- Published: Friday, 13 February 2015 00:03
A new driving centre in nearby Seoul will let you play with BMWs all day. But wait till you see the price...
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — Welcome to what is effectively Disneyland for fans of BMW. The BMW Driving Center just outside of Seoul offers anyone the chance to play with a fleet of Bavaria’s finest all day long. Here's what you need to know...
“BMW Driving Center”. Sounds like a driving school to me. Is it?
Close enough. It’s effectively a retail concept that lets potential BMW customers overdose on the company’s products. Basically, this place is the size of 33 football fields and has six driving areas where BMW orgies happen.
Orgies? I like the sound of that! Tell me more…
For 100,000 Korean Won (just under S$125), you can have a 90-minute session with around half a dozen different BMW models and Minis. You can choose between different groups, like “Aesthetic” BMWs (like the 3 Series Gran Turismo or 4 Series Gran Coupe) or “Dynamic” ones (2 Series Coupe, 328i, 4 Series Coupe and so on).
Or, if you’re posh, try the “Exclusive” bunch, which is made up of 6 and 7 Series models — basically cars that you would have to be a multimillionaire to comfortably own in Singapore.
You don’t even have to be a BMW owner to take part. You simply book a session and turn up. But there’s a catch.
Okay... what’s the catch?
You draw lots for cars, and whichever you get is the one you stick with. So some lucky sod in the Dynamic group with you could land the key to a 328i Sport, while you make do with a diesel 1 Series. Unless you have a forceful personality and some pretty ham-sized fists to go along with it, that is.
But how much actual driving do you do?
It varies. The Snow Basic course we did involves a good hour or so behind the wheel. You get to grips with driving techniques on slippery ice, and how things like winter tyres and DSC (BMW’s stability control system) can help you out of tricky situations.
But let's be honest: everyone just switches DSC off and then pretends to be a rally driver.
Sounds like fun!
It is. Apart from tequila, pretty much the best thing you can add to ice is a bunch of BMWs. But the whole point is to learn a bit of car control, while you’re at it. You’ll sharpen your overall driving technique if you pay attention to the instructors. Many of them are racing drivers, you know. They're properly good.
Fine, but what makes it a “Disneyland” for BMW fans? There's more than one ride in the Magic Kingdom.
There’s just a huge variety of experiences on offer. The snow driving course is only for starters. For the main course you could try learning how to drift in the snow in a BMW M3 or M4. That costs 300,000 Korean Won, but you have to complete the Snow Basic course first.
Or you could try some off-roading in an X5 (for 50,000 Won over half an hour), or even pay for some tyre smoking laps of the Driving Center’s 2.6km-long track in an M5 — with a racing driver at the wheel. That takes 10 minutes and costs 30,000 Won.
But winter’s nearly over, so what’s next?
From March 15th the Driving Center kicks off its summer programme. It’ll offer “Advanced” and “Intensive” courses (which take all day). All in all there is a pretty large programme to choose from. If you’re transiting through Seoul, you might just be able to squeeze a quick session in because Incheon Airport is just minutes away.
It was convenient for BMW, too. Incheon had a fifth runway it wasn’t using, so BMW leased the area and then developed it into the Driving Center. It’s the brand’s third one (after the ones in America and Germany), and is part of a US$75.5 million ($102.6 million) project.
Woah, that’s a lot of money. How do they expect to make it back?
Well, the publicity garnered by the track is probably worth it. Since its opening last August, BMW Korea reckons a slow day sees 800 people passing through the Center. On weekends there might be 1,000 people a day. Not all are there to drive. Weekdays have 150 driving slots and weekends, just 220. But the place was designed for family outings.
Driving isn’t the only activity. Some people go just for the showroom. But most people are there to play. “This is like a theme park,” says Sungtaek Jang, the general manager of the BMW Driving Center. “It’s quite a simple concept. My children can be in the Junior Campus (and learn about road safety, discover how cars work and find out about sustainable motoring), my wife is sitting in the coffee house while I get to do the driving.”
Korean wives sure seem like an understanding bunch.
I’ll say! But let’s be fair to Singapore wives. A day at the BMW Driving Center is one orgy they probably wouldn’t object to.