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Sheer cruising pleasure

Look mum, no feet: Active Cruise Control does it all for you.

Logic tells me that German engineers are infallible, and that the BMW 650i I'm driving will stop itself from rear-ending everyone, thanks to its Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go Function.

Instinct tells me what I'm doing is intensely insane and that trying to drive from Sydney to Newcastle and back without touching brake or accelerator is like attempting to fly to the moon in a hot-air balloon — you have to hold your breath a lot. Predictably, Germanically, the 6 Series comes to a safe stop, although it does start its braking a lot later than any wise human would.

From a complete standstill, the Beemer then takes off from the lights and accelerates back up to my pre-set speed, while I ponder what a female driver would do with all this spare foot time and decide it would probably involve painting her toenails. Shudder.

The reason for this self-set challenge of attempting to drive to Newcastle and back, footloose and fancy free, is not actually a desire to emulate Top Gear's famous “how hard can it be?” attitude.

Instead, it was prompted by a BMW boffin on the recent 6 Series launch, who was lauding the system and claiming he had driven from his home in Wollongong to the dealer in Ruschcutters Bay without wearing a single millimetre off his shoe leather.

Theoretically, it is possible, but you have to be pretty lucky with traffic. As long as there is a car in front of you every time you pull up to a red light, the Beemer will stop itself.

If traffic is at a complete standstill for more than two seconds the system will shut off, but you need only hit the resume button and it will get rolling again — hence my feat of making it from Newcastle to Surry Hills without once touching the throttle.

I can barely tell you how wrong this felt.

The system is not, of course, entirely foolproof. Follow a car around a sharp bend, like a freeway off-ramp, and the radar will lose sight of the vehicle it's following and attempt to speed up.

Cleverly, however, if the DSC system detects understeer or other nastiness, it will slow the car down anyway.

In practice, though, I found instinct winning out and my foot going for the brakes on a few occasions.

I also managed to confuse the system to the point of turning itself off by making rapid lane changes. In revenge, it confused me because I thought it was still on and damn near rearranged the back of a bus.

The Active Cruise system is mighty impressive, but it does seem a strange technological goal for a company with the motto “Sheer driving pleasure”.

I'd have to say it reduced my driving pleasure by at least 50 per cent, but the BMW spokesheads argue that it was also reducing my stress levels, thus leaving me better able to deal with emergencies (or, more likely, to make phone calls).

Personally, I wouldn't pay the $4500 premium for Active Cruise on top of the 650i's $212,000 sticker price, but then I've never been a fan of cruise control of any kind.

But the 6 Series — a brilliant behemoth of a boulevard cruiser — is typically bought by much older punters, and perhaps they're all sorely sick of driving themselves


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