter the menu. Touch "gas stations". Get a list of gas stations to pick from by touching or turning and pushing a knob, select "as new destination" or "as waypoint" by touching.

BMW: hit control knob and dial towards "destinations". Push knob. Dial "special POIs" (points of interest), push knob. Dial "location", push knob, select "in my vicinity", push knob. Select "type of POI", push knob, select "traffic", push knob, select "sub-category", push knob, select "gas stations", push knob, select the station desired, push knob, do the waypoint/final destination stuff.

Once having refuelled and being back on the autobahn, you'll get annoyed by the cruise control lever, being placed below the signal/high-beam lever. I still accidentally hit it when I actually want to turn on the signals. And I still sometimes signal when I actually want to turn off the cruise control. Or hit the "on-board computer" button when I actually wanted to re-engage the cruise control. Well, that's how the Audis and the Passat were as well, though. Seems like a spreading disease.

Driving further on, it eventually gets dark. Did I mention how I considered the high-beam assistant to be useless during my test ride? It is useless indeed. It works best, but still not good enough, on lonely overland roads. Or actually, only there. And I hate how it seems to override my decision to use high-beam. I flick the high-beam switch with no traffic around... and nothing happens for a second or two, probably until the sensor verifies that there is indeed nothing around.

Feeling thirsty, you grab for your drink that's standing in the ("the" as in "the only one") retractable can holder. Though "standing" is a bit of an euphemism, as this can holder neither holds a can of Rockstar or a bottle of Coke or a McDonald's cardboard cup upright. Instead, all of them eventually topple over to hang in there at quite an angle. At least nothing actually falls out. (There is another cup holder for the passenger, but that's totally inaccessible from the driver seat, being on the far right of the car. The León had three "deep hole" type holders in the central console.)

Grabbing your can, you take a sip, and try to put it back into the cup holder. Which, located unusually far away in front of the passenger seat, is not illuminated in any way, not even by the ambient light. So you'll spend a few seconds trying to find it in the darkness.

Then you'd like to take a chewing gum from their "pill bottle" container inside the only small-sized storage compartment within reach, which is inconveniently located underneat the arm rest. Try it - the area immediately underneath your elbow is not the most accessible one. It's also quite tiny, it won't take much more than the chewing gum bottle and my smartphone. Of course, there's also the door compartment, but it's too large to store small things.

You feel in the mood for a special song. Thankfully, you have an MP3 stick with lots of music on it. Some albums, located in subdirectories inside each artist's directory) and a random collection of songs within another directory. The latter is already playing. You dial-and-push your way to the music selection and get the list of song titles. Ordered by file name. I guess - it's either that or by artist name. Which wouldn't be bad if the file/artist name were actually displayed, but it isn't. So to find a certain song within a rather long list, you need to scroll, spot a random title, remember what the file name would be, and then estimate how far and in which direction you have to scroll now. Rinse, wash, repeat, until you found your song.

Maybe you recall how I was miffed at some other cars not being able to shuffle across the whole music collection. At least not without placing a song in the root folder and enabling "shuffle over subdirectories" while playing it. This car doesn't even allow to include subdirectories in shuffling. Or even regular playing, as it appears. So no "play all songs by Mark Knopfler, in a random order". Or "all albums by Mark Knopfler". What it allows, though, is to "play all songs by Mark Knopfler, in alphabetical order" by searching for him. Far from perfect. Maybe it works better after copying my collection to the internal disk, but alas, the USB connector that's to be used for this is broken.

I miss having a "driver's display" on the instrument panel. In my León, I could make it display the music information or whatever else I want at the push of a button on the steering wheel. In the BMW, there's just the satnav's very wide main screen. I have to activate the "split screen" option to see two sets of information at once, like navigation to the left and music info to the right. If, for some reason, I switch the main part of the screen to music info (e.g. to look for a certain song), I have music info to the left and music info to the right. Making the split screen change its content is a bit of a hassle. I think I have to push the knob to the right twice, and then dial up "set split screen content" and then dial to whatever I want to see. It's quite inconvenient in my opinion, even more so that I still have to look at the main screen for my information (like turning info), and not at the driver's display right in front of me.

I also miss the compass a bit. The León had a permanent compass (one or two letters in the top left corner) shown in the driver's display. The BMW just has a tiny "North" arrow on the satnav. As the map (which, by the way, doesn't appear to have auto-zoom) turns, so does the arrow, and it always takes a bit of brain activity to figure out which direction I'm now heading into. "If the arrow points down there, that's south... and upside-down left is right and right, uhm, means east..."

