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Ultimate Driving Experience Impressions (archive)

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Posted by Jay K on March 04, 1999 at 18:55:53:

Went to the BMW Ultimate Driving Experience/test-drive thing down at Dodger's Stadium Today. Got there at 10:30 - my 2-hour 'Experience' started at 11AM. Started off with about 30 minutes of hearing about contact patches and such. Then a short demo of the traction control on a wet plastic tarp. Then split up into five groups of 10-15 people per group for the driving portion.

Each group went to its own motorcross circuit. 5 minutes more talk, and then we split up, 3 students + 1 driver/car into 4 cars. My track had 2 323i's and 2 328i's. Both were stock suspension, all-season (although 16-inch, I think) tires and auto transmissions. First there was a braking/ABS demo, where each driver got to circle the track twice doing first a straight-line max brake and then the same thing while turning. Then the instructor took us around the track slowly pointing out how we should drive it and then did it a second time faster. Each person then got two laps (well, seems like some people got more than two, but I only got two) to try the course at speed.

After this, there was a relay-rally type thing, where they split the group up into two teams. The idea was to get the lowest total score, with each person lapping the course once (with the instructor in the car) and then returning to the starting line so the next driver could go. Since they were considering total score, driver-changes counted quite a bit. All the drivers on the first team went, followed by a short break and then the second team (only one car on the track at a time). The whole thing was fun, and I probably did learn a little, but when it was all over, I'd only gotten to lap the track 5 times (and only 3 at speed), which was a little disappointing at 18 seconds/lap. Throughout all the auto-cross stuff, they keep the transmission in the 2 position, but the course isn't that big, so there's really no reason to shift to a higher gear.

Then the real fun started. They have this test-drive thing where you get to take various fairly-new BMWs out for 10-mile test drives on the local streets. They had a course mapped out that you were supposed to stick to, but it was pretty much a joke (just a bunch of stop-lights and traffic). Worse still, the local cops knew what was going on, and lots of them were cruising around. Fortunately, however, Dodger Stadium is located about a mile from 3 major freeways (I-5, the 110 and the 2). The way I figure it, in 30 minutes at $1/mile, you can raise a lot more money for breast cancer on the freeway than wading through afternoon traffic in Silver Lake.

First I drove a 528i 5-speed. Really nothing special here, as I expected. In fact, I much prefer my new 323i to this car - only advantage to the 5 would be more room.

Then I drove a Z-3 2.8 (manual). Wow. Did I say f-ing Wow? Goddamn. What a fun car. Especially once you drop it into 2nd - I mean...just gobbs of power, great note from the exhaust... really sweet. This is an awesome car. Sure, it's impractical for lots of reasons, and the wind buffetting was pretty bad, but as a second, weekend car... it was the most fun I've had behind the wheel.

Finally, the one I'd been really waiting for... the only M-car they had... the M-coupe. Sure it's butt-ugly, but I hadn't signed up for the styling. The thing is FAST. I mean REALLY FAST. Didn't get much chance to really try out the handling, but I'm sure that's superb too. Only real problem was the chorus of squeaks and rattles. This car had around 6K miles on it, and I'm sure it had been beaten to hell for every one of those miles, but just the same it was really bad. Probably the Z-3 wouldn't have been so quiet with the top up either, but it's got to be one hell of a rattle to get your attention at 90MPH with the top down.

Anyway, it was a great time, and I highly recommend it. I heard one of the BMW guys saying that next-year's event will be done with X-5's on dirt courses, as sort of an X-5 roll-out thing. Never heard of such a thing done off-road on such a grand scale, but sounds fun just the same.

- Jay

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