Brendan O'Connor: 'The beast that taught me to stay in my lane'
Today's offering comes to you, unashamedly, courtesy of BMW. Full Disclosure. I got a car to 'review' for the week. I think they were a bit nervous as to what my 'review' would consist of, given I know little of torque or road-holding. But nonetheless, when my own beloved had to go to car hospital for the week, the motoring editor said he'd been meaning to get the new X5 reviewed so I could do it.
More full disclosure: Putting me in any car that was built post 2010 or so was going to be a bit like one of those movies where Brendan Fraser is a caveman who is defrosted into the 21st Century. So think of me like a slightly less hot version of Brendan Fraser. Brendan Gleeson maybe. While my own beloved is a beautiful car and had all the mod cons you could imagine in a car in 2006, the mod cons have moved on slightly since then. So for me, getting into the X5 cabin was like getting into a spaceship. After a week with it, I don't think I had got anywhere near figuring out all the tech. But I had my priorities right. My phone hooked up with it easily and I had my Spotify up on the giant screen for listening to music. And I had also figured out that you turn the sound up and down by rotating your finger in the air, clockwise for up, anti-clockwise for down. The sound, needless to say, is incredible. It's like the band are actually in the car with you, playing for you. Obviously slight danger with the mid-air volume control that people think you are listening to Lyric Fm and imaging you're conducting an orchestra. And if you think, 'Don't be daft, no one is looking at you', you're wrong. In this beast, everyone is looking at you. This is a giant slab of shiny Teutonic flash, and much like the queen thinks the world smells of fresh paint, when you drive this, you imagine that the world is full of envious people.
Initially I thought I was going to scratch it before I'd even left the dealership - manoeuvring space is at a premium in car lots and I had no concept of where the extremities of this beast were in relation to other cars. But luckily you don't have to rely on proprioception whatsoever. This thing has more cameras than the Game of Thrones set. Somehow, it even shows you a view from above, and not a computer generated one. You can see the actual terrain around you. I wondered initially if the car sends up a little drone every time you got into reverse, but it didn't seem to. The bird's eye view is obviously made up from various views from the many cameras. Either way, it works. You'd need to be an extremely bad driver to manage to prang this. Or else meet an extremely bad driver.
Indeed, the car actually won't allow you to drive badly. Staying in your lane is an important concept in the culture these days. This refers to anyone trying to speak out on an issue with which they are not intimately familiar. The X5 takes it more literally. I had clearly been staying in my lane for most of the week, because it was Sunday when the car first took control of the steering wheel and forced me back into my lane. You can obviously fight with it, and I did. But it was quietly insistent. It's a bit of a shock initially, feeling a bit like your passenger grabbing the wheel, but I can see how it could be valuable on motorway driving. This baby can do all sorts of other driving for you, like memorising how you got into a space to help you get out of it again, but I stayed largely autonomous.
But what about the actual driving? I hear you say. What about the feel and handling? And I'm getting to that. So basically I worried that I wouldn't be doing this beast justice driving around leafy South Dublin in it, that I should go off-roading or something. But as I drove around, perched up high, feeling powerful and master of all I surveyed, I realise that I was driving this car in its natural habitat. When I'm down low in my own car, I don't realise that there is a whole other world of masters of the universe, up high, looking each other in the eye, admiring each other's power. I was now in this club. And with a 182 reg I was near the top of this pecking order. I could see the people in 161 and 162 SUVs shrivel slightly when I came into view. They had once been top dog, but no more.
It's nippy for such a big beast. It doesn't drive like a tractor. It reminded me of that management tome about giants learning to dance. This was a giant that was light on its feet, and quiet inside with it.
I worried about going back to my own car when it came home, like a guy who gets to go first class once and is never happy in economy again. But as much as I miss my dancing giant, I know my place in the world. And I'm back in 06 land now, opting out of the competition, flaying low, under the radar, and with less cameras.
Brendan O'Connor's 'Cutting Edge' continues on RTE1, Wednesdays at 9.35 after News and weather.
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