It feels like everything is changing—or maybe everything is just ripe for changing.

My best intentions to get another 20,000 miles out of our 2011 X5 ran aground when a 2018 came off lease at my local BMW dealership. I’m habituated to checking for new arrivals “just to keep informed,” and initially this 35d was just one more 2018 to be catalogued. I’ve realized lately that my cataloguing process includes a lot of exclusionary steps, steps I take in trying to find reasons not to want the car. Wrong exterior color? Nix. Wrong number of cylinders in the engine? No. Wrong Carfax/service history? Nope. No heated steering wheel? Oh, hell, no.

But this candidate passed all those checks, so I brought forth the enhanced list of packages and options either desirable or undesirable, and ran the plan again. After that second pass, I started to think about going to see the car.

It wasn’t just that it had a nice score on my tests; it was also that time marches on. The three-year period of a standard BMW lease obviously tracks the production run of the cars, and the 2018 lease-return run was about halfway done in February 2021. I’d also become conscious of some late F15 production-component shortages that curtailed availability of fancy options, particularly for cars built after March 2018; if I waited much later to snag a CPO 2018, holding out for the perfect build, chances are I’d have to do without some feature that I wanted.

Timing is everything:  This unit is the ultimate expression of this generation of the model” is a rewarding fact, but the risk is that new buyers three years ago were more interested in the next-generation X5s, so not buying 2018s. When things aren’t selling, the coda of the previous model comes quickly. This recent arrival started to seem like the best build that was likely to be found–even if it was white. Such is the lot of us last-edition hunters.

On the other half of my best intentions, our older X5 was getting to be like the kid in class who misbehaves in order to get attention. In a classroom as crowded as my garage, the other kids probably need the repair-and-maintenance attention that the Gray Whale wanted to monopolize.

So we booked a visit at the dealership and went down to poke at the newer X5.

The first sight of the exterior reminded me that lease-return standards allow small chips and dings, and this 2018 had several of those. Then our client advisor opened the door.  Every heard of the Mocha Interior Design Package? I hadn’t—or if I had, I’d disregarded it, thinking that it only meant some limited-run brown color for the upholstery.

Uh, no. Standing in the gap of the open door, I realized the benefits of MIDP. The dash, console, and doors are covered in deviated-stitching smooth leather pads. The seats and steering wheel are like butter. It transforms the cabin from nice-but-normal to ooh-la-la.

Turns out I’m a sucker for luxury. 

Multi-contour seats in Mocha Nappa leather.

Leather door panels and dash are features of the Mocha Nappa Interior Design package.

With the hook firmly set, we started working on the deal with the crafty client advisor. We qualified for some financial incentives, and the final numbers satisfied our pecuniary needs. The dealership’s tactics were refreshingly straightforward:  It was more like a celebration than a hard-nosed struggle, despite my regressing to old habits of gamesmanship. If this is the new way, I’m glad those old days are gone. It was among the easiest car purchases I’ve ever made.

The white 2018 X535d sits next to the Gray Whale, a 2011 X535d.

We didn’t expect much of an adjustment in updating from the 2011, and that’s fine; we liked the way the old car worked, and wanted more of the same. Of course, the technology is updated, but those changes aren’t jarring. The goal is to have a smooth transition from old to new, aspiring to the grace of an athlete moving from a trot to a run, or the little stutter-step you make when nearing the end of a moving walkway to hit the stationary ground without a stumble—a continuous motion, the graph of velocity a straight line. We put the two whales together and started moving contents from one to the other.

Someday in the future, when online car buying is the norm, you’ll just pull your trade into the lot and park next to its replacement. Inside, the staff will note your arrival and remotely unlock the new car. You’ll transfer your fire extinguisher, tow strap, and warning triangles from your tired steed into the fresh one, and drive off. Of course, you might not be driving—the car will be driving. And in that future, surely the cars will discuss the upcoming exchange between themselves as you approach the lot. The new car will ensure that there is a clear parking spot next to it for you—or rather, for your car. In the eyes of those intelligent machines, you’re not exchanging them: They’re exchanging you. They’re programmed, they’re “driven” to make the process seamless and safe. You’ll be valued cargo, handed off with decorum and respect.

I wonder how that future handoff will go if you’re changing brands. Will the Audi you’re trading in refuse to tell the new BMW about your seat settings? This wouldn’t have to be a spiteful action; suppose the Audi truly believes that it is the better car brand for you, and that it’s preventing you from making a mistake.

Finally, what do you do when you transfer to a smooth, powerful, luxurious newer BMW? Road trip!

Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming is a fine destination.

It got a tiny bit cold the next morning, and the temperature delta between the outside of the windshield and the interior pulled an existing glass chip into a full-size longhorn crack in the windshield. Oooh, mannn! Already headed in for repair!

The X5 reported a modest -32ºF when we started it.

As so many desperate Texans have discovered, sometimes a warm car is a last chance at surviving the cold, and we are grateful for the warm luxury afforded by this X5. If you’d like to help the folks in the Lone Star State, here are several options for charitable relief donations.

We are, after all, in this club, in this country, in this world together, and some of us are very lucky indeed.—Marinus Damm

[Photos courtesy Marinus Damm.]

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