BMW Perforamnce Driving School - M School (2-day) Review
M School (2-day) Review
Sorry this review got a bit lengthy. I hope some of you will find it helpful. I tried to just cut my babbling and not too many details, and I've added section headers to make it easier to read the good stuff (cars, exercises, etc.) and leave the topics only interesting if you are planning your trip.
OverviewLast Friday and Saturday I attended the 2-day M School at the BMW Performance Center (PC) with my father and brother. It was an exhilarating weekend of insane horsepower, smoking tires, and exceptional instructors. While the cars were astonishing, the instructors did things with cars I didn't know were possible. The speed at which they took corners, their ability to drift these hefty cars laden with 800+ pounds of passengers, and the way they handled the highly technical PC track was inspiring. These guys were great teachers, and I have so much respect for what these guys can do.
As for the cars, the M School utilizes the current M3, M5, and M6. The X5 M and X6 M were neither utilized nor mentioned in this class (but marketing did strategically park one of each at the entrance of the PC). The 1 Series M was previously used, but they replaced it with the M6 once the flagship coupe joined the PC fleet. I did not see a single M6 convertible. They may have one or two for Performance Center Delivery, but it was not an option for us during the course.
What's Included?We arrived in Greenville, SC on the evening of Thursday the 17th, and the course took place on Friday the 18th and Saturday the 19th. The course was $3,595 per person, and this included:
a) Two days of the course
b) Hotel accommodations at the Greenville Marriott Thursday and Friday night
c) Dinner at the Greenville Marriott's restaurant, Giatu, on Thursday evening
d) Breakfast at the hotel Friday and Saturday
e) Lunch at the PC on Friday and Saturday
f) Dinner reception Friday evening at the PC with the instructors following the first day of the course
g) Racing helmets required for the exercises on day 2
h) 8 GB flash drive to hold the video data recorded in the M3s (M5 & M6 have not yet been fitted with the cameras and microphones)
i) Gifts from the PC (see below)
Class FormatWe departed from the Marriott on day 1 at 8:20 a.m. and headed to the PC where we began immediately with a classroom session. We were first introduced to each other as well as our instructors (five instructors each day). We were then separated into three groups. We had 14 people (max is 15), so we had two groups of 5 and one group of 4. This allowed the instructors to work closely with each group on a particular exercise using a specific car. Before leaving the classroom, we had a safety briefing and an educational review of driving basics key to understanding how the car reacts to various driver inputs. The lesson lasted for approximately one hour, which may seem like a long time, but it was time very well spent. The M School is meant to be an educational course to teach proper car control and track skills, not just provide a venue to drive M cars around a track like idiots. By 9:30 to 9:45 we were in the cars headed onto the track.
Each day was divided into morning and afternoon sessions, each composed of three separate exercises. We broke for lunch around 12:15 and started back just after 1:00. Each day ended around 3:30 to 4:00. At the conclusion of day 1 they had some hors d'oeuvres, beer, wine, and soft drinks waiting for us when we finished our end-of-the-day classroom recap; dinner was served shortly after. On day 2, we finished the final exercise at 3:30, concluded with a final classroom session with all of the instructors, and we loaded up on the shuttle that stopped by the airport before returning to the Marriott. Dinner on the evening of day 2 was not included in the course. We had a reservation downtown at Soby's at 6:00 p.m. and made it with plenty of time to spare.
The ExercisesDay 1 – Morning:
1. Cornering/Braking Exercise – M5
This exercise focused on accelerating up to a corner, braking at the appropriate time for the corner, and following the best line through a small complex of corners.
2. Handling Course – M6
This was a relatively small course set up with a few different corners as well as a slalom on the straight. The purpose was to work on braking, cornering, and looking ahead.
