Prepare to be broken
BMW Driver Training
When the Iron Curtain started to creak and crumble we knew it was only a matter of time before we would become part of the Western World. Lo and behold we got McDonalds, then we got KFC and Burger King too. Here is another surefire gauge of our progress: BMWFahrertraining has been around for four years now. That's right, Fahrertraining. That's what it's called. The Germans are unbeatable at this, they have been offering trainings for 31 years – and this was their first venture east of the Alps.
It's not easy living in a land that is split along the divide of haves and have-nots. For the organizers of the BMWFahrertraining this translates into people with and without a BMW. No doubt the latter are far more numerous, which is probably why you can sign up for their basic Compact training with any vehicle, not just a BMW, as long as it has ABS and is in good general shape. Bringing your own car will also save you about 100 Euros off the course price since you don't need to rent a BMW. Still if you want the real deal you should do this half-day course in a Bimmer: you get the same treatment you used to travel to Munich for, but locally, for just 225 Euros. Once you have completed the Compact you are ready to upgrade to the Advanced training where 330 Euros will buy you a course fit for pros.
Still not hot enough for ya? Try Advanced Plus (for cca. €490) where you'll do high speed maneuvers, braking in the bend and a bit of broadsiding, but you can't just go and sign up; you should complete a prep course for this. Another type of training came about courtesy of high fuel prices – the Efficient Dynamics course will teach you how to drive in a thrifty manner. Market demand is substantial even though you'd think BMW owners don't need to watch their expenses.
So what is this thing? Suppose you think your office wall is barren without a certificate from a BMW Driver Training course. You'd think you just sign up, pay up, drive around for a few hours and then all that's left to do is picking a frame that goes well with the blue and white of BMW, wouldn't you? Well, you'd be wrong. Sooo wrong. For one, in order to join the fancy Advanced Training you must first complete the entry level course. But if you really want that certificate you can just buy both trainings, what the heck, if you can afford a Bimmer you can dish out this much, right? You'd then expect your experience to be plenty enough for a basic course (a driver's license is a pre-requisite), so you'll just drive about qualifying for the Advanced level.
So, just when you think you own the world, along comes Gellert Palankai, your chief instructor. He has completed the trainer training in Munich. He has invested considerable time and resources into this venture. He can also drive pretty darn well and has nerves wrought of high tensile strength steel wires.
The methodology of the BMW Fahrertraining system is not significantly different from any other driver training syllabuses used in the country or in Europe for that matter.
You are placed into some highly motivating environment, in this case a former Soviet airplane base. You start the day with some academic learning, then comes the practice. The instructor says about 60 percent of participants can even comprehend complex explanations requiring some considerable knowledge in physics – that is a mighty impressive number, mind you.
Next up is sitting around. First it's about correct driver posture – how you should set the height and distance of your seat, how to adjust your steering wheel, and so forth. When that's done, it's time to discipline self-important wannabe racers.
Gellért can and will use simple exercises completed at agonizingly slow speeds to prove to anyone that he seriously overrated his driving skills. And that's the whole point of the training, at least initially. Even we, automotive journalists had absolutely no idea how long it took a car to stop from thirty, fifty meters, on dry or wet tarmac. Luckily Gellert is an amiable person, so he does not make you feel a miserable twat. He just makes you get a more realistic overview of your own skills.
It took me four of five tries before he'd tell me I am pretty good at completing a proper emergency braking. Holy cow, we are talking about a simple braking exercise, straight line, on damp asphalt. All I had to do is achieve maximum brake force, nothing more (it's easy to tell if you are doing it right: just check if ABS activates on your rear axle or not). But you won't do it half right unless you slam the brakes so hard you could kick them through the firewall. Gellert said we were good, at least we didn't get scared when ABS started working. Most people are so surprised by the pulsating pedal that they release it... Seriously!
After a while even BMW drivers learn to respect the experience and expertise of the instructor which is just a step away from actually obeying the instructions: look for an escape route , not the obstacle in your way; don't step lightly on the brakes; grab the steering wheel instead of turning it with open palm; sit up properly. You keep all of that and after a while you begin to do well on the simple exercises. There's sense of achievement for you. This is probably also the moment when you decide to sign up for the advanced class where you have to drive through spaces so narrow you wouldn't risk parking you car. This also means your average yuppie will put his certificate in a far more prominent spot in his office than originally conceived. Also, he'll be a far better driver by then.
As for the business model it is simply ingenious. You get to drive rear-wheel-drive 318d or 320d Bimmers, manual or A/T, which is quite an attraction by itself. The training also trims your ego (some of us need that badly) and gives you some discipline. It also sheds light on basic truths in life, such as why it's ill advice to drive at 90 kph past schools. And finally, you are happy to pay for all of this – after all, this is the Cadillac ... I mean BMW... of all Fahrertrainings.