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Wheels: Nickel-And-Diming Can Tarnish Excellence

The 2014 BMW 328d xDrive has endless packages of optional equipment that should be standard on cars priced at $40,000 and higher. Illustrates WHEELS-BMW (category l), by Warren Brown, special to The Washington Post. Moved Friday, Jan. 31, 2014. (MUST CREDIT: BMW)

The 2014 BMW 328d xDrive has endless packages of optional equipment that should be standard on cars priced at $40,000 and higher. Illustrates WHEELS-BMW (category l), by Warren Brown, special to The Washington Post. Moved Friday, Jan. 31, 2014. (MUST CREDIT: BMW)

Happiness is taking delivery of a 2014 BMW 328d xDrive at the beginning of what Washington, D.C., deems a major snowstorm.

The car is a diesel-fueled, all-wheel-drive compact sedan. It moves easily through four inches of freshly fallen snow. But disappointment is getting behind the wheel of that car only to find that it lacks heated front seats, an onboard navigation system or a rearview backup camera — options not included in the test car’s $7,000 options package.

To get that equipment — expected and desirable in any automobile costing $47,075, the full price of the model driven for this column — you’d have to order an add-on package for several thousand dollars more.

That is ridiculous.

For considerably less than $47,000, you can get a plush Kia Optima or Cadenza or a fully equipped Hyundai Sonata, replete with advanced electronic safety technology including onboard navigation, high-definition rear camera, and lane-departure monitoring and blind-spot warning systems. You also get automobiles that move well in small-to-moderate snowfalls and that are reliable, safe transportation in mild weather.

Let us stipulate that Hyundai and Kia, South Korean automobile manufacturers, are not Germany’s BMW, the famed maker of “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” Based on all of the good things Hyundai and Kia offer as standard equipment, at quite reasonable prices, I’m not at all sure that the distinction works against them.

BMW, in fact, could and should learn something from Hyundai and Kia. To wit: Stop torturing consumers with endless packages of optional equipment that should be standard on cars priced at $40,000 and higher. Also, simplify your currently confusing array of options packages. You can do this by eliminating at least half of them.

Something else: It is undeniable that BMW makes some of the best-driving automobiles available anywhere, of which the 2014 328d xDrive is one. But BMW needs to stop resting on that laurel and using it as cover to relieve consumers of wealth with multiple options charges. It is a practice that is fast getting old, especially with the emergence of quality automobile manufacturers, such as Hyundai and Kia, that have figured out that the best way into consumers’ pockets is through their value-sensitive minds — giving them far more than they expect for the price paid. It requires a corporate humility not evident in most things BMW.

I eventually adjusted to the cold leatherette “premium vinyl” seats in my 328d xDrive. I compensated for the lack of onboard navigation by programming the GPS system in my smartphone. The absence of a rearview camera required sacrifice of another sort — stepping out of the car in 14-degree weather and physically checking to make sure the way was clear.

Yes, those are small things. But they are things I would not have to do in a well-equipped, less-costly Hyundai Sonata, or Kia Cadenza or Optima, or even a 2013 Buick Regal GS, which brings up another truth the folks at BMW should consider. The gasoline-fueled, all-wheel-drive Regal GS, recently driven for this column, performs as well in moderate snowfalls as the 328d xDrive. And the Regal GS, equipped with heated front seats, onboard navigation and a rear backup camera, as well as blind-spot and lane-departure warning systems, costs $38,000 — fully $9,000 less than the BMW 328d xDrive without those desirable options.

I love BMW. I loved the drive, handling, and fuel economy of the 328d xDrive (32 miles per gallon in the city, up to 45 on the highway). But BMW is going to have to get its corporate head out of the clouds. It is going to have to swallow a dose of humility and learn that there is nothing “ultimate” about cars, regardless of how well they drive, that increasingly seem overpriced when measured against the competition.