An Nyoung Ha Sae Yo! Greetings from Incheon, Korea! Or rather, greetings from Korea if we had written this about a month ago. Nevertheless, having been very graciously shipped over by BMW Asia to experience the new BMW Driving Center in wintery South Korea, here is our report from the land of Bulgogi, SNSD and our favorite heroine Cheon Song Yi.
Located a very short drive away from from Incheon International Airport, the BMW Driving Center in Korea is the third Driving Center to be built by BMW. With the first and second driving centers located in Germany and the US, this newly opened facility is also the first ever of its kind in Asia and also the first one worldwide to combine both a driving track and a dedicated brand experience. What that basically means is for Singaporean fans of the blue roundel, this is as close as it gets to a automotive Disneyland.
And just like the aforementioned theme park, this place is big. Covering the size of 33 soccer pitches and built at a cost of 75.5 million US Dollars, the Driving Center accommodates six different driving tracks as well as a Brand Experience center with dedicated exhibits for BMW, MINI and BMW Motorrad vehicles. For the rest of the family, there is also a Junior Campus with specially tailored science education programs on mobility and road safety as well as an Eco-friendly sports park.
Inside the Brand Experience center which no doubt is what all visitors will see upon arrival, is a showcase of every vehicle from the BMW, BMW M, BMW i, MINI and BMW Motorrad stable.
Those wanting a to indulge in a little bit of BMW’s history can take a look at a small lineup of classic BMWs that have been set aside in a Heritage display area.
Avid aficionados of the brands can also pick up related merchandise in the Experience Center.
Of course for all petrol-heads, there really is only one attraction that we’ll have our eyes on. The cars and those tracks. Unsurprisingly, with a strong lineup of vehicles and appetizing courses offered on their driving experience menu, we’ll be more than well catered for.
With over 30 BMWs and 8 Minis all neatly arranged into groups for all participants to choose from, you might be in for a hard time trying to pick a vehicle. Some cars (M3/4/5/6) might require prior training before they hand over the keys but other than that, it’s Christmas time once again for all drivers!
Unlike signing up for the Advanced or Intensive Driving Experiences offered by Performance Motors (and also available in the BMW Driving Center) which takes up almost an entire day to complete, the majority of the courses here are conducted in much shorter time frames, with each of these driving experiences taking an average of 1-2 hours to complete. Visitors to the Driving Center can actually put together a tailored suite of 4-5 different Driving Experiences within a day, and because everything is conducted within the same facility, waiting time between each driving escapade is kept to a minimum. Less waiting, more driving!
There are some also a couple of seriously kitted Gran Turismo rigs for visitors to try out in between driving sessions.
For a taste of the Driving Experiences on offer, we were all signed up for a string of courses that would guarantee us an entire day of driving fun. Having arrived just before towards the tail end of their Winter program (Jan-Feb), we were given the chance to indulge in the fine art of punching through snow with double sessions of “Snow Basic”. I guess they knew those who reside in the tropics might find Winter driving the most intriguing. A session at the track in “Challenge A” followed before we hit the dirt and conquer mini mountains “Off Road”. To finish of our day, we rode shotgun in an M5 piloted by a tamed racing driver in an “M-Taxi” ride. All in a day’s work they say.
Each driving session starts off with a short briefing and with driving positions understood, safety tips handed out and all waiver forms signed, it was time to pick our cars. Naturally the order of picking cars was settled the good old fashioned way with a bare-knuckled fist fight. No, not really, what we really did was stick our hands into a box and drew lots.
Cars for the courses are all grouped into somewhat aptly named classes. “Dynamic” for the more compact agile vehicles, “Aesthetic” for the executives, “Exclusive” for the Jet-set, “Convertibles” for well, convertibles, “X range” for the SAVs, “BMW i” for the BMW i3s, “BMW M” for those power hungry and “Off Road” for X5s that have been slightly prepped to head off the beaten path.
In our first session of “Snow Basic” we were given a range of BMW’s Sports Activity Vehicles to choose from and with a nice number picked from BMW’s lucky box, i escaped the winterly cold weather by gingerly jumping into the recently launched and nicely pre-heated BMW X6.
“Snow Basic” is pretty much what it sounds, the basics of driving around on snow in a controlled environment and letting us have practice runs performing emergency maneuvers with and without electronic aids.
