It’s hard for me to believe, but it’s been almost three years with my 2016 BMW 228i xDrive, meaning its lease-end is fast approaching. I’ll just say that I’ve loved this car and enjoyed every minute of ownership with it. It has been a car that’s fit me like a glove — in personality, lifestyle, and what I want in a car. It is also a car that’s been very meaningful to me, providing me with a refuge and an unwavering sense of confidence through a lot of rocky times and life changes these past three years. It is a car I know I’d be content with for a little longer, but I’ll just stop you there and say that buying it out doesn’t make financial sense. So where do I go from here?
The 2018 BMW 540i xDrive that I co-leased with my mom as somewhat of an extra car for an absolute steal is still a proud member of the family. Yet it’s a car that honestly feels a bit “too nice” for me, and Mom’s become quite smitten with it. I’d be totally fine taking its over fully and driving it daily, but it’s a car that makes more sense for Mom at this time, and thus and she’s decided to do so.
Knowing when my lease was coming up gave me a lot of time to decide on my next car, and I’ll be honest when I say I began seriously looking last fall. Although I’m the resident BMW guy/Bimmer boy, no longer being a corporate employee of BMW North America sadly meant no more Center Employee Leases (which are unreal, btw) so I did explore all the options.
Among the cars on my list for consideration were the: Audi A4 sedan, Audi Allroad, Audi A5 coupe, Mercedes-Benz C300 coupe and sedan, Mercedes-Benz AMG C43 coupe and sedan, another BMW 2 Series (230 and M240), the all-new BMW 330, BMW X3, Range Rover Evoque, Volvo S60 and V60, Volvo XC60. Keep in mind that this was just my list — ultimately only a few of these cars were serious contenders, and therefore ones I test drove.
Reasons for weeding out many of these models simply came down to cost. The Volvos were leasing out horribly, as were the Audis with the exception of the A4. The C43, while actually a surprising value for the money, was still more than I “wanted” to pay for a car I still wasn’t entirely in love with. As for the 2 Series, and M240 also was very expensive, and beyond that, I found it hard to justify spending more for a 230 than my current 228 lease for essentially the same car that hasn’t received any significant updates apart from its minor LCI.
Rounding out my list of finalists were:
The 2019 Audi A4 45TSFI Quattro
Pros: Performance-focused handling, front seat comfort, top-rate interior material quality
Cons: Stale-feeling interior, lack of personality, disappointing wheel choices
Now in its fourth year of its current B9 generation (not that many would easily be able to tell it apart from its predecessor), the Audi A4 was the car I had the lowest expectations for. After all, it is a front-wheel drive-based car with Audi’s ever-FWD-biased Quattro all-wheel drive, and my experience with newer Audis including the TT roadster and Q5 have been less than satisfying.
Let me stop you now and just say that it was the A4 I found most impressive from a driving perspective. The example I test drove had the Sport Package with the upgraded sport suspension, which undoubtably helped its surefooted feel. If there was any body roll during sharp turns and quick maneuvers, I couldn’t detect any. Steering felt satisfyingly heavy and it’s high-revving 2.0-liter turbo 4 felt a lot more power than it’s rated at.
Technology-wise, the A4 comes with all the expected convenience and safety tech. Audi’s Virtual Cockpit digital gauge cluster is impressive, if not a bit too busy and distracting. Seats are very comfortable and supportive, and everything you touch has a quality look and feel. I especially liked that its leather-wrapped steering wheel and console gear-shift selector had a thick, meaty feel.
In spite of this, I found it hard to totally warm up to the Audi. Could it be its cold personality, or lack of personality at that? As premium as its interior looks and feels, it’s a sobering, unexciting place to be. I was also disappointed that Audi replaced my preferred choice of color, Gotland Green, with yet another shade of grey, and that opting for the more attractive 19″ wheels requires summer tires.
The 2019 BMW 330i xDrive
Pros: All-new for 2019, latest tech, impressive handling
Cons: Derivative styling, lack of color choices, a bit boring
The all-new BMW 3 Series was the car I was most eager to drive and the car I wanted to like most, as after all, it’s a BMW. I am happy to report that from behind the wheel, it’s a much more invigorating driving experience than its somewhat dialed-down predecessor. Its steering is heavy and communicative, its torquey engine provides lightning fast acceleration, and the stiffness in its chassis can be instantly felt in its unwavering Teutonic grace through turns and road imperfections. If BMW lost their ways with the F30 3 Series, then they definitely got them all back with this G20.
