A handsome row of BMW 420i Coupe Sports greeted participants on the morning of the BMW Advanced Driving Experience at Sepang recently. An introductory module, the driving exercises for the day were designed to build proficiency in the absolute basics of car control. Before getting behind the wheel however, lectures on speed and tires provided cursory insights into vehicular physics. Small differences in speed can greatly affect stopping distances which, in turn, influence collision severity or indeed their occurrence at all. The importance of choosing high quality tires for both safety and performance were delivered by BMW tire partner, Continental.
The 420i (from RM338,800) is yet another 50:50 car from BMW, its weight distributed evenly and shifted via a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder. The numbers are modest by the brand’s standards, 184hp and 270Nm which find 0-100km/h in 7.5 seconds, but there is sound reasoning in this: car control is significantly less challenging to master when not overwhelmed by power. In lane changing exercises, designed to simulate the need for an emergency manoeuvre, it was clear that even everyday speeds are tricky when faced with obstacles.
On a wet section of the car park, attendees learned — the hard way — about the consequences of a car when it doesn’t steer as intended. While understeer is easily corrected by backing off the power, oversteer may lead to disaster if handled incorrectly. Here, BMW took the opportunity to demonstrate its Dynamic Stability Control found in all its vehicles which counters the outsized effect of oversteering, keeping the vehicle within the limits of grip.
A follow up module a month later on the same circuit, called the BMW Intensive Driving Experience, provided the opportunity for drivers to apply all of the theories and compartmentalised training in the most comprehensive manner. BMW Malaysia’s solution is simple, yet incredibly effective — lapping the Sepang circuit repeatedly until the perfect line is railed into the subconscious.
At a slower speed, it is easier to hit the brakes at the right distance from the corner, finesse the turn-in, clip the apex and exit gracefully. Any driving instructor, especially those in charge of the BMW brood over the two separate courses, will no doubt advise gradual movement up the power ladder. The wisdom is compelling, that with increased abilities, everything tends to slow down. Moving from a 420i to an M4 for example will not seem so intimidating, because the instincts picked up in the former will need only honing for the latter. Jump into an M4 from the off, however, may result in woeful under prepared for the racing line.
The concluding segment on the final day provided an opportunity to compile all the various skills into one test. A time band challenge from Turn 9 to Turn 14, with practice runs, allowed participants to gauge their progress. Satisfying though this was, the three-day sum benefit of both programs went beyond simple performance driving. Increased confidence and knowledge on vehicle behaviour, such as those picked up during hard corner braking and lane changing exercises incepted useful skills which any driver should be able to call upon in the face of an emergency.
Ultimately, the guiding idea about handling a vehicle delivered by BMW states that power is nothing without control. Even in a humble 420i, physics may get the better of any driver who goes beyond his and the car’s limits. To attend this exemplary program by BMW for the enthusiastic novice, rates start at RM1,588 for BMW Advanced Driving Academy and RM3,188 for BMW Intensive Driving Academy.