BMW Options I Could Never Do Without

An integral part of car buying is choosing options—features usually built into the car at the factory for which we pay extra. The choice of options is a moving target since items may move from optional to standard—and sometimes the other way around. In my BMW-buying lifetime, I have owned Bimmers that ranged from stripped-down, option-less base models, to others which had numerous. Many options have not been worth the money, but some I really appreciate. So I started thinking about options that I could easily reject versus those I could not do without.

I occasionally browse the vehicle configurator on the BMW USA site, also known as “Build Your Own,” so I can be ready just in case Betty finally decides she is tired of her 1997 528i after 22 years and counting, and we need a new BMW for her. This is basically a time-wasting exercise since I don’t believe Betty will ever get tired of her E39, but it does keep me current on BMW’s standard features and options. I also find it much more productive than playing solitaire or Sudoku on the computer.

My first BMW car—a 1976 2002—had no options. None. Its list of non-options, however, was extensive: no air conditioning, no radio, no tachometer, no fog lamps, no floor mats, no sunroof, no electric windows, and no power seats. Standard equipment included a clock, ashtray, four-speed manual transmission, steel wheels, and a tool kit that I stupidly left in the car when I shipped it from Germany to New Jersey. Yes, it had vanished when I picked up up the car. My 2002 also came standard with huge, ugly U.S.-spec bumpers that were an affront to anyone’s design sensibilities.

Zero options but who cared?

However, the 2002 was so much fun to drive that I really didn’t care if it had air conditioning, a sunroof, hideous bumpers, or even square taillights.

Subsequent BMWs taught me the value of some options as well as the worthlessness of others. So here are two lists:

The Top Ten BMW Options I Easily Can Live Without

10. Apple CarPlay. There are few things for which I need my iPhone while driving that I can’t do using BMW voice command or Siri. If BMW didn’t charge $300 for Apple CarPlay I might remove it from this list, but it will never make the list of options I can’t live without.

9. Any wheel larger than 20 inches. Replacement tires cost enough in the 17- to 19-inch sizes.

8. Parking Assistant. We have the Parking Assistant on our 2016 X5d, and not once have I been tempted to let the vehicle parallel park for me. Parallel parking was the only worthwhile skill taught in our high school driver education class so I will continue to do it manually, just because.

7. Soft-Close Doors. It’s not the soft-close door feature itself; it’s the idea of paying extra for something I have been doing for decades with the flick of a wrist, elbow, shoulder, knee, foot, or other body part.

6. Remote Engine Start. Call me old-fashioned, but I like to listen to the car when starting to make sure everything sounds like it should.

5. Lane Control Assistant. I consider this feature make-believe autonomous driving. You must touch the wheel every few seconds to keep it active, and if the lane markings are old and worn, the car may weave back and forth hunting for the lines. In those cases it should be called the autonomous nausea system. I learned this during a preproduction G05 X5 test drive. If BMW has fixed it, I might remove it from the list.

4. Lane Departure Warning. A steering wheel shake is annoying when all you’re doing is apexing a corner using the shoulder a little.

3. Night Vision. If the night vision images of dangers ahead were superimposed onto the head-up display, this could be a great option, but as it stands, the images appear on the center Nav system monitor. To look at it, you have to take you eyes off the road. Nope.

2. Hand-made, diamond-cut glass shift knob. The description says it all.

BMW has been hanging around with Rolls-Royce too much.

1. Sunroof, moonroof, Panoramic Sky Lounge LED Roof, or whatever they call holes in the top of BMWs these days. I learned my lesson twenty years ago when I ordered my E36 M3. I declined the optional sunroof, but Betty and the sales associate convinced me to get it to make the car’s resale value higher. Now, 25 years later, I have not only not re-sold the car, but I also removed the sunroof along with the rest of the interior when the M3 became my I-Prepared BMW CCA Club Racer. So the $1,120 sunroof taught me to trust my instincts when it came to options. My 2016 X5 has a big moonroof that was part of an option package. You could count the number of times I opened it in three years on one hand—even if your hand had only three fingers.

By the way, the M3 race car is also now without an audio system, speakers, air conditioner, central locking, electric windows, floor mats, cruise control, and heated power seats, making it much closer to my original 2002, option-wise, than any of our newer Bimmers. Like the 2002, it’s also hugely fun to drive.

The Top Ten BMW Options I Would Rather Not Do Without

10. Navigation System. I drove all over the U.S. and Europe using road maps and never failed to get where I needed to go. I don’t need the navigation system to navigate, but it comes in handy estimating arrival times, warning of traffic hazards, and finding hotels and gas stations. It does make navigating easier, as long as you remember that you still have to be smarter than the nav system. For example, never drive into a river just because the nav system shows the road going into a river. (Yes, that happened, but not to me.)

9. Heads-up Display. Anything that keeps your eyes where they can see what’s coming is a good thing. A great thing, actually.

First rule of driving school: keep your eyes up.

8. M Sport Brakes. Because bigger and better brakes are always bigger and better.

7. Automatic high beams. Before I tried them, I would not have believed the computer could dip the high beams faster than I could. I was wrong.

6. A real spare tire. Run-flats; I get it. But even a space-saver spare gives me more peace of mind that those nifty BMW Mobility Kits.

5. Heated Steering Wheel. This is mainly for when Betty drives. Even though they make terrific gloves these days, she would rather let the car do all the work keeping her hands warm.

4. Heated seats. Because happiness is a warm butt.

3. Adaptive Full LED headlights. These great lights would be even better if the U.S. DOT allowed the European Anti-Dazzle feature, which you really have to experience to realize how cool it is. If only there was an iPhone app and iPhone-to-OBD2 cable that would let us program it ourselves. Just sayin’.

At night, there is no substitute for illumination.

2. Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go. You still have to steer, but it saves wear and tear on your feet and helps maintain safe following distances.

1. Comfort Access. Seriously, I never thought that leaving your key in your pocket and locking, unlocking, and starting your car with a touch of your finger would be so liberating, but it is. It bugs me when I have to physically push a button on Betty’s ’97 528i key fob to open and close it and then search for the key slot on the steering column. It’s practically medieval. Thank you, BMW, for Comfort Access and for making it standard on many models.

There is one final feature I cannot live without that must always be standard and never optional: the BMW must be fun to drive.—Scott Blazey

[Photos courtesy Scott Blazey, BMW AG.]

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