Beyond that, the new 3 series offers oodles of technology goodies, including its unique digital gauge cluster display, the latest version of BMW iDrive, laser light high beams, Gesture controls (which I’ve come to appreciate in the 5 Series), and an autonomous reversing assistant that “remembers” your forward path for getting out of tight spaces you’ve gotten yourself into.
I guess my main negatives for this car was that I didn’t feel that same emotional connection to it as I did with the 2 Series and the 5 Series. Although it’s car that is pretty damn close to perfect, it’s certainly not as playful and intimate as the 2, nor is it as comfortable and luxurious as the 5. Could it be that it feels a bit too much of an amalgamation of the same from other modern BMWs?
Then there’s also the fact that selecting the M Sport package cuts your choice in exterior color in half AND there are no new and/or exciting leather and trim choices. Maybe I’m getting too nitpicky here, but I guess I just wanted to be more “in love” with the new 3 Series than purely “just satisfied”.
The 2019 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic
Pros: Expressive design inside and out, high-degree of customization, available as a coupe
Cons: Disappointing acceleration, choppy ride quality, lots of cheap interior bits
Around since the 2015 model year in North America for the sedan, and 2016 for the coupe, the Mercedes-Benz W205 C-Class has been getting rave reviews for its “mini-S-class” styling and opulent interior ever since. I’ve never really seen myself as a Mercedes guy, but given that one of my best friends, Zach, just started working there and said they were leasing out ridiculously well, I thought it was worth a look.
What most excited me about the C-Class was that it was available as a coupe. Sure Audi offers the A5 and BMW the 4 Series, but those models are larger and more expensive, whereas the C-Class coupe is the closest in size to my 2 Series. I didn’t rule out the sedan either though, as I actually like its proportions a bit better than the somewhat “hunchback”-like coupe. Unlike the A4 and 3 Series, the C300 offers buyers with a plethora of paint and wheel options, with fewer restrictions depending on other packages selected.
For all the buzz though, I found the C300 most disappointing. Even with sport suspension and steering, I found the steering overly light and artificial, handling was sloppy and ride quality harsh, and acceleration sluggish. The seats and seating position were the least comfortable, headroom was the worst, and the column stalk gear-shifter feels inappropriate in a sports sedan/coupe.
Most significantly, I found the C-Class to feel very cheap. Mercedes must have spend the money on interior design and not the quality of its materials, as the plastics and vinyls feel more like they belong in a base model Volkswagen. Maybe I’m being too overly critical of this car, but I guess I just had higher expectations as the C-Class has been showered in overwhelming praise the past few years. Undoubtably, a C63 and even a C43 are much better, but they require going up quite a bit in payment.
The 2019 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque
Pros: Most affordable, representing the brand I sell, something completely different
Cons: Inferior tech, ill-suited front seats, least performance-oriented
My last finalist is somewhat of a curveball, but given that I work for Land Rover, considering a Range Rover Evoque wasn’t totally out of the question. I’ve been able to drive the Evoque many times, particularly for long distances, and definitely developed a fondness for it. Although it came out for the 2012 model year, it still looks contemporary and avant-garde, and its looks haven’t been copied by other small CUVs.
For a CUV, the Evoque’s handling is satisfyingly sporty and agile. It’s turbo I4 makes similar power to the others, providing reasonably quick acceleration, while steering has a nice weighted feel. There’s obviously more body roll given its higher center of gravity, but ride is firm and controlled, and higher ride height and thicker tires mean it provides more shelter from pot holes.
Of course, there’s no denying that the 2019 Evoque is old… I mean, it’s been around since the 2012 model year. The tech and user interface, while it has received updates over the years, is far less user friendly than in the Germans. The center stack, with its hard plastic buttons, looks and feels its age. Having driven it on long journeys, I can say that at least for me, the front seats are overly firm and lack the lateral support of what I’m used to from BMW. Then there’s also the fact that we’re already selling the redesigned, more luxurious and tech-forward 2020 models alongside remaining 2019s.
Yet the 2019 Evoque is still a car I like, and the fact that Land Rover was offering some crazy employee leases on remaining 2019s was highly appealing. I mean, getting a $55K well-optioned Evoque for $300/month with no money down is hard to pass up. We’ve also had this red Landmark Edition in our showroom for a few months now that stares me down daily. Coincidently, it happens to be our last 2019 left.
Appropriately enough, the day of completing this article also happened to be the day I took delivery of my new car. What did I go with? Stay tuned as the choice may surprise you.