3. Skid Pad – M3
The skid pad is a 300-foot in diameter circle of wet, polished concrete. We practiced recovering from oversteer and understeer with the instructor in the passenger seat. They had us get up to a constant velocity in the M3s (with DSC inactive), and then they had us gradually accelerate to induce understeer, sharply accelerate to induce oversteer, or they pulled the parking brake to cause the spin in some cases. Those of us who were able to recover from the oversteer nearly every time were allowed to try power sliding. No one in our group held a slide very long, and the instructors said most people don't get to that point at their first M School.
Day 1 – Afternoon:
1. Timed Handling – M3
This course was the same as the handling course from the morning, but this time we were on the clock and had to stop in a stop box at the end of the course. They subtracted 2 seconds for each cone hit or if we stopped in front of or behind the stop box.
2. Rat Race – M6
We took the M6s (DSC inactive) out to the secondary skid track that was a big oval marked with cones, and it was sprayed down with the sprinklers. We then competed against each other – two at a time – doing laps around this course. Wet pavement + 560 hp + no stability/traction control = amazing fun! It was also good practice at coming out of oversteer/understeer situations.
3. Starter lap, continuous – M5
They set up a circuit using a small but sizeable portion of the track that included the skid pad, several corners, and a sizeable straight that allowed us to get up to approximately 110 mph – that M5 can move! They spaced us out and we did continuous laps on the circuit after doing a couple slow run-throughs with the instructor and a hot lap of this circuit with us as passengers.
4. Timed starter lap – M5
At the end of day 1 we did timed laps using course just described above with M Dynamic Mode (MDM) activated. The biggest difference this time was that the sprinklers were on around the skid pad. The biggest challenge during this exercise was getting through the skid pad blind. The wipers were typical of current BMWs, and the inability to see took some time to get used to (more on the wipers later). That part was a bit of a mess, but it was still a lot of fun.
Day 2Day 2 – Morning:
1. Longer Handling Course – M6
This was by far the most exhausting portion of the entire course. We drove longer portions of the track, and it felt like a million corners strung together. This portion included the corkscrew and a chicane. There were several blind areas due to elevation change, and we got up to decent speeds going into several corners. We were all sore and sweating following this course. It was hard work but ridiculous fun.
2. The Man Corner – M5
"The Man Corner" (their name, not mine) is the big double-apex corner that surrounds the skid pad. I didn't see what speed the instructor took it during the hot lap, but 80 mph was pretty good for us. The double apex made this corner pretty difficult to get right, and it was complicated by a straight, a right-hand corner, a left-hand corner, and then another straight. This exercise really emphasized the importance of braking at the right time and using the right amount of braking force. I became acquainted with the grass a couple times in this corner complex…..
3. Figure 8 – M3
The purpose of this straightforward exercise was to work on the basics. It was all about corner entry to set up for the exit, proper braking, throttle control (DSC was inactive, so there weren't nannies keeping us on track), and looking ahead to the next corner while still in the last corner.
Day 2 – Afternoon
1. Big Lap – M3
The skills learned during all of the preceding exercises lead up to this event. The circuit laid out for us utilized a huge portion of the track. It wasn't the perimeter of the track, rather it combined some of the big outer straights and corners with the tighter, more technical corners of the track. The big straight on the track was used as pit lane (probably to keep us from going too fast), and we were shunted around it through a complex of difficult corners and a smaller straight. The highlight of the entire 2-day course was driving this circuit in the M3s. I'll discuss this more in my review of the individual cars, but it was quite obvious to me that the M3 is a true track car that devours corners, rockets down straights, and, most importantly, does what you want it to do while telling you exactly what it is doing. Going sideways in the M3 was exhilarating and encouraged repeating such shenanigans in the future. The M6, by contrast, went sideways and left me thinking that I got really lucky pulling out of that situation. Professional drivers may not feel this way, but, for novices like me, the M3 was fun while the M6 got a bit scary. It comes down to simple physics, and at speed with the nannies turned down/off these clever BMWs are still subject to Newton's laws.
