Highway to the Danger Zone: BMW xDrive
I can’t express the exhilaration of drifting a BMW M2 at the Southern proving grounds in the Crowne Range, marking the lead up to one of the quintessential driving days of my lifetime.
The invitation to BMW’s Alpine xDrive experience had arrived about a month before the event. The invitation comprises two nights’ accommodation at the stunning Millbrook Resort, including airport transfers and a helicopter ride to the Southern Hemisphere Proving Grounds, that features some of the world’s most advanced winter testing facilities.
There was an amazing range of BMW vehicles, including the BMW X Range and M series and you get the full BMW driving experience on the snow and ice, being taught key driving techniques by qualified professional BMW driver trainers and much, much, more. At the incredible Millbrook Resort in Arrowtown, the bed was wider than I was tall. All amenities are available for you to use and you truly get spoilt.
The first day involved discussions on how the day would proceed and prepping for the event. When dawn broke we were flying over the Crowne range, the sun glistening off the fresh powder snow. I had Kenny Loggins’ ‘Danger Zone’ rattling around in my head and couldn’t quite believe what was happening.
When we landed, we were met by top driving instructor Mike Eddy. A great guy and very well known in the industry, he has a plethora of knowledge, not only on racing, but also on teaching someone how to drive well.
Our modules consisted of drifting, slalom and drag racing, all on the fresh powder snow. We broke up and were handed a comprehensive range of the new BMW X and M series vehicles to drive. We would change over vehicles at random intervals, allowing us the opportunity to experience the intricacies of each model. What surprised me is how much variance there was.
I found myself drag racing against New Zealand journalist and television personality Carly Flynn. We left the start gate and I sailed past her 640i xDrive in my black 5 series 540i. Well I thought I was the bee’s knees… ‘till we changed cars. And there’s the rub. Her hysterical laughing as she waved goodbye, taking with her my dream of race car glory, had me plotting my revenge.
One of the great things about the day was how it ran so smoothly. Everything had been planned down to the most minute detail. As a driver you wanted for nothing and all the tutors were not only accommodating with knowledge but had great skill in dealing with drivers of different abilities.
There was a whole lot of love between drivers by the end of the day. Drifting had me in a metallic M2 turning off the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and just using my rear wheels to fang it round an ice track as fast as my foot could take me. You are taught how to counter-steer and accelerate to make the best of the situation – pure adrenalin fun!
Slalom has you in an X2 using the knowledge you have gained throughout the day to run through a course of orange road cones. I excelled at this, likely because of my experience navigating Christchurch’s post-quake roading system in winter. Taking away the gold trophy in the end of day finale is an honour I will cherish for the rest of my life.
I lost count of the spin I got up to on the track, but when I stopped, I found myself laughing hysterically like a man possessed. At the end of the day you’re wishing you could do it all again, knowing that tomorrow it was someone else’s turn to have the drive of their life.
The xDrive on the new BMWs is quite an experience. When you start up on a hill, it allows you to move your foot from brake to accelerator, while keeping the brake engaged for a few seconds. Heading downhill, you can push the descent button, which can be pre-set to allow the car to drive downhill while you do nothing but steer.
The xDrive provides variable torque split between the front and rear axles through the use of a multi-plate wet clutch located in the gearbox on the output to the front drive shaft. What this means is that the power is distributed between all four wheels automatically. So, if one wheel isn’t gripping on ice, the power is sent to the other wheels and you have constant traction moving forward in the most hazardous of scenarios.
Relaxing back in the spa to ease my aching bones, I reflected on how truly incredible the BMW Alpine xDrive was and how lucky I had been to have taken part. For the learning experience alone, it was a stunner. For the adrenalin kick, it just can’t be beaten. BMW, I love you.