Ray Ho – 05/15/2017
BMW usually hold its Ultimate Driving Experience (UDE) event in several major cities in the US to showcase its latest offerings. However, I was told that last year’s event was canceled due to BMW concentrated its marketing budget in the 2016 Olympics. Lucky for us, the UDE is back this year. They just finished the UDE in New Jersey, the LA event is going until May 21, then it will move on to San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago and NY. For the LA area, it is being held in the Santa Anita Park parking lots in Arcadia. This year the feature vehicles are the BMW 540i and 540i xDrive sedans.
You do have to pre-register for the event. I arrived twenty minutes before my appointment time, pulled into the parking lot, walked a few steps to the Registration area where I was greeted by friendly event staffs. I showed my drivers license to one of the greeters and she handed me a badge with my pre-registration time and group number.
Before entering the waiting area in the pavilion, we can browse some of their lineups parked right outside the building.
Inside the pavilion, a 540i sedan is prominently displayed in one corner. BTW, this car is featured in the BMW short film “THE ESCAPE” starring Clive Owen and Dakota Fanning. The other corners of the building house a coffee station staffed with a barista as well as some self-served refreshments, a generous lounge area and some BMW merchandises for sale.
The adjacent room is the orientation area where drivers and guests are briefed on the UDE event as well as some basic theory of car control and safe driving.
Then the participants go outsie and gathered into their predetermined groups. The drivers then shuttled us to the autocross area, in the 540i sedans of course. While sitting underneath a canopy, we were informed on the rules of the autocross then the instructors were introduced. The instructors are from different regions of the country. While most of them are seasoned professional drivers, there was a less experienced “newbie” in our group that is only a few years from his teens.
As our instructor drives us around the autocross course slowly on his first lap, he points out where to accelerate, when to brake, what line to use, etc. His second lap is at full speed and that really showed why he is the instructor. I would of enjoy it more if I didn’t forget to take my Dramamine.
Next is our turn to drive. We were divided into groups of three then take turns driving two laps each on the RWD 540i and AWD 540i xDrive. Although the 540i is lighter and feels more nimble, the 540i xDrive seemed faster and more surefooted.
Then all of us in our group competed for the shortest time in about three quarter of course. Let’s just say I would have been on the podium if I didn’t hit a cone AFTER the clock stopped: I was too quick trying to get off the track. Fortunately, someone from my sub-group was the winner and he went on to challenge other group leaders. Eventually, the two best drivers from each city will meet at the finals at the BMW Performance Center West in Thermal, California.
There are other activities besides the autocross. For $750, drivers can participate in a full day of performance driving in the M3 or M4 with individual coaching from BMW-certified instructors. Teens under 21 years of age with driving permits may participate in the Teen Driving clinic for free. There is also the street drive where drivers take any or all of the available BMWs out on the street on a pre-defined route. You may drive alone or take passengers. The drive is about 15 minutes and that should be ample time to get a good idea on how the car performs.
I believe more manufacturers should host these types of event. It is good for their marketing while we get to experience the cars in ways that are not offered by the dealerships. Car enthusiasts like us should try to participate and support these events to ensure the pro instructors don’t have to get real jobs. I’d hate to see one of them ends up as a barista in the neighborhood Starbucks.