BMW's Driver Training program has been introduced in India for BMW customers and prospects in Delhi, NCR and Chennai. Recently, Indian Autos Blog was invited to be part of this program at the Madras Motor Sports Club in Irungattukottai, bang opposite to the Hyundai manufacturing plant.
I took along my friend and longstanding Indian Autos Blog reader GK Gokulraj of ZAPStore.com, to provide us a reader perspective. Gokul and I drove gently to the road leading to the race track hoping that we'd snag a test mule. Testers of Hyundai, Ford, Nissan and Mitsubishi disappointed us, but what BMW had in store made us forget our unfruitful drive.
The driver training program will impart all the necessary skills and knowledge to handle emergency situations as well as create a better understanding between the driver and the car. Another reason BMW does not mention in the press release it handed out during this program was negating irresponsible driving.
BMW cars, besides being safe or comfortable are also very powerful. The brochure, with so many standard safety features, bestows upon the driver a false confidence that he can get away from any dangerous situation. The program softly communicates to drivers that no matter how many safety features a car has, his senses are what decide if he makes his journey safe.
The program we took part was a concise version conducted over a period of two hours and instructors from Germany, Malaysia and India handled a module each. The program started with the introduction to the X Drive (BMW's adaptive all-wheel drive system) where torque distribution tries eliminating understeer and oversteer. The brief program starter also helped us understand the 'EfficientDynamics' technologies which save fuel, reduce emissions at the expense of zero driving pleasure (in BMW's words).
The program conductors also spoke about the 8-speed transmission's on its crossovers that have the ability to run the engine at low speeds even when the vehicle speed is much higher. The twin turbo's working and the run flat tyres' ability to take you to safety when you've encountered a puncture were also discussed in the briefing.
Then came the three trainers who would each handle one batch at a time (so there were a total of three batches). The program was split into
1) Axle Articulation demonstration
2) X Drive on ice behavior simulation
3) See-Saw demonstration
4) ABS at work
5) Emergency lane change under braking
6) Emergency lane change without braking
We used the X3, X5 and X6 cars (using X Drive technology) to do the first modules while the last two was carried out using the 3 and 5 Series sedan cars.
BMW Driver Training Program Module 1 -
The quick exercise of driving through vertically-aligned speed breakers not parallel to each other puts each wheel at a different height and on a different surface. The X Drive took some time to adjust to the slippery speed breaker on one side and the grippy surface on the other side of the axle.
It was able to distribute drive to the wheel/axle which had the most traction and pulled through the hurdle. A wheel dangling in mid air half way through the exercise did not stop the X6 from completing this task.
The iDrive system projects images on the dashboard screen showing the drive distribution as it encounters different surfaces and inclines on each wheel.
The second exercise had the same hurdle, but this time it was only on the right hand side of the axle. The tyres on the right hand side were placed on the bridge while the wheels on the other side were on grass.
This experiment was easier to handle for the X Drive and it drove through without being unsettled. Here again we saw how drive to each wheel was controlled by the on-board computer, sensing the changing grip levels instantaneously.
The third exercise was simulating the effect of ice on the X Drive system. In the blistering heat of Chennai summer, one finds it hard to source ice even from inside a refrigerator.
Video - Two Axle Articulation and See-Saw experiments
The Germans knew how to work around the problem - they brought rollers and positioned the car over it. They then asked us how many times the wheel will spin before it drives through it - they were talking about slip where the tires will spin but the car remains stationary - some of us guessed two rotations, some said four - surprisingly the X Drive system worked flawlessly and didn't let the tire spin even once. It drove through as though it was driving over a patch of a grippy race track. On a slippery day, the benefit of having X Drive was understood with this exercise.
BMW Driver Training Program Module 2 -
We got the funny Malaysian man Wong as our trainer/instructor for this module. Wong applied the brakes with urgency without his hands on the wheel to show how a car stopping from around 80kph to a standstill under emergency braking does not swerve or adjust its line. He then asked us to drive through the MMSC straight and hit the brakes as hard as we could as we reached the cones positioned at the mouth of the C1.
Video - ABS Braking with and without steering
He promised us that the person who broke the brake pedal during this exercise could take home the car! We tried slamming the brakes as hard as we could from as fast as 90kph, but the pedal did not give in and neither did the car. We went in search of a big boulder to rig this competition, but then Wong had our attention as we moved to the next part of the module.
BMW Driver Training Program Module 3
The second exercise was driving to the cones at 70kph, slamming the brakes and steering through another pair of cones placed diagonally. Without ABS, the brakes would lock up and the car would skid out of control. Even with our pedals planted firmly on the brake pedal we were able to negotiate through the cones.
The trick was to hold the steering like a lady, softly and at the right position to get maximum leverage. The steering wheel has to be gripped at the 3' o clock and 9' o clock positions to be able to steer completely, avoiding the obstacles ahead. Holding the steering at the 12' o clock position with the right hand means you can only steer to the right!
Video - Turning in without braking - Always look where you want to go
The last part of the program was handled by the Indian instructor who is familiar with the situation. The road is filled with idiots, like that two wheeler tire ad goes. How does a driver react when he's driving at 50 kph and suddenly realizes that the driver of the car parked ahead has opened his door?
The reflexes have to be good to avoid an accident here. We had a similar layout using cones and in this exercise we were told not to use the brakes. We'd simply have to steer hard to the turn in, turn out and hit the brakes once we've changed lanes.
Primary vision and Peripheral vision are the two kinds of visions that the driver has when he's on the road. The Primary vision guides you to where you want to go while peripheral vision is the part of the vision which looks out for obstacles or objects that may cross your path. The primary vision has to be much ahead while the peripheral vision has to be constantly looking out for obstacles. This has got more to do with concentration than eye sight. If you only concentrating on the road ahead, these two visions will automatically kick in.
Was the BMW Driver Training Program useful?
The driver training program holds good for any vehicle installed with ABS brakes. It imparted crucial knowledge and also taught us why ABS is a mandatory safety feature every car should have.
Besides being seated at a high driving position, hands below stretched out on either side of the steering below the neck to keep blood circulation to them active, knees bent to apply maximum effort on the brake pedal as well as absorb crash forces that would otherwise be transferred to the hip in the occurrence of a head-on collision, the car needs to have well maintained brakes, clean rear view mirrors and windshield and the most important of them all - an alert driver who never takes his eyes off the road.