As you see, even though the car's fact sheet is okay (a bit too little for that price), its practical usability is driving me nuts.

And why oh why, of all the things they could have placed there instead, is there an additional "air recirc" button on the steering wheel? Why not a pause/off button for the radio? Why not a cruise control toggle? If there's one button in a car that I rarely need, it's "air recirc".


My Golf is being assembled right now, the dealer said. It'll be delivered later this month. Hopefully.
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Coming home on the "hamster" flight (HAM-STR) this evening I wondered why there were two pieces luggage left on the baggage claim's conveyor belt. I don't know about the first piece, but the second seemed obvious: its tag said "STN". Beeeep! Wrong airport. But at least on the same contionent - technically. Dear Madam (it looked like a women's suitcase, in some strange brown-white pattern), so if you're in London now and wondering why your stuff isn't: you now know where to pick it up. Maybe if you just take a pen and work over the the "N" in your ticket a little, they won't notice and let you fly here.
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Tough Choices - And The Winner Is...
I got an offering for my future car today, and I also got it approved by the persons responsible. The order is on the way.

And it's going to be a Golf GTD. Pearl-effect black. With everything. And with "everything" I mean "everything". No extras left on the list to pick, from the hideable hitch to the heated front window. Picking the rear-seat side airbags was a little silly as hardly anybody will ever sit back there, but without it, it wouldn't have been complete. And given the overall price of that thing, one small item more didn't matter.

After driving the A3, the decision was relatively easy to make. I didn't want to give up on engine power and trunk size, and the only option to get an A3 with a full-sized (and still only 380 litre) trunk was to omit the AWD. But I can't omit the AWD without also omitting the DCT. And I can't change to a regular automatic transmission without switching to the 150 hp engine instead of the 184 hp one.

The lack of a touch screen was a minor annoyance, but I think I still prefer touch-only to a no-touch system. I'm also happy that the Golf's (active) cruise control buttons are placed on the steering wheel and not on an inconveniently placed third control lever. I'll miss the cruise control being available above 160 kph, but I'm looking forward to the intelligent headlights. And I highly appreciate the satnav's ability to let me pre-select the gas station brands.

I'll also miss having textile seats, as I picked leather so I won't have to look at that plaid pattern.

It's surely not the car that made me happiest. I'll miss the noise reduction, the space, the stylish exterior, the ease of use without dozens of menus, and my beloved mute button. But it was the car that I disliked the least and at the same time was the cheapest. If the A5 had the same extras availabe as the A3, the choice would have been much simpler. Hopefully in another three years, after an updated version of the A5 has been released.

Tough Choices - Audi II
Returning the Golf GTD to the dealer the morning after the test ride, he asked me to deliver a bag to my boss. I knew she was a Golf driver and is now responsible for our company's fleet management, so it makes some sense. And it made even more sense when I saw a brand-new Audi A3 Sportback in the parking space where her Golf used to be.

I remembered how the Audi dealer asked me to consider the A3 when I compained that the A5 is technologically too outdated. The A3 is basically the same platform as my León and the Golf, so I declined because first of all, I wanted to have a larger car. But seeing the Passat to be boring and the A5 not yet ready for me, it became an option again. So I called the Audi dealership to schedule another test-ride.

They found a car that was pretty much what I would have ordered: black, low, AWD ("quattro"), online satnav, LED headlights, distance-tracking radar (finally!), lane-keeping assistant, Bang&Olufsen stereo, leather/Alcantara seats and "S-Line" sporty apparel. Just the aux heating, automated parking with camera and the moon roof were missing.

I sat inside and had a look. It didn't feel as cool as the A5 or the Golf did for some reason, but still neat, tidy and, due to the B&O sound system and the chromed or even illuminated frames of its speakers, very elegant. The rear seats also had about 8 cm more leg room as the Golf, which made a huge difference.

I was eager to drive it. And I did, and it was a disaster. It should have been perfect, but it just didn't seem to work out.

The radar and the lane-keeping assistant are an interesting combination, it feels a bit like the car's on autopilot. But still I prefer the lane-keeping assistant to be off. The radar worked just fine without it of course, easily keeping a constant distance to the cars in front of me and reacting to cars entering or leaving my lane. Just as I hoped it would be. It also worked from 200 kph all the way down to a full stop - it even automatically starts rolling again if the car in front starts moving again within three seconds. Great!

