Every February I have the same agenda: planning the family Winter Break road trip. I don’t look forward to the stress of planning, packing or hours in the car, even though I’m always glad we did it. Every year, we toss our casually packed bags, toys, scooters, electronics, dog and other assorted necessities into the back of our Toyota Highlander, place a big bag of Trader Joe’s snacks in the middle seat between my daughters, and escape the frozen Northeast for a slightly warmer climate. But this year we have a new baby to consider: our BMW 335 i.
A Hard Choice: The Love of Driving in a Sports Sedan, or Comfort in an SUV
Since my husband will join us at the end of our trip, the quandary is all mine: do we drive to North Carolina in Gracie, our lovely new car, muting its (relatively) new car smell, sullying its creamy beige interior, and letting the dog create nose art on the windows, all the while enjoying the full throttle of the 300 horsepower twin turbo engine on the long stretches of highway in Pennsylvania and Virginia? This option limits in-car snacks, demands more stops to eat, and limits what we can pack to the BMW’s roomy-for-its-size trunk. Also, it means no bring-backs from Grandma’s house: no significant shopping trips on vacation.
Or do we take the Toyota: fewer stops, more room to spread out and space to bring back anything we might pick up along the way.
Driving a Sedan: The Benefits
The thought of driving Gracie (named for Princess Grace of Monaco, after our car’s color: Monaco Blue) for eleven or twelve hours at a stretch made me smile. The tradeoff of not being at truck cab height on the road is that you have the agility to get around traffic, leaving you with clear horizon ahead. The BMW’s sound system is crisp and clear, the bucket seats are comfy and the elegant interior makes all of us, even my nine-year-old, feel like grown ups.
And the Drawbacks
Packing was more of a challenge; we had to limit our luggage, pack smartly and limit snacks to those that were self contained and wouldn’t spill. There is less room in the cabin for things like electronics, head phones and garbage bags, and there aren’t a lot of compartments for storing things (not that the Toyota is much better). Cup holders are not BMW’s strong suit, so we had to think twice about any liquid in a cup, and if we opted for them (coffee and milkshakes, to be specific) we had to plan a stop to throw away the cups when we were done or risk permanent spill stains on the carpet.
Hitting the Road
So, considerations and plans made, we set off for North Carolina in Gracie. Immediately, I delighted in one of the great advantages of traveling in a sedan: a clear view out the rear window. With a trunk rather than a load floor, the stuff in the back didn’t pile up, forcing me to use only the side mirrors when driving. It also didn’t drift into the passenger cabin, as it has a habit of doing when we travel in the Toyota; instead, it stayed in the trunk.
Another advantage was Gracie’s newness: being new and more elegant than any other car we’ve had as a family, the girls took greater care with their snacks and belongings, keeping the car relatively clean the entire trip, even making sure to toss out the garbage every time we stopped (that, perhaps, is worth the price of the car!).
A Fun-For-All Car
And Gracie was fun to drive–for all of us. My older daughter enjoyed the what I call the front-road view of the BMW: low to the ground, seeing, anticipating and feeling every bump and curve in the road, and feeling its throttle in the seat of your pants, which is the nature of a sports car. My younger daughter enjoyed relaxing in the back seat, having it, and the dog, all to herself.
The trip to North Carolina was uneventful: we sang, we talked, we stopped only when we needed gas, making food and bathroom stops as well. These strategies, the use of Gracie’s cruise control and constantly monitoring the speed limit to ensure we were comfortably traveling as fast as we could, allowed us to make it to Grandma’s house in just over 10 hours–a family record–in time to watch the Grammy Awards and share pizza with my parents.
View From the Rear: Returning Home, and Finally, Being Chauffeured!
A week later we repacked the car for our trip home. We ended up leaving a day early due to weather, and changing our route to the less-likely-to-get-snowed-on I-95. With my husband and his luggage, it was a tighter fit this time: less lounge space for back seat passengers and more stuff in the cabin. Still, the experience was similar: we cruised at a good clip, passengers happy and content as the landscape flew by. At one point my daughter asked to sit up front with her dad, so I took the backseat. I was pleasantly surprised at the comfort and roominess of the seat. With more legroom and seemingly deeper seat pockets and floor wells than the Toyota, even though the 335i is small compared to most sedans, it was comfortable , even for several hours. Its dedicated passenger lighting, climate control and the center console with cup holders made the back seat even more accommodating. And pleasantly enough, as a driver you don’t really feel the ‘drag’ of the full length of the car the way you do in an SUV; it drives like a sports car, loaded or empty, and only feels slightly larger than the two-door 335i coupe (and significantly smaller and sportier than the 5 series).
I knew when we bought the 335i that road trips would be a challenge. So we considered the roomier 5 series for that reason, but ultimately, the 335i won out, and all in all, it was the right choice for us. Road tripping in a sports sedan makes the ‘road’ part of the trip almost as fun as the vacation itself.
Scotty Reiss is a Connecticut-based writer, consultant and event content developer, and author of the book “Stew Leonard, My Story,” a biography of entrepreneur Stew Leonard.