BMW knows how to do things right. From cars to SAVs to pure electric vehicles, it's all good. However, the events that they are offering in the product promotion area are simply not to be missed. BMW USA is putting on a series of behind-the-wheel driving adventures all across the country that give current, past and prospective BMW owners the opportunity to drive just about every vehicle in their inventory - on road AND on track!
Last week, BMW rented a huge swathe of a Meadowlands parking lot and turned it into a fantasy land for car enthusiasts. First, this invitation-only event featured temporary vehicle showrooms where BMW displayed their new, exotic (and expensive) i8 sports electric road car. While we have been tempted by prototypes at several auto shows and pre-introduction events, a finished soon-to-be-on-sale model was available for inspection, detection and selection. You were allowed to touch every single part of it, leaving no part untouched. Sitting inside this hyper modern electric vehicle was like a trip into the future. Carbon fiber, glowing lights and sumptuous leather surrounded you telling you that you were in something special. Across the high school sized room sat the new M4. Again, you were invited to explore to your hearts content. Tasty cars indeed!
The next offering was a chance to be driven across a skid pad covered with soapy water in a rear-drive BMW equipped with their traction-control technology. A test driver took a quick lap with the traction control turned off and you could feel and hear the rear wheels spinning, barely able to achieve enough traction to move the car about 30 yards. Once back on the tarmac, the driver switched the traction control and the car sailed through without drama. In the part of the world that has rain, snow and icy roads, having a BMW with this feature (standard on all BMWs) is an added safety "must have".
To demonstrate their all wheel drive technology (called X-drive) they set up a mini roller coaster and invited guests to ride along with another test driver as he drove up a very steep ramp. Stopped mid-way, restarted up and then, using their hill-descent technology glide down - without touching the brakes. The ride up was made more challenging because the ramp had freely spinning rollers alternating in each line where the wheels rode. This meant that the power had to be redistributed by the X5's computer to the wheel or wheels with the most grip. You could watch the almost instantaneous switch of power from wheel to wheel on the large in-dash viewing screen. Again, in an X-drive vehicle, this is all standard. The hide-descent feature can be set to any speed from 5 MPH to 16 MPH by the driver. Once set, all the driver has to do as he or she drives down a hill is steer. The computer brakes the vehicle safely and predictably every time. As you can see from the pictures, the ramp they built was steeper than just about any driveway you will ever encounter this side of the Alps. Quite simply, its amazing.
The two other driving events were on-the-highway test drives in various BMW vehicles from electric i3s all the way to their highest priced luxury vehicles. Offered to licensed drivers, 21 years or older, these tests did not include a salesperson riding shotgun so the potential BMW buyer could evaluate the vehicles in a low / no pressure atmosphere.
The other driving event was a closed-course auto-cross or gymkhana. These are pyloned mini race tracks where your were encouraged to push the car and yourself to the limit against both the clock and teams of other drivers. The new 2 Series cars and 5 Series cars were featured in these events and from personal experience, this is the best thing to do at these events. Think screeching tires, flying pylons, the spirit of competition and smiles all around.
Yes, BMW knows how to make great cars, but it's clear too that they also know how to sell them to. Actually, they very intelligently let their vehicles do the selling for them.
The BMW Ultimate Driving Experience returns to the NYC Metro area this fall. A similar program of events will be held at the CITI Field parking lot and will be open to anyone who pre-registers. The spots fill up fast so go to http://ude.bmwusa.com and get your name in when the dates become official. And did I mention, these are all free? They did offer a version of their famous M Driving School too but these carried a tuition fee. However, if you want to experience top level performance driving instruction in high performance BMWs locally, the M School may be for you.
BMW, they really are the Ultimate Driving Experience.