The stereo could shuffle over the entire selection without fancy tricks - but here the troubles began: it somehow hung up reading my SD card. It tried to display the albums it contained as a "stack" of covers, ready to be browsed through. But that stack never moved. It also never disappeared. Not even when I switched the screen to other functions, like satnav. It was broken for sure.

All of this happened on a much smaller screen than in the Golf, one that retracted into the dashboard when it was not needed. That was okay, but what was a little annoying was that it wasn't a touch-screen and I had to fumble around with Audi's idea of an ergonomic controller. That already hasn't worked out in the A4. But I was happy to find out that the steering wheel has a freely programmable button that can serve as... a mute button for satnav! Yay! And it even was already configured that way. But... wait. Mute? Indeed, the satnav hasn't made any announcements yet. And I never managed to make it to. Neither did the dealer. It turned out to be broken as well.

Navigating through the menus was tiresome, and trying to control the stereo with the buttons on the steering wheel as well. The "forward/back" options only worked when the driver's display was in the music mode. At all other times, one had to reach to a button on the centre console to skip or repeat a song. But at least I could simply press the small volume-adjusting scroll wheel to instantly mute it, something the Golf didn't feature.

It was also an online satnav with Google Earth, so I tried to hook up my phone. It found my Galaxy S3 easily enough, made it display the connection code - and then aborted. I tried it a couple more times, it didn't work either. Eventually, I pulled the SIM card from my tablet PC and inserted it into the satnav, but I never really managed to establish online communication that way either. Yes, that one was also broken.

Then I took the car for a night ride on what became my test-track: onto the next autobahn, up north for the next two exists to catch an unlimited stretch of it, then exit, head back and climb a narrow, winding road uphill, then either head to the next Burger King (satnav test and quick snack) or head home. During this, I learned that I didn't want the LED headlights.

I love my León's steereing-controlled xenon headlights. Go around a corner and the beam will nicely follow the turn. Not so with those LEDs. It takes its input solely from the satnav, and the moment the satnav says "right curve!" it'll suddenly turn on the right-side "fog" lights (which are just more LEDs in the headlights, shining sideways). The same at crossroads. This is okay, but it also means that as soon as you're on a stretch that's not on your satnav's map, you're left without the curve lights. Not impressed. Also, while the LED lights increase their range up to 110 meters (instead of 70) at higher speeds, the intelligent high-beam would only allow the high-beam to go as far as up to the next car, but not, like the Golf's, "around" it. So those things are smart, but not smart enough. Thankfully, the good old xenon "curve lights" are available as well. Good Thing I found that out before ordering.

Driving on the autobahn I noticed that the AWD ate up a significant amount of top speed. Oh well - but I knew that. But I also noticed that it ate up a lot of trunk space! The trunk was just as small as the Golf's. Unlike for the Golf, omitting the spare wheel is not a configuration option for the A3 quattro. So I thought: then get it without AWD. But in that case, DCT and the large 184 hp Diesel are not an option without AWD either. So I'd have to resort to a 150 hp conventional automatic.

When I dropped off the car again, I felt a bit disappointed. In my mind, it had become my favorite, but seeing how cumbersome the satnav controls are and thinking about the small trunk, I wasn't sure anymore. It's exactly as expensive as the much larger A5, and driving the Golf gave me a big grin. But at least it was significantly spacier than the Golf, it didn't need leather seats to hide a hideous textile pattern, it looked better, it was slightly less noisy, had nice dials with "hanging" hands, a 0-200 kph distance-tracking radar and, for crying out loud, it wasn't a Golf.

I have to pick a car within the next few days. I'm still not sure which one it'll be. They'll all annoy me in some way or the other. But it won't get better than this either.

Tough Choices - Volkswagen II
Then came the Golf. The dealer has tried to put my test rides as close together as possible, so I had fresh memories when I picked up the second car. The car, I'd like to point out, that I never liked much for its total lack of design innovation and general ubiquity. Everyone drives a Golf, it seems; at least everyone who couldn't think of anything better. Back during my studies, people were talking about their favorite car. One student said: "Golf R32". I asked: a what? "It's the highest-powered Golf!" Highest-powered, okay... but Golf? What the heck's so special about that that it bears the marks of a dream car? But the first thing I saw of it were two women walking around it several times, looking through its side windows, and basically being unable to take their eyes of it, as it was parked at the dealership entrance. Okay - Golf lovers. It's still "yeah, a Golf. Next!" to me after all, but it left an impression. Okay - it was sporty indeed. Pitch black, low and with fine aluminum rims, red-painted callipers and darkened rear windows, it looked like a car from Need for Speed: Underground. Oh boy.

