Bees Knees on Ice : BMW Alpine xDrive Experience [PTG]

batch 42848645524 b70becb62e b

The BMW Alpine xDrive Experience pairs us up with all the partners we’ll need to dance on ice/snow

PHOTOS BMW

batch 41758046670 39ba50b8d9 b

Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground, New Zealand – A helicopter may be the quickest way up the mountain, but when your four wheels are on ice/snow, the ‘funnest’ way around has to be slippy, sliding sideways, even if you’re going nowhere but around a ginormous drift circle.

The only drama in your life should be the sort that goes on when your car is dancing on ice, because as far as driving programmes go, driving on ice/snow is the bee’s knees.

batch 42848507264 596951c3e9 b

Naysayers here often decry ice/snow driving programmes, but that’s because many of them don’t have a clue as to the fun they’re missing. In short, ice/snow driving is the most fun we’ve had in our 18 years in the automotive industry, and that’s going through all manner of driving activities.

Of course, you could achieve the same low-grip results on a skid-pan, but there’s no fun in that because you don’t get the same dramatic rooster-tail snow plume as when you’re carving a path through the snow.

batch 42660607265 2ec535500a b

Ever hit an oil patch or lost grip on a greasy bit of road in sunny Singapore? If you have your wits about you, it might result in a white-knuckle moment and possibly stained undies, and with quick reactions, your car will emerge unscathed. Under less favourable auspices, you might panic, wipe out against the armco and end up with bruises to both body and ego.

batch 42848518704 5bf47f0dc1 b

We’re with BMW at the Southern Hemisphere Proving Grounds on New Zealand’s South Island for a bout of ice/driving… in June – probably the only place you can do it at this time of year. It’s a sprawling 490-hectare facility with properly segregated high-security tracks and plush hospitality areas, and is open from June to August to many brands for winter testing purposes... or simply for respective brand customers to have a bit of fun.

batch 42848500124 beb9d0afe7 b

Most of the serious car brands offer ice/snow driving programmes with differing levels of complexity, and the BMW New Zealand one we’ve joined is a tasty teaser before you sink your teeth into more intense programmes. BMW Korea has a driving facility very close to the Incheon Airport that also offers the public an introductory ice/snow programme, so that’s a good alternative if you’re looking for something closer to Singapore.

MORE ABOUT THE BMW NEW ZEALAND PROGRAMME HERE

MORE ABOUT THE BMW KOREA PROGRAMME HERE

batch 29694846608 398ef043a5 b

Ice/snow driving is all about the nuances of car control, and training your muscle memory to respond instinctively the moment you feel the rear losing grip. It’s also a lot about finesse over ham-fisted enthusiasm, because if you barrel too quickly into a corner on ice/snow/water, the car will just plough-on and understeer.

batch 42660625795 dfe7c5b9a9 b

The knack is achieving a knife’s edge balance as you skirt around the traction circle, before giving the gas pedal a big boot to unsettle the rump-end once you feel the front-end has gripped.

As the rear starts to slide, you can either correct it immediately with a whiff of opposite lock, or proceed to kick-loose with a continuous drift, which you learn to control and fine-tune using the throttle instead of agitating with the steering wheel.

batch 42660608305 b240b5794a b

Best of all, the speeds at which all this occurs (winter tyres, but no studs) are relatively low (compared to say, the high-two- and three-digit-speeds you’d see in the dry), so everything is nice, slow and progressive – plenty of time to practise your seat-of-pants feel and steering/throttle drills before moving on to the full track experience offered by some of the other brands. As one’s confidence and skill grows, it’s possible to progress to studded tyres, which offer more grