2010 BMW 135i Sauber F1
It's a toy. A rather expensive toy that will attract some seriously indulged owners. But, my word, this toy is fun. More fun than a bathtub of marshmallows, the BMW 135i F1 Sauber limited edition is a car that is happiest when it is at play. Only 200 of these cars have been built and only six have been earmarked for the UAE. The love of special edition cars here is no secret, and this one looks great, is fun to drive and the novelty value of the F1-style steering wheel will please this market. Two have been sold already and the one I tested will be used as a demonstration model before being sold as a very appealing second-hand car.
Bedecked in the BMW Sauber racing colours - white with the red and blue stripes running the length of the car and slicing around to the bonnet, it has a retro-cool look about it. So pleased was I with this car's looks that at one point, I found myself checking it out in the safety mirror of a mall car park. Few drivers here use these mirrors to check for oncoming traffic but now I wonder how many use them to admire their own cars.
Unlike when I test out a bigger, more obviously flashy car, it doesn't attract the same attention until you leave other motorists for dead at the lights or they hear the engine revving. However, on the Abu Dhabi-Dubai motorway, it did attract the attention, and possibly the ire, of the driver of a bright yellow Audi S3 who tried to race me. I passed him without drama and then he executed a suicidal lane change so I left him to it.
It has 360 horses galloping under the bonnet if you get the Dh25,000 AC Schnitzer performance upgrade (there are "only" 306 in the 125i you usually see on the roads and in the base model of this one) and 400 Nm of torque. The AC Schnitzer upgrade involves a more efficient exhaust system, an upgraded electronic control unit that manages the engine and fancy black-on-white sport gauges. This is a car that does not enjoy travelling slowly. When I drove it along the speed camera haven that is Jumeirah Beach Road, getting every red light along the way, the engine growled angrily at me and let out resigned sighs. I swear I could hear it saying: "Oh, for goodness sake, take me up Jebel Hafeet or out on the open road or frankly anywhere but this infernal traffic."
The six-speed manual mode can be activated with the gear selector or the paddle shifters. I usually prefer to use the gear selector and this was no exception - its paddle shifters are definitely designed for bigger hands than my bony mitts. But the steering wheel's role in gear changing was pretty darn cool. Complete with its own instruction manual in seven languages, the steering wheel lights up with orange and red flashing lights to let you know when it might be appropriate to shift.
As well as this dazzling gizmo, the steering wheel can also hold information such as lap and quarter-mile times in case you fancy a spot of drag racing down at Umm al Qaiwain. In an attempt to be Captain Sensible, the writer of the manual advises the driver to keep to the speed limit and not to use such functions on public roads. Call me crazy, but I am pretty sure few will heed such advice. Still, in this age of litigation, it makes sense for BMW to try and prevent a potential Darwin Awards winner suing after a drag race in a quiet neighbourhood goes horribly wrong.
The black suede of the steering wheel is a joy to touch and combined with superb handling - and the fun to be had comparing the ride with the traction control turned on and off - it is almost impossible to drive the car without a goofy grin. Interior styling is simple in sober blacks and greys, with the front seats vaguely reminiscent of racing seats - although they are definitely designed with real bodies in mind rather than those of lean F1 drivers.
The audio and navigation systems are easily operated from a reasonably intuitive mouse-like button in the centre console with lovely, clear maps and a simple zoom function. This helped me enormously as I was driving the car through Dubai without a Salik tag and, while I know Dubai pretty well, I wanted to make doubly sure I didn't accidentally fly through a Salik gate en route to the airport. Driving from Jumeirah to Garhoud via the Shindagha Tunnel and deepest Deira is usually a trip I'd avoid like the plague, but even that was an entertaining drive in the 135i.
Indeed, the only thing that bothered me about this car, apart from not being able to afford it, was a slightly touchy indicator stalk that made it a bit too easy to accidentally put the wrong signal on when changing lanes. Oh, and the boot is a bit small - but I'm pretty sure the buyers of this aren't the types who care about the transportation of golf clubs. firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated: September 12, 2009 04:00 AM