As I opened the door, I saw the famous "Clark" plaid of the seats that has been a trademark of the GTI series since the Seventies. Yuck. But the only chance I have to get rid of it is to pick the leather seats. Yuck again - cold in the winter and warm and sweaty in the summer.

But once I sat inside and I couldn't see that pattern anymore, it was cool again. There were surprisingly many buttons on the steering wheel (but no mute button). The gauges were, like the Passat's, not "hanging" and the speedometer's scale is a bit difficult to read (it takes a few glances to spot the 70 kph mark), but looked good otherwise. The information display was a color LCD, but routing directions were shown in a dull grey instead of the colourful blue the Audi used. The controls for AC and other stuff were nicely set and illuminated. And the center console was dominated by a huge screen. It was like they put an entire tablet PC in there. And it was a lot of fun to play with that one. It already reacts to the proximity of the user's hand, popping up a menu bar at the bottom of the screen as soon as a finger comes near it.

But like all playing, it becomes much less fun if one's suddenly forced to do it. There is a lot of information accessible using that screen, but one has to flip and scroll and navigate a lot to see it. I prefer stuff to be available at the press of a dedicated button.

The Bluetooth-enabled satnav coupled nicely with my phone, setting it into a special stand-by mode and using its SIM card remotly for phone calls and navigation data. Like Audi's, it can display Google Earth overlays over its map, showing slow-moving traffic, satellite imagery and 3D buildings. I could configure my favorite brands of gas stations. I could watch how much fuel my "life support" (actually, the "comfort features" - A/C, window heater, the likes) ate up. It displayed the road signs (speed limit, overtaking restrictions) it had recognized. It had a 3D graphic displaying the air flow settings for all the air conditioning vents. It could surf the web, I guess - it appeared to have a "bookmarks" screen. It could google for destinations. I could see the car's driving statistics. But I could not find a "total mileage" odometer anywhere.

Once again, the car stereo had no problems with my MP3s, but it showed the same non-shuffling nonsense as the Passat's. It tried to impress by displaying the playing album's cover art instead, and that sure worked.

The Golf had at least some more nice extras, even though not the distance-tracking radar I had hoped to be able to test (which sadly only works from 0 to 160 kph here - so no cruise control above that speed). It had the lane-keeping assistant I didn't even bother to activate. To my relief, it had no blind-spot sensor.

It did have a hands-off parking assistant, that measures a parking space while one's passing it, and if it's large enough (car length + 80 cm for parallel parking and just 50 cm for leaving the parking space) it'll just tell you to handle the accelerator and brakes and it'll steer the car nicely into the gap. I first tried this on an empty parking lot with just one car on it (with its driver waiting inside, I later saw - I wonder what he thought what I was doing), finding out that just letting go of the brake already makes it move too fast. I can tell you, the steering wheel can turn very quickly, but if there had been an obstacle behind me, I probably would have hit it. Note to self: next time, keep the brake applied instead of being all-excited at how fast that hands-off parking works.

It also had a sound-enhanced "sports" muffler. Which means that sometimes, the car appears to be a tad loud from the inside (but not at all from the outside), due to some flaps opening in order to provide a sportive sound experience to the driver. One thing I hoped for was to have a less noisy car.

It had a heated windshield as well. Since there was frost that night and I left my ice scraper in my León, I found out how great a feature that is. Aux heating is all nice and fine, but this one really helps accelerating an unscheduled departure. Just let it run for a minute or two and the windows are clear. It also prevents fogging very effectively.

Finally coming home, I left the front seat and tried to sit in the rear. No point in trying that behind the driver for sure - it was very cramped. So I tried the passenger side. Not much more leg space either. I thought that usually the shotgun seat can be moved a little further to the front as there are no pedals - but it already was. So the rear seats of the Golf are nothing for long-legged persons.

