BMW Canada recently invited me to their “Drive for Team Canada” event featuring the all new BMW 4-series Coupe and their totally redesigned BMW X5 SAV.
Why the “Drive for Team Canada” name you might ask? Well it’s because BMW Group Canada is an official national partner of the Canadian Olympic team and BMWs are the official vehicles of the Canadian Olympic team all the way through to 2016!
Our Canadian athletes benefit through this partnership with athlete funding and other further fundraising opportunities. In fact, for every test drive during the “Drive for Team Canada” events, BMW donates $25 to our Canadian athletes as they prepare for Sochi 2014.
A little history lesson here. Did you know that BMW has a long-standing global commitment to the Olympic effort? Most recently at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, they were the Official Automotive Partner and provided over 3000 fleet vehicles. They also supported more than 100 athletes.
“As National Partner and Official Vehicle of the Canadian Olympic Team, we are proud to announce the BMW Drive for Team Canada in support of the Canadian Olympic Foundation”, said Kevin Marcotte, Director of Marketing for BMW Group Canada. “This initiative provides Canadians the opportunity to test-drive the latest in dynamics, innovation and aesthetics from BMW, while contributing to the development and success of Canada’s Olympic Team.”
The Drive for Team Canada events were also held in Toronto and Montreal. For the Vancouver stop of this tour, the British Columbia Driving Centre in Pitt Meadows played host to the Bimmers.
Did you know that the BC Driving Centre is also the driver training facility for police officers and paramedics?
After checking in at the hospitality desk and signing the usual waivers, BMW offered participants the unique opportunity to interact with former and or current Canadian Olympians, receive autographs and take photos with the athletes.
I had the opportunity to meet two Olympians. Andrew Byrnes, 2008 Olympic gold medalist rower (he also won a silver medal in the 2012 London games), and former Olympic and Paralympic basketball athlete Misty Thomas!
Before any driving commenced, we were briefed on the X5 and the 4-series. While the X5 had the usual BMW evolutionary improvements both stylistically and technology-wise, I was far more impressed and interested with the 4-series. Being a huge German car fan myself, this was the car I was here to see and experience.
For those of you who don’t know, BMW is switching their naming scheme (much to the chagrin of BMW traditionalists) so that all of their coupes and cabriolets are even numbers. The sedans and SUVs retain their odd numbered nomenclature. Hence the “3-series sedan” and “4-series coupe” names respectively.
But it’s more than just a number change that sets the 3 and 4-series apart. The 4-series coupe not only sits lower but is also 81mm wider. The driver’s seat is 9mm lower than its 3-series brethren. In fact, the 4-series gets the crown for having the lowest centre of gravity in the current BMW vehicle lineup.
Check out the pictures in the gallery below for more stats on both the X5 and the 4-series.
Head swarming with performance figures and info, we were given a safety briefing by the professional drivers that BMW had on staff. As with other BMW driving events, the emphasis was on safety first, then fun after.
As expected with a high end marque, BMW had hired professional drivers whose professional racing and driving experiences matched the calibre of their Ultimate Driving Machines.
I had the distinct pleasure of meeting and getting to know local BMW pro drivers Richard Fukui and Brody Goble on a more personal level during my time at the event. You can’t help but do so when you’re putting your life in their capable hands during the orientation drives or hot laps!
Look for an interview with Brody (who is a Surrey-White Rock resident) in the near future. In the meantime, you can also check out his website to see his long list of championship wins. He, and the other instructors there, are one of the pieces of the puzzle that made this a memorable event for all.
I should mention that all of our test vehicles were equipped with BMW’s xDrive permanent all-wheel-drive system. xDrive is a relatively new system, at least to the public, when compared to Audi’s iconic Quattro and Mercedes-Benz’s 4MATIC systems. While there was an all-wheel-drive 3-series back in the late 1980’s, “all-wheel-drive” and “BMW” were rare words to associate together until the X5 made its debut. Ever since then, BMW has been making huge strides in branding and educating the public on xDrive and its advantages.
For the sake of efficiency and to maximize our drive time, our group of 18 was split into two. One group was sent over to the BMW X5 driving component, and the other to the 4-series experience. I started with the X5 group first.
The X5 experience
This track was laid out to showcase the dynamic nature of xDrive, the X5’s agility (it is still a heavy mid-sized luxury SUV after all), as well as the ABS braking capabilities of the SAV.
All of the participants had the opportunity to experience the X5s equipped with different trim packages (X Line, Luxury Line, and M sport line). Unfortunately the V8 X5 was out of commission on the day of my session.
