This blog post is going to give an overview of my experience at the BMW Ultimate Diving Experience (UDE). The BMW UDE is a BMW event where registered drivers can street drive a variety of BMW vehicles and experience what it's like to drive an autocross, all free of charge. BMW also offers a 2-hour Teen Driving School, also free of charge, for drivers under 21 with a valid permit of driver's license. There is also a full day performance driving clinic offered, the M Car Control Clinic, however this is a pay for course. In the M Car Control Clinic, you receive individual instruction from a BMW Professional Driving Instructor behind the wheel of an M235i, M3, and M4 BMWs. More information can be found on the BMW Ultimate Driving Experience website.
I only learned about the BMW UDE at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, less than an week before it was to take place. I happen to pass the stadium during my commute to/from work, and noticed car haulers unloading a bunch of BMWs one morning. That evening, I noticed that tents were also being set up, so I did a Google search of "BMW MetLife Stadium", and that's when I learned about UDE. I immediately tried to register for one of the autocross events, but all of the ones I chose were already booked. Fortunately, you can register to be put onto a waitlist. What does it mean to be on the waitlist? Here is the explanation given on the BMW UDE website:
"Signing up for the waitlist allows drivers to obtain driving spaces in the event that pre-registered guests do not show up for their appointment. Similar to flying standby, waitlisted drivers must check-in at registration at the assigned activity time and will be notified shortly thereafter if space is available."
I employed two strategies that I felt would give me a good chance of getting "bumped up" into an autocross session. First, I registered for a session that took place on a weekday, as opposed to a weekend. I felt that there would be a good chance that some of the registered autocross drivers would not show, and that there would be less people to compete with on the waitlist. My second strategy was to arrive early to be placed at the top of the waitlist.
Upon arriving at the event, you will notice the Registration and Hospitality tents. I proceeded to the Registration tent to check-in and get placed on the waitlist. Once at the tent, they will ask for your name and your registration confirmation code. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring mine and was not able to pull it up on my smartphone. Fortunately, they said that would not be a problem and had no issues finding my name as being pre-registered. After they take down some information from your driver's license, and after you sign a release waiver, you are given an event badge. This badge will allow you to street drive the BMWs that are available onsite. More on this later. Once registration was completed, I was placed on the waitlist and informed to come back to the registration tent roughly 10 minutes before the start of the autocross session to make sure that I was present when they started calling out the lucky names. I then went on to look at the BMWs that they had on display outside of the Hospitality tent. The Hospitality tent is where they offer free refreshments, have BMW merchandise available for purchase, and where they hold the classroom portion of the autocross event.
When I was done looking at these vehicles, I proceeded over to the street drive tent. The street drive portion of the event is where you are able to road test a variety of BMWs. Since the tent was not busy, I simply looked to see what vehicles were currently available on the lot and asked the representative to take it out. The representative will take down your name, cell phone number, and event badge #. Another representative will take you to the car you chose, set up the navigation system to take you on a loop of the area, and ask any questions you may have. After that, the car is all yours to drive, no representative from BMW accompanies you on the drive. Since it was a weekday, I never had to wait for a vehicle. It was slow enough where if someone was taking out a vehicle I wanted to drive, I would simply choose another one and be taken to it right away. The only one that seemed to have a wait line was the Z4. I would imagine you may experience a wait during the weekend when it would be busier, but they would probably also have a greater quantity of each vehicle available to deal with the higher attendance. This is all speculation on my part. The photos below are the cars that I had the opportunity to street drive. In order, they are the 328d, X5, 640i convertible, 228i convertible, 740i, Z4, and the i3.
Here is an extra view each of the 740i and i3.
Here are my quick driving impressions of a few of the vehicles I drove.
328d - Lots of torque, as can be expected from a diesel engine. Also sounded as quiet as a gas engine.
X5 - Good power for an SUV, and little body roll.
740i - A good handling car for its size, however I was definitely able to tell that it a was a heavy vehicle by feeling more body roll and weight transfer than any of the other vehicles I drove that day, especially in one particular turn that I attacked along the street drive route.
Z4 - Loved the exhaust note and the crackling sound when going off throttle.
i3 - Described as a golf cart on steroids by the representative who was setting up the navigation, this thing really does move! Strong regenerative braking that I hardly had to use the brake pedal. By far, this car gave me the biggest grins of all of the cars I drove. I was giddy the whole time behind the wheel.
Going in, if I were to be in the market to purchase a BMW, I believed that the 3 Series would most closely match my style and needs as a practical daily driver. Coming out, I believe that notion was reinforced. With that being said, I would definitely consider the Z4 and i3 as fun alternate vehicles to supplement a daily driver.
I decided to end the street drive portion of my visit and headed back to the Registration tent to be present should they start calling out names from the waitlist. To my joy, I was one of the names called to be bumped up into the autocross. I would estimate that there were at least 7 people's names called from the list for this session, which took place at 2pm on a Thursday afternoon. I'm sure this number will vary depending on which session you attempt to attend, but hopefully it shows that people do get bumped up, so you have nothing to lose by pre-registering to be on the waitlist. Even if you don't get bumped up, if you have free time to kill, I'm sure you can ask to be placed on the waitlist for the next session if one is available, or just use the time to do street drives.
The autocross program starts with a brief classroom session. Here, an instructor will give an overview of the specs of the cars that will be used. The car that I would be using for my autocross session was the all-wheel drive X4 SUV with a twin turbo V6, pushing out 300 horsepower. Next, they briefly go over weight transfer, describe the difference between understeer and oversteer, and describe how to correct for those conditions. A couple of other tips that were given were to look where you what the car to go, not at the obstacle you are trying to avoid, and to look far ahead in front of the car. If you do these things, time will seem to slow down behind the wheel.
Once the classroom session concludes, it's off to the autocross track. Autocross is a form of competition in which cars are driven around an obstacle course, typically marked out by cones. Once at the track, you are assigned a driving coach who will drive you around the track for two laps. The first lap will be done slowly with frequent stops as the instructor offers tips for maximizing your lap. The second lap will be done at full speed to give you a sense of how it should go if done correctly. Next comes your turn to tackle the course behind the wheel with the instructor riding shotgun. We were given three turns behind the wheel for a total of five laps. The first two times behind the wheel, we were given two laps around the track. The instructor quickly assesses your ability and comfort level behind the wheel, and will call out instructions during your lap, such as "full throttle", "coast", and "brake".
Photos from the staging area of the autocross track.
The third run behind the wheel would be a single timed lap, and each participant would be competing against each other for bragging rights. In the end, I ending up P2 in my group of fourteen drivers, with a time 0.02 seconds off the fastest lap. I give a lot of the credit to my instructor, Byron, who definitely shaved seconds off of any time I would have posted had I not had him coaching me from the passenger seat.
I enjoyed my time immensely at the BMW Ultimate Driving Experience. I did it mostly to participate in the autocross, but even if I hadn't been bumped up from the waitlist, being able to take a bunch of BMWs out for street drives makes this a worthwhile event. If you are a BMW fan, a car/driving enthusiast, or want to see how good a driver you are by tackling an autocross course, I highly recommend registering for the BMW UDE should it come to your area. I know I'll definitely look forward to attending another one in the future.