Then I opened the trunk and had the next bad surprise: with a spare wheel, the already small (380 litre, like my León's) trunk is very shallow and loses another 40 litres of volume. The advanced stereo system is also supposed to take up some space, but neither the dealer nor the Volkswagen hotline could tell me how much exactly. The dealer said "not much", but to be honest: I don't trust him. (It later turned out that the shallow trunk was simply due to a height-adjustable trunk floor being set to the highest level to provide a low access threshold.)

I'd still love to see its intelligent headlights. Using regluar xenon lights for curve-riding low-beam, these seem to be augmented by LED lights that use satnav information to illuminate crossroads and camera data to "mask" areas with other traffic from the high-beam. So the high-beam appears to be shining around the other traffic. If that works out as promised, it sounds awesome.

So the Golf is far away from my idea of getting a larger car. Yet, it was the car that made the most fun to drive and had the most advanced features. Of the ones I picked, it is also the cheapest.

Tough Choices - Volkswagen
The Volkswagen dealer sat patiently through me thinking up two configurations. The first one was a "sporty" Passat R-Line, the second a Golf GTD with almost all extras I could possibly pick, both with the 2 litre Diesel engine and DCT. The Passat also had AWD. And afterwards, he offered me to get hold of two of those cars for a rides. And so he did.

First I got the Passat. And... well. It's relatively good-looking from the outside, but again, no fifth door. Not good, but I knew that. The interior appeared spaceous, but rather functional, as if everything that might spark excitement was surgically removed. There is a small analog clock set into the middle of the center console, which looks somewhat silly to me. Alas, the car I had didn't have much in terms of extras, so I couldn't check those out. What it had, though, was the lane-keeping assistant and a blind-spot sensor. I turned the key and set off, at first simply towards home, to see how it all works out.

The first thing I noticed was that the interior's unexcitement was mirrored by the driving. It simply drove. I very quickly found out that the blind-spot sensor is simply annoying, with the warning lights in the outside mirrors in the corners of my eyes lighting up all the time. I switched it off. The lane-keeping assistant worked surprisingly decent, its steering corrections barely noticeable, but I hardly got it to work in the first place. It's only available at speeds well above 60 kph, and I spent most of the time being stuck in rush-hour traffic. It being more on stand-by than actually available and constantly switching between those states made it feel not really trustworthy. So I switched it off as well.

The stereo played my MP3s without problems, but I noticed that unlike my car, the shuffle setting could not be configured to include the whole SD card. Folders and subfolders only. Once an trick it into shuffling the lot by copying a song into the root folder, playing it and activate sub-fulder shuffling from there, but still, that's annoyingly stupid.

The satnav was the usual "same ol', same ol'" of all Volkswagen satnavs I saw. And again I missed my "mute" button. Same ol' also comes down to the possible extras I could order. The Golf and Audis had Internet-based navigation. The A5 looked great. The Golf had intelligent headlights. Both had a fifth door. The only thing the Passat could offer was a distance-tracking radar that worked all the way between full stop and 200 kph. Sometime next year, an all-new Passat is going to be released and a new A5 in 2015. I'm excited to see either. But until then, both cars are somewhat outdated in their technologies.

Definitely, the Passat is a work horse that comes at a good price, but a work horse wasn't what I was looking for. The dealer was right; he had warned me about that. I drove home, and took it for a short trip to the supermarket and dropped it off again the next morning. I just didn't care about this car at all.

Tough Choices - Audi
The Audi A5 Sportback - now there was a car I loved to have. Five doors, a 480 litre trunk, lots of space, yet a beautiful limousine-like (frameless door windows!) appearance. The dealer gave me an A4 2.0 TDI AWD ("quattro") with dual-clutch transmisison to test-ride, as he didn't have a similar A5 available. Didn't matter much, as they ought to behave pretty similarily.

And boy, what fun that was. I dug the interior and the car's snappy handling. No mute button, no gas station brands, but all in all, pretty cool. I also loved the ability of the satnav dialling into Google Earth using my smartphone's data connection and giving me a traffic overlay for the street map. Helps a lot when navigating through the big cities where hardly any traffic advisories are made (they're mostly just for the autobahns).

On the downside, I found the scroll-wheel/button controls for the satnav to be a little clumsy (I still feel like the wheel should be turned clockwise to scroll down, not counter-clockwise) and the cruise control settings being put on a third steering column lever at the 8 o'clock position of the steering wheel were annying.

Sill, a great car - but...

First, it was expensive, even though it was significantly cheaper than the 320xd, with more extras.