2. Figure 8 Contest (15 timed laps, DSC inactive) – M5
We did the M5 figure 8 contest between our M3 and M6 laps, and it was a welcome break. This was simply doing 15 figure 8s on the clock, and this forced us to be consistent with the basics for a prolonged period. It was harder than it sounds. Keeping the laps clean for that long takes significant concentration and skill. It was also hard to resist the urge to punch the gas on the M5 and put the +4500 pound beast into a spin.
3. Big Lap – M6
This is the same as I described in the M3 – same exact course, just a different car. More M6 v. M3 comparisons are below.
The CarsGeneral Impressions: All three cars were simply brilliant. The M5 and M6 are visually superior to the M3, but the M3 is the better driver's car, at least for a novice like me. The M6's interior looks more exclusive than the M5's, but the M5 is no slouch. All of the M5s and M6s were fitted with the Bang & Olufsen system, but, unfortunately, most did not have the extended leather option, which is a must for me. For track cars, I can understand passing on the luxury options, but why fit B&O and then skimp on the leather? Nevertheless, both cars have beautiful interiors. Some of the M5s and M6s had understated black interiors with contrast stitching while others were bright red with carbon fiber trim. The latter wouldn't be my choice for my daily driver, but it made for a stunning interior. I won't go on about the M3s interior, because I don't really have anything good to say about it. The interior of the current M3 is what pushed it off of my short list leaving the M5 and the 650i as my two top competitors. Driving the M3, I didn't care about all of the plastic, fabric headliner, and dated graphics, but I know it would bother me whenever I'm not going sideways or over 100 mph. I have grand hopes for the next generation M3/M4, and, with a proper interior, the M4 just might be my next car if I can justify another impractical coupe.
M3: The M3 is the ultimate driving machine, not just an "Ultimate Driving Machine." On day 1 I was somewhat indifferent to the M3 when we only used it on the skid pad and a small handling course. It felt more nimble than the M6 that we had driven on the same course earlier in the day, but I didn't feel a huge difference between the two. On day 2, however, we drove it on the full circuit, and that is where the car came alive. I don't think the first course on day 1 allowed us to get up to speed and see everything the M3 had to offer. On the larger track with the faster corners, longer straights, and more complicated corners, the M3 was lively, agile, and rapid while producing a sonorous note that put my 650xi's M Sport exhaust to shame. I now understand why people are often disappointed by the noise emitted by the new turbo engines. The M5 and M6 sounded good when the needle shot toward redline, but they just couldn't compete with that naturally aspirated, 414 hp V8 in the M3 with the throttle wide open.
M5: It's hard to come up with something original to say about the F10 M5: it defies physics, it's a 4-door supercar, etc., etc. After spending several hours driving it around the track, I agree with every good review of the F10 M5 that I have ever read. It does things it shouldn't. It is extremely comfortable with the settings in Comfort mode, and the seats are like big, comfy recliners. Maybe they could use a bit more bolstering for the twisty bits, but I'm splitting hairs here. It was a lot easier to get in and out of than the M6 and 6 Series as those seat you just a few inches above the ground. The M5 is definitely more family-oriented than the M6, but it was still one hell of a car on the track. The M6 may be the better of the two on the track but not by much. The M6/6er have no backseat to speak of, so if you ever might need the additional seating, then go for the M5. It isn't as exclusive as the 6 variant, but you can't beat it if you want/need four seats….. at least until the M6 Gran coupe comes along. Compared to the 550i, which I drove last February at the PC during the 2-day Car Control School, there is no comparison. I thought the 650i ran circles around the 550i, but the M5 kills both of them. The 550i is a super-quick sedan, but the M5 eats the corners and flies down the straights unlike anything else in the BMW lineup. I haven't driven an E63, XFR, etc. so I won't even go there.