The exercise consisted of a short slalom followed by a tight circle with sand placed in one spot within the circle. Our task was to accelerate into the slalom section, get to an appropriate speed, then hold a consistent speed within the circle as we did two loops.
The idea here was to showcase xDrive’s capabilities when the X5’s front wheels lost traction, and how the computers would transfer power side-to-side/fore-aft quickly and seamlessly. A good representation of making a turn in an icy corner in real world situations.
Having experienced both Audi’s Quattro system and Mercedes-Benz’s 4MATIC system, I was surprised and impressed by how I could feel the dynamic transfer of power as advertised. There was little understeer and no drama. Interestingly the system transferred power quickly enough that the DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) system did not have to step in during this exercise. Nice!
A few more general points to note about the X5. During my limited time with the vehicle, three main features stood out to me.
- The HUD (Heads-Up Display) system is fantastic. While the 4-series also has it, the X5’s system seemed to be higher resolution and the graphics really looked like they were floating in space forward of you.
- I liked the M sport package equipped X5s the best. The combination of the wide rear tires and the larger wheels really spoke to the sporty nature of the brand.
- The large widescreen high resolution iDrive display looked expensive and fit in nicely with the rest of the interior accoutrements. It made the forward facing and top down camera graphics look fantastic.
The 4-series experience
While the X5 track was fun enough, it was a bit short due to space limitations at the Pitt Meadows facility. Most of the people in my group were salivating in anticipation for the row of BMW 4-series coupes waiting for us in the next segment.
The colour line-up of the cars looked suspiciously close to tri-coloured BMW Motorsports logo. Coincidence? Hah, I wonder!
The 4-series course was designed to highlight the agility of the coupe. Namely, it’s low centre of gravity, its 50/50 weight balance, and the xDrive system. It started off with a longer slalom course (vs the X5 track) that lead into a long left hand sweeper through a big puddle. The course then snaked back into another set of slaloms and finally ended with a stop box where we were expected to come to a full ABS stop within the pylons.
To familiarize the drivers with the course, we were taken out three at a time by Richard and Brody on an orientation lap / hot lap.
When these cars are put into the hands of professional drivers, you can really see how much work BMW puts into their R&D efforts. These efforts aren’t realized by most drivers until they’re in emergency situations near or beyond the cars’ limits.
Since this was a much more technical course, it also emphasized how most regular drivers weren’t very good at driving smoothly, keeping their vision up, and looking far ahead at where they wanted to go versus what they were trying to avoid. Fortunately the host of active safety systems were there to step in when needed.
For extra driver training, BMW Canada also offers their Driver Training Programs. This is something that is definitely on my bucket list to do in the future!
Both Richard and Brody were fantastic in coaching the drivers individually through the course over the in-car radios. They pointed out any faults and areas for improvements while also highlighting the active safety systems (e.g. xDrive) working hard to keep us within the orange cones and chalk lines! Both drivers and passengers came back all smiles at the end of each lap.
I’m sure it was gratifying for the driving instructors as well to see the participants improve with each passing lap. This allows us plebeian drivers the ability to really able to push the cars a little further out of our comfort zone while in a safe and controlled environment.
Since I do have some advanced driving school experience, it was especially fun for me!
Brody took me out for a hot lap at the end of the day just before the course was torn down. I had the chance to use my GoPro to record it!
As for my 4-series quick impressions, my favourite car (of the day in fact) was the Estoril Blue 435i xDrive with the M Sport package. While the 428i seemed to be very slightly better balanced in the slalom sections, probably due to its lighter 4-cylinder turbo engine, the extra grunt and noise from the bigger 3.0L turbocharged straight 6 were much more inline with my personal perception of what a sporty BMW coupe should feel like.
Canada isn’t one of the countries that has a huge budget that goes into Olympic athlete funding (which in turn reduces our odds of securing as many Olympic medals as possible). So it’s nice to see a big corporate partner like BMW Group Canada step up to support our fellow countrymen (and women).
I want to thank both BMW Canada and Kristoffer Ong at BMW Langley for inviting me to this year’s event. With many manufacturers cutting their marketing dollars in the ride-and-drive department, it’s very gratifying to see that BMW is still willing to put their money where their mouths are and let their Ultimate Driving Machines do the “talking”.
Hopefully I get to experience both the 4-series and X5 on longer terms in the near future for full test drive reviews <HINT HINT, wink wink, BMW Canada>
Oh yeah and GO CANADA GO!
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