Second: the model is a few years old now and it shows. The great new thing are intelligent headlights, and an active cruise control that only works between 30 and 200 kph is somewhat of a half-baked solution. Being able to automatically creep along in traffic jams would be nice. The newer cars can do that.

Also, while having the same engine my León has, it packs a whopping 300 kg more weight. So it loses significantly both on acceleration and top speed (due to the AWD).

If there were a re-design and the car gets the latest features the others got, I'd get it without much hesitation. But that's scheduled for 2015. So I continued looking.

Tough Choices - BMW
BMW, though not one of my favorite brands, is famed to be the definition of sportiness and technological progress in cars. And their cars are stylish, too, although the exact kind of style can be arguable.

So I was looking for more or less affordable (I knew it was going to be expensive this time and not cheap fun like my León), preferably 5-doored sporty diesel-consuming cars. This kept me firmly in the 2-litre-diesel range. So I set my eyes on the BMW 320xd GT and scheduled an appointment at the local BMW dealership. Mostly just to say that I have given BMW some consideration - I did not expect to strike a deal here.

The first thing that happened was that the dealer suggested me not to pick a GT because it's "too expensive" and rather wanted me to pick the station wagon. So I did, and we did a few calculations. I'm envious of BMW's heads-up display, something no other company offered in this model range. And I long since decided that my car's going to have aux heating - something I've been craving ever since I got the León, which doesn't offer them. Bad news here: BMW doesn't, either, on the 3 models. "But something could be arranged". Helpful, but that wasn't making things cheaper.

Price was definitely the issue anyway - we created a relatively modest feature list and the leasing rate went through the roof, almost doubling what I currently pay for the Leòn. Ouch! But a test ride should convince me. Alas, no 320xd around - so I got a 318d. I found the engine to be as boring as expected, being somewhat underpowered. But I wasn't going for that one anyway. So I focussed on the rest.

The space inside the car was great. Lots of room. Well, it was a station wagon after all.

The dashboard? I didn't like the console layout much, and I was a bit disappointed at the gauges - "sporty" means to me: all hands are "hanging" straight down on their zero position. Preferably red or white hands on white illuminated numbers. Not so with BMW; to me, it has the instrumentation of a regular family car.

Satnav? Yeah, it works. What I always missed in "professional" satnav systems was the ability to pick gas stations nearby or enroute by their brand. This is important to me because since I'm using special company credit cards, I'm restricted to a couple of (thankfully very wide-spread) petrol companies. So I'd like to know whether the next gas station alongside the autobahn is a Shell station or something else, so I can then decide to leave the autobahn at the next exit and refuel someplace else.

When I asked about this, the salesman replied: "you shouldn't be doing that anyway - always refuel when your fuel tank is about 25% full, latest". Yeah, right. Fuel stops are something to be avoided and not to be had every time I come across a gas station "just to be safe". But then again, all other inbuilt satnavs I've ever seen can't do that either, so no big issue here. (My much, much cheaper smartphone's navigation software can do that easily, though.)

The driver's display was more fun, in "economy" mode it playfully gave hints on how to best use the accelerator. Technically not much, but entertaining. Other features? Not present in this car.

A thing I also noticed was that there's no "mute" button. Technically, there isn't one in my car either, but since either the satnav or my cellphone don't support speech recognition, the "voice command" button on the steering wheel simply shuts off whatever's making noise at the moment: either it stops the music, or it cancels the current traffic advisory and switches back to music, or it interrupts the satnav navigation announcement without switching it off completely. "In 300 meters, pleas---" - oh shut up, I know. I don't need instructions to get to the nearest autobahn onramp. But from then on, they might be useful, so no point in turning it off completely. So it became a much-used button in my car which the BMW didn't have. The salesman was surprised at me mentioning this - he didn't even grasp the concept.

All in all, I wasn't impressed. Too little, too expensive. Just as I expected. And I went on to the Volkswagen group, starting with Audi.

Tough Choices
Oh dear, another half-year passed by. And before that, about two-and-a-half more. That was when I got my last car. Which means: the leasing contract ends in February and I need to give it back. Which means: I need to pick a new one.

Which has proven, over the last months, not to be easy at all.