M6: There's a reason this car is the flagship BMW that sits at the top of the M lineup. Like the 6 Series in general, the M6 blatantly disregards matters such as practicality and passenger comfort. As implied above, there is room for the driver plus one in the M6. I've always considered the back of my 650i as a leather-lined, insurance deduction (compared to a 2-seater like the SL). I wish they made a rear seat deletion option for the M6 given the focus on track performance, and some weight loss wouldn't hurt. Additionally, I found the M6's seats to be just as comfortable as the regular 6 Series. The extra padding seemed to be aesthetic more than anything. I can't say I found the M6 noticeably faster than the M5, only slightly faster than the M3, but noticing 0.2 seconds to 60 mph is, admittedly, beyond my abilities. The low center of gravity of the M6 improved handling in the corners compared to the M5, but the weight difference between the M6 and M3 was more significant and gave the M3 the upper hand – less roll, easier to steer, easier to brake, etc. Compared to my 650i xDrive coupe, the M6 is definitely faster, and I'm sure it corners better given the special M touches that the non-M models lack. Subjectively and objectively, the M6 is the better car.
What I'd Have: If I took money out of the situation, the M6 would be the car I'd have. It may not drive like the M3, but I couldn't live with the M3's interior. For the same money as my 6er coupe I could have had an M5, but I prefer the interior and exterior looks of the 6er as well as the exclusivity of the 6. Where I live, the M5 is a 528i to 90% of the population – very sad. At the end of the day, my car is a daily driver that will never see a track. I don't care about practicality either, so I can happily say that I don't regret my decision to go with the 650xi. It may not wear the M badge or handle quite as well, but it is still a brilliant coupe.
M School v. Car Control Course
Last February I did the Performance Center Delivery (PCD) program when I took delivery of my 650i coupe. I did PCD on Friday and the 2-day Car Control course the following Saturday and Sunday. While there are similarities between the M School and the Car Control course, they have different aims. The names of the courses correctly indicate the purpose of each course: M School = motor sport and Car Control = car control and defensive driving.
The M School teaches how to get the most out of a car, particularly while cornering. In the words of one of the instructors, "corners are the problems in between straights." The Car Control course focused more on controlling the car through the slalom, correcting for understeer and oversteer on the skid pad, practicing high-speed ABS stops, and performing emergency lane changes. They laid out the braking, turn-in point, apex, and exit cones for us during the Car Control course like they did for the M School, but the instructors were harder on us during the M School if we were way off line.
The amount of track utilized was a significant difference between the two courses. The Car Control course used maybe a third of the track while the M School covered nearly all of the track at one point or another. The longest circuit set up for us in the M School was probably three times the size of the Car Control school.
The cars were obviously very different for each course. The Car Control course primarily utilized the 135i and 335i while the M3, M5, and M6 were used throughout the M School. The Car Control course included the "Other Roads" section they use for the PCD, but this is, I think, primarily an X5 publicity stunt. At the end of day 2 of the Car Control course, they allowed us to run a few laps on a small circuit driving a variety of BMWs. We were given a Z4, M3, 550i, and X6 M, and this was the highlight of the course. Going straight from a Z4 to a massive X6 M with 555 hp was a bit scary, but the fun kind of scary.
I don't know how often they changed the tires on the cars during the M School, but we saw new tire stickers on some of the tires at the beginning of day 1, and I know they changed the tires several times. They didn't tell us exactly how many tires were eaten throughout the duration of the course, but I'm guessing a fair few. At approximately $2400 a set you can see why the course is pricey. I'm sure Continental gives them a dirt cheap price, but the tire consumption at the PC is on the verge of comical. Following one of the hot laps, one of the instructors commented that they used to do more drifting during the hot laps but management made them stop because they were eating too many tires. How cool is that job?!? I'm in awe of these guys – in case that wasn't obvious…..
