Earlier this year, I signed up to take part in the BMW Ultimate Driving Experience in San Francisco at the Cow Palace. I’ve always wanted to attend one of these events, but have never had the time or was too late to sign up. This year, I got in on time and was able to sign up on the same day as a buddy of mine.
With the BMW Ultimate Driving Experience, you are given an opportunity to take part in several events including: autocross with the M440i xDrive Coupe, an electric-SUV drag race, and test drives of their newest vehicles. It’s a nice way to spend a few hours doing some fun driving with the latest BMW models.
You do need to be at least 18 years of age to participate in the Autocross and Plug-in Performance (electric-SUV drag race) events, and will need to be at least 25 years old to do the Street Drive. These events are all free, with the exception of the M Car Control Clinic (only offered in Los Angeles and New Jersey) which costs $250.
How the Day Went
I registered with a friend for the 8:30am time slot at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, CA. We showed up a bit early around 8am and parked our vehicles. We made our way over to the main check-in location.
We got checked-in, received a wristband, personal-sized hand sanitizer, and autocross lanyard pass. We were then instructed to make our way over to the designation autocross area first as we had a scheduled time for that event. We would then be able to go to the other events after we completed the autocross event.
When we arrived at the autocross area, we saw the whole parking lot outlined with cones ready for the event. Several BMW M440i xDrive coupes were lined up, ready to be driven through the course. We were greeted by a number of instructors who gave us a run down of the course and the order in which we would be driving. One of the instructors does a lap on the course at an intense pace, showing you how to drive the course.
We had a group of about 20 people and so we cycled through several people at a time in three different vehicles— one person per vehicle. If you had come with someone, you can choose to drive while the other rides in the passenger’s seat; you can also ride while they drive, which is nice as you get more seat time in the car even though you’re not driving.
Since we are currently in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic, there is no instructor sitting with you. The instructor uses a radio to guide through the course. There is even a designation person who disinfects the drivers seat and controls every time before you get inside the vehicle.
You get three separate runs to drive the course, with each run allowing you to drive two laps of the course. The first run helps familiarize you with the course, the second allows you to be more aggressive, and the third lets you push the vehicle a bit.
I was pleasantly surprised by how technical the autocross course was setup. Coming in, I was expecting a short and tame course, but it was actually quite challenging and technical. There were even some elevation changes (reminiscent of the corkscrew at Laguna Seca) in one portion of the track, which made it even more fun to drive. Coming in, I was afraid the driving time wouldn’t feel long enough, but the three runs at two laps each of the course made me satisfied enough.
After doing the autocross course, you can then go over to the other registration booths to sign up for the Plug-in Performance (electric-SUV drag race) and the Street Drive. The drag race has you compare the acceleration and stopping performance of the BMW X5 Plug-in versus several of the competition. This part of the event wasn’t particularly that interesting to me; but it could give you some good insight on acceleration and stopping performance of both BMW & competitors’ plug-in SUV’s.
The Street Drive lets you choose from a line-up of new BMW vehicles to go test drive. Again, since this is during the COVID-19 Pandemic, you are allowed to test drive the vehicle on your own. Unfortunately, when we tried choosing one of the more performance-oriented cars, there wasn’t much left to choose from since the one we were interested in were already taken out on test drives.
The route they have you go on takes you around the neighborhood and takes you through Guadalupe Canyon Pkwy, which is a nice scenic stretch of road through the San Bruno Mountain State & County Park where you can easily take the vehicle up to higher speeds if you want to. In fact, the route offers and uphill and downhill section as well if you want to test the vehicle’s acceleration and braking performance.
After we finished with these three events, it was around 11:30am. We had completed all the events in about 2-1/2 hours. Overall, it was a fun time but mainly due to the autocross event. The autocross driving was definitely the most fun and “worth it” thing to do at BMW’s Ultimate Driving Experience. If I have a couple hours to spare in subsequent years, I think I would definitely come to solely do the autocross event making sure to come with a friend again for the most fun experience.