The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

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February 11, 2008

A fine car, for a price

BMW 5 Series is thrilling but expensive

CULLMAN, Ala. — Congress wants to lift America out of its economic funk by sending every taxpayer a big, fat check.

Might I suggest a simpler alternative? Just send everybody a picture of this car.

I can't think of a better way to motivate people to work harder, hit their sales numbers, start new businesses and make their bonuses than sending them a photo of the BMW 5 Series along with a note that says, "Go for it."

Part of that is because BMW is a status symbol akin to a Rolex watch or Louis Vuitton handbag. Some people just want it for the name.

But beyond the snob appeal is an amazing, compelling machine that showcases what the human species is capable of achieving in 2008. When you drive this car, you get the sense that some of the world's top engineers finished their work and said, "This is the very best we can do. Enjoy."

Everything about this car seems designed for precision and instant satisfaction, from the tautness of its sporty suspension to the perfect snickety-snick feeling of buttons on the dash. It's a rewarding car to drive, but not in the traditional definition of luxury. Rather than wafting around town on a cushion of Cool Whip, it feels more like a go kart that's been outfitted with leather seats and all kinds of crazy gadgets. It's bumpy, powerful, exciting and high-tech.

But most of all, it actually has personality.

Ninety-five percent of the cars sold today feel exactly the same. This is partially because car makers don't want to try anything too daring, but it's also because they build a handful of "platforms" with which they can sell slightly altered versions of the same car all over the world. There are dozens and dozens of brands that build a scarce few fundamentally different designs.

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