Which course should you take? Well, if taking both isn't an option, then I'd say the M School. Why? If the M3, M5, and M6 aren't reason enough, then you better get your head examined. The M School gives you a lot more track time in much more powerful cars. That being said, I'd highly recommend the Car Control course, preferably before the M School. I learned a lot in that school, and it teaches you real world skills that the M School doesn't touch on. Obviously, keeping your eyes up, correcting for oversteer/understeer, etc., which are taught during the M School, are useful on public roads, but the Car Control course gives you a lot more time to work on these skills in addition to the lane changing maneuvers, ABS stops, and slaloming.
Everything ElseBMW CCA: I forgot to join the CCA before reserving our seats in the class, so we were charged the entire $3595 per person at that time. A couple weeks ago I paid to make the three of us BMW CCA members ($48 per person for 1 year), I e-mailed the PC our CCA ID numbers, and they credited our card $539.25 (15% discount) for each of our three seats. Additionally, the PC passed our CCA numbers along to the Marriott to make sure we got the reduced rate for the night not covered by the M School. The CCA discount also reduced our factory tour rate to $3.50 per person (instead of $7.00). The PC sent an e-mail the other day saying that we could get 10% off our next course if we enrolled in the next 90 days. I'm not certain this is in addition to the 15% CCA discount but it seems like the PC is incapable of saying no – wonderful service staff.
Making Arrangements: The PC was wonderful to work with from start to finish. We made the initial reservations on the website, but I had to call to make some changes to our room reservations. We wanted to go a day early and stay a day late. Since we had two nights per reservation and three reservations, I had the PC change our hotel rooms from three rooms for two nights to two rooms for three nights, and we would pay for the additional night. I shot them a quick e-mail asking if they could arrange for this, and, within 24 hours, I got a response stating that they set this up with the Greenville Marriott and the rooms would be directly across the hall from each other. The PC provided truly first class service from the time I made the reservation to the time we left on day 2.
Hotel Service: The Greenville Marriott offered great accommodations during both trips to the Greenville/Spartanburg area. We arrived Wednesday night and were immediately greeted by the same bellman who assisted us last February. It was a small touch, but the fact that he remembered us is commendable. The staff was very polite and helpful, and the rooms were quite nice. BMW currently has an X5 and a 750Li stationed at the Marriott for shuttling BMW guests around Greenville. The 750Li is a 2013 with pretty much every option aside from the full LEDs. It has the rear screens and iDrive controller, full Nappa leather, Driver Assistance, etc. Not too shabby and loads better than a lowly Town Car.
Factory Tour: Since we went up a day early, we decided to do the factory tour again. This worked out very nicely, as last time we toured the X5/X6 factory, and this time we were brought to the X3 factory. One notable thing they told us was that the tours will stop in April 2013 (they didn't specify when they'd resume) because of construction and changes that would be made in preparation for the next generation X5 and upcoming X4. On a side note, I saw a new X5 test mule covered in camouflage running up and down the high-speed test track behind the PC track. I couldn't see any more than the current spy shots of the car show, but it was pretty cool to see the testing in person.
Dining: Dinner the night before day 1 and breakfast each morning at Giatu (in the Greenville Marriott) were both quite good. The BMW dinner menu is very nice for an abbreviated menu. I had the sirloin with pistachio butter with Yukon Gold and cauliflower gratin, and I thought it was pretty good for being off the menu at a regular hotel restaurant. Breakfast each morning was a buffet with omelet and waffle stations. The buffet-style meals (lunch and dinner on day 1 and lunch day 2) at the PC were satisfactory. The food was not the last word in fine dining in Greenville, but the PC caterers do a good job. The lunch on day 2 was probably the best – they offered roast pork, grilled chicken, and blackened salmon in addition to a salad, cookies, and several sides. Outside of the included meals, we ate at the Blue Ridge Brewing Company, Nose Dive, and Soby's. This was my second time eating at Blue Ridge Brewing Company and Soby's, and they are consistently good. Dinner at Soby's was excellent after the exhausting exercises on day 2. I had the quail appetizer, spinach salad, duck, and chocolate mousse dome. Nose Dive was pretty good – the green chile chili was excellent – but I think I had my expectations set a bit too high. All three are located in Downtown Greenville and offered a great dining atmosphere. Here are links for their respective menus:
Blue Ridge Brewing Company: http://www.blueridgebrewing.com/cont...nus/dinner.asp
Nose Dive: http://www.thenosedive.com/food.html
Gifts: As with the Car Control school, BMW showered us with Roundel-covered freebees. This time we were given the racing helmet ($600 value), an M School-exclusive fleece jacket, an M Performance Driving School polo, an M School T-shirt, a couple of Performance Center pens, and the coveted Performance Driving School hat. They left the jacket and polo in our room with our welcome packets the day before the class. The polos are cut really, really big. I typically wear a medium Ralph Lauren polo, but a small version of this shirt is sufficient for all 6' 3" and 175 pounds of me – just something to keep in mind.
