My Kingdom For A BMW Van

It’s a bad word in car enthusiast circles. It’s worse than “wagon” and perhaps just as bad as those four-letter words that you try to avoid around your kids. And like those four-letter words, sometimes it just slips out at the wrong moment—after stubbing a toe, when you realize that your umbrella is sitting safely at home when it starts raining cats and dogs, or when you forget your magnetic parts tray (again) and that oh-so-tiny bolt that always rolls under the car is making a dash for freedom.

Maybe it’s worse than those four-letter words. After all, it only needs three letters to send shivers down the automotive enthusiast’s spine. Deep breath: Van.

That’s the one. There’s no going back now. Oh, but it gets worse in our Bimmerphile world. How about BMW van?

Sacrilege! Grab the pitchforks! But my, oh, my, how I would love to have a BMW van in the garage.

Aside from the stray stripped-and-caged oddity attending One Lap, the word “van” rarely makes an entrance during serious automotive conversations. Is it because of the slightly too long and drawn-out shape? Or is it the ever-so-hard-to-shake soccer-mom image?

It’s the sliding doors, isn’t it?

Well, I hope it’s not the doors, because those crafty wings are the best things a parent can have. Fact: When parked on a slight sideways gradient, gravity will fling your child’s traditional-style door wide open into the neighboring Honda Civic, causing several hundred dollars’ worth of damage. It’s science. It happens.

Same situation in a van? Press a button and watch the whole side of the vehicle elegantly slide open without marking up someone’s brand-new ride. Overall, the whole design of the modern minivan is a paragon of efficiency, packaging, and practicality. I know, I know: We auto elites don’t really like “practical” as a selling point, now, do we?

Don’t get me wrong: I like perusing the classifieds for a pure sports car with two doors and two seats—and I fully intend on adding one to the stable at some point in the future. I have daily-driving duties practically perfected in the form of a 3 Series GT—but the GT cannot swallow six people and their gear, and entertain the children with magical motion pictures on a twelve-hour slog to Hilton Head. And it doesn’t have those wonderful sliding doors.

You are not seeing double. I’m not the only one whoappreciates the 3 Series GT for the airport run, even if it’s not the best vehicle for long family trips.

My wife’s vehicle does have those doors, though, because it’s a van. And I can’t really stand the thing anymore. On most trips, short or long, I typically take the helm, since I like driving, and my wife isn’t the biggest fan. The only problem is that the thing doesn’t handle like a BMW, doesn’t have seats like a BMW, and lacks the drivetrain of a BMW. In short: It’s not a BMW. No surprise there, since the company categorically does not make a van. I understand, but it’s time for the marketing image to take a hike, so that BMW can please provide me something with sliding doors and iDrive. I want to look forward to family vacation travels again!

The automotive world has moved on, and people are willing to drive just about anything with a certain badge on it—just look at the new X7 and its, ahem, functionally styled front-end. Even with that pair of nostrils, my wife and I would still buy the behemoth if it had a pair of sliding doors (okay, being realistic, it would likely be a CPO). And people are spending plenty of their hard-earned dollars on vans from Chrysler and Honda; they’ve actually become rather expensive for what used to be an economical option, and I’m sure there is significantly more room for even higher-end models, assuming the right manufacturer makes a move.

The X7 doesn’t have the subtlest front-end design, but my wife would still drive one—if it had sliding doors.

Maybe the solution is to start with a seven-seater X5 and add a set of electronically controlled traditional doors that have sensors to stop them from dinging up the car in the next parking spot. Drivers everywhere could park with confidence, knowing that their offspring can exit at the push of a button without stripping paint or bending metal. Of course, it won’t stop them from hanging on the door like acrobats as they dismount from two feet off the ground, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Maybe BMW could engineer a set of electronically controlled rear doors to the X5, thus saving nearby sheet metal from kids and gravity?

Or BMW can improve on the tried-and-true route, and just engineer a lightweight, carbon-structured sliding door. They can even make the whole package—and I’m really about to get myself in trouble here—front-wheel drive. Sure, I would vastly prefer xDrive, but at this point I will take just about any compromise that gets my wife into a BMW that I can drive whenever we take the family out of town. And really, all she wants right now are a set of sliding doors.—Chris Doersen

[Photos courtesy Chris Doersen, BMW AG.]

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