As befitting us rather uncouth lot of drivers, we mostly kept them off and quickly grew fond of slithering around the massive snowy run off areas.
We did eventually learn that on snow and icy roads, even the most minute increases in velocity can mean the difference between paying for a new pair of jeans or paying for a new front bumper on your shiny new luxury SUV. An increase of just 5-10km/h really does mean an awful lot when your winter tires are on the icy edge of adhesion.
Swapping into cars fitted with summers tires mid-way gave us some insight into the differences between winter and summer wheels, making for some interesting but ultimately not-very-safe-or-usable slow-motion sideways progress as the wheels just spun in place with the smallest prod of the throttle.
Our second session of “Snow Basic” had us mostly repeating what we’ve already accomplished earlier but this time, instead of the nice big high riding X-cars, we went all executive and picked from cars in the “Aesthetic” range.
Interestingly, many of the BMWs including the 3s, 4s and 5s were equipped with xDrive, and while it might sound rather Audi-ish, BMW’s all wheel drive system still retains a rear-bias setup which we gladly explored by kicking out our back-ends whenever possible.
This ultimately led to us showboating over very limited driving skills as we performed gratuitous pirouettes over and over again. Best to choose a proper X-series vehicle when driving on snowy roads in the future.
After a quick lunch in the Driving Center’s in-house restaurant/cafe, we once again convened in the conference room for a quick rundown of “Challenge A”. While the name might sound slightly intimidating, “Challenge A” is really not that difficult to manage for most seasoned drivers.
Taking place on 3 of the driving tracks in the facility, this Driving Experience placed us behind the wheels of the “Dynamic” family of cars and gave us free reign to run havok on the tracks, as long as we kept behind the instructor.
Speeds were kept reasonably sane and to be honest, everyone was hoping for Mr Instructor to drop the hammer but that moment never came. Nevertheless, driving on the track with an instructor leading does allow one to learn about braking zones, corner apexes and all other track driving related bits at a much more sedate pace.
For those who are keen to learn more about track driving and have just started out, this might be of interest, but for drivers seeking much bigger thrills and keen to play on a wet kick-plate, “Challenge B” does seem to be a more enticing proposition.
With our track shoes dusted off we stepped up into the BMW X5s and headed for the “Off Road” session. This penultimate driving experience allowed us to explore the various off road capabilities of the X5s with a series of obstacles and dirt tracks at our disposal. It does feel somewhat quite unsettling and almost wrong to subject these expensive luxury SUVs to such punishment (even more unsettling was how nonchalant the instructors were to said punishment).
Testament to BMW’s amazing performance, build quality and technology, the cars held up extremely well and gladly soaked up every uneven boulder, log or rail.
Steep inclines were also built into the “Off Road” driving course to allow participants to play with a host of gadgets on board that were specifically created just for these type of driving situations.
It really was quite an eye-opener to experience and discover for ourselves what these X5s can really do, especially when we were told to drive our cars on a sideways incline and have our wheels lift off the ground.
Ending off our eventful day with a bang we strapped ourselves into the passenger seat of the mighty M5 and catapulted onto the tracks with grip and drift runs performed by a race driver at the helm. The term “Race car for the road” really did come alive during this session as the big M5 joyfully tore up its tires and exploited all the stopping power that its carbon ceramic brakes could muster.
Pulling back into the Driving Center’s holding area after a final flying lap (mostly sideways) in Munich’s finest, you do begin to wish we had such a facility on our local shores. I’m sure the biggest question you might have now is, is it worth a visit? Yes, but in my opinion, best experienced if you happen to be traveling to Korea, unless you don’t mind the expenses of a plane ticket of course.
Otherwise, a full day’s trip out to the Driving Center really should be on your itinerary if you ever thinking of heading to South Korea. Just drop by after landing at the airport, it really is about a 20 minute taxi ride away. Prices for the Driving Experiences are very reasonable and groups of participants are kept small, guaranteeing more than enough time in the driver’s seat. There’s only so much shopping you can do in Seoul anyway right?
Do remember to inform them in advance that you’ll require an English speaking instructor.
Big Thanks to BMW Asia for the media invite and BMW Driving Center for the wonderful hospitality and fantastic photos.