Currently, I still have my 2011 SEAT León FR with its 170 hp diesel engine and a dual-clutch transmission (DCT). An awesome car, in my opinion the best one could ever get considering looks, price and fun. But it has two downsides:

First, while relatively spaceous for its class, it is still quite small. The front and rear seats are totally fine, but the trunk has just 380 litres and could be just a bit larger.

Second, being one of the cheaper and youthful brands of the Volkswagen world, it hardly gets all the nice gadgets the other brands offer. Cruise control, for sure. Steering-following xenon headlights, yes. Onboard satnav on a big touchscreen, yup. Rain sensor? Sadly, yes. All there. So what do I miss? I miss keyless entry for one instance. An auxiliary heater. Or radar-based distance tracking - cruise control only really works well on empty streets. And a back-up camera for parking.

So in short, I wanted more trunk space and a technological upgrade, while at the same time retaining the sporty character of the car. Maybe a bit more power, if possible - and definitely not less. I also wanted to keep the large rear door as opposed to the small trunk hatches of the limousines - but no station wagons, please. Mind you: sporty. And, after learning to love auto transmissions, I wanted to keep the DCT at all costs. Also, since it was going to be a company car, I had to stick to European brands.

The first interesting car I came across was the Opel Insignia OPC Unlimited. Unrestrained 320 hp for about €45000, built into a big, elegant 5-door car, with all the stuff I could dream of: active cruise control, DCT, semi-intelligent headlights (extending the beam a bit further on autobahns), aux heating. Bingo!

But I also saw another one: Volvo S60 T6. A good-looking 300 hp limousine, more expensive, though. This was the first car I had an actual look at in a dealership, just to find out that I didn't like the dashboard, that the roof in the rear hung a little too low and that it doesn't have a 5th door model unless I took the V60 station wagon. No thanks. I had an S40 before and once bought a 17" CRT monitor - and barely managed to get the box onto the front seat. Because both the rear doors and the trunk hatch were too small to get it in.

After this, I started looking at what other car makers had to offer, simply judging by looking at the maximum power of the engines they offered. France and Italy were right out. It were mostly the German (including the whole Volkswagen company) car makers that build the sporty *and* technically advanced stuff. So the Insignia was still my favorite. 270 kph top speed - nobody beats that. It might be a bit too large, but with 320 hp, who cares?

So I went to an Opel dealership to take a look. They didn't have an OPC there, but, said the dealer, "an Insignia I customized to my own liking, with a few nice extras and a well-sized diesel engine". It looked beautiful on the outside, it also was nice on the inside. But checking the leasing rates, it turned out that this car, which was already quite a bit removed from what I would have liked to have, was awfully expensive to lease. I had to look somewhere else, obviously.

At this point, I got the bad news that from further on, I was only allowed to get a diesel engine. That wasn't surprising, as it makes total sense economically, but it destroyed my hopes of getting a high-powered car. The Opel was too expensive. The French and Italians don't build fast and feature-laden diesels. Dacia? I don't even care what they build. Skoda? Technologically okay and cheap, but they look awful to me, also, it's either limousine or station wagon again.

This basically left three cars:

  • VW Passat limousine

  • Audi A5 Sportsback

  • BMW 3 GT

As a benchmark, I also picked a VW Golf. The latest León FR ws not available with a dual-clutch transmission anymore when it had the 2 litre diesel engine, so I couldn't fall back to simply getting the same car again anymore. But I don't like the Golf - it's like the boring older brother of my León's. So if I had to pick a Golf, I wanted it to be "one with everything".

And thus my odyssey began...

Cluster 1 Customers (and yay for ASCII art!)

A couple of years ago, back in another life when I was still freely roaming the country's hills and prairies servicing ATMs and balance sheet printers, a thought in my head grew to become a theory. I found that all my customers could be described using a four-sectioned diagram:

            3 | 4
realistic <-------> ignorant
            2 | 1

The y axis describes whether the customer employee in question is familiar and competent with the matter at hand.

The x axis describes whether he is actually aware of that fact.

Cluster 4 customers are more helpful than they think. Cluster 3 customers are a pleasure to work with - they're good, and they know it. Cluster 2 customers are just fine as well: they haven't got any idea about what needs to be done and accepted this. They'll simply try to stay out of your way and trust you to do your stuff.

But beware of Cluster 1 customers. They're so stupid they might seriously interfere with your work, but at the same time erroneously believe they're doing a good job at what they're doing and need to treat you the way they do.

Never get involved in a project with a Cluster 1 project manager. Never ever.


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