Exhausting: Sitting in a car driving for two days doesn't exactly sound like hard work, but it was exhausting. The level of concentration required coupled with being jerked around inside of the car for hours a day took a toll on me. I went to bed early each night, and I had pretty significant myalgias in my left leg at the end of day 2. I wouldn't recommend organizing big evening plans after the course. Also, despite the course being in the middle of January (temperatures in the 40s), it got pretty hot inside the cars during some of the more strenuous exercises. I now know why BMW added the "MAX A/C" button….. to cool you off when you don't have more than half a second to think about changing the temperature and reaching the dash to make the change. Make sure you wear layers, and remember that you spend very little time outside of the climate-controlled cars.
M Head Up Display: Anyone who owns a relatively new BMW fitted with the Head Up Display (HUD) knows what a necessity it becomes after a couple weeks of ownership. Several of the cars had the HUD deactivated when I got in them, so my first order of business was making sure that was turned on. The M HUD is great on the track because it projects the full-color tachometer, current gear, and speed on the windshield. I found this really helpful when I had the car in manual mode, and even with the HUD I seldom knew how fast I was going. Remember to bring non-polarized sunglasses if you plan to utilize the brilliant M HUD.
Wipers: As mentioned above, one of the courses set up for us required navigating the skid pad nearly blind – or at least distracted by the auto wipers not working. I know on the F12/13 forums we have had several threads discussing the inadequate wipers during heavy downpours, and this assured me that the M5s are plagued with the same issue. Every person that finished their laps in the M5 got out cursing the windshield wipers. They told us to turn on the auto-on feature, but that didn't work most of the time and thus required us to fumble with the stalk to manually activate them while trying not to spin out and take the proper line through the corner. I'm praying that BMW fixes the wipers soon. I feel like my xDrive coupe handles our summer downpours very well, but, unfortunately, the wipers are just too slow.
Bang & Olufsen: While the other four members of my group were doing their fifteen figure 8 laps I had the chance to plug my iPhone 5 into the USB port and listen to some select songs (classical, vocal, and rock) over the M5's Bang & Olufsen system. The short period I had to listen reaffirmed my feelings that I made a big mistake on settling for the Premium system on my 6er rather than paying the $3,700 to upgrade to the B&O. I have discussed this at length on a number of occasions, so I won't beat this point to death. The sound is brilliant, but the looks are what I desire the most, if I'm honest.
Final Words: The entire experience was nothing short of perfect. I know I mentioned a few minor complaints, but nothing significant enough to tarnish the brilliant weekend. I'd highly recommend this course, and it is a must for anyone who loves BMWs, driving, speed, tire shredding, or all of the above. Start saving your pennies now – it is worth every last cent. I'm going to have to cut back my Starbucks habit to finance the Advanced M School – one latte at a time.
2-day Car Control: http://www.bimmerfest.com/forums/sho...2099&highlight
Performance Center Delivery:
Dining in Spartanburg:
Check out my blog for HD Pictures (I'm too lazy to post them twice): http://southern6er22.blogspot.com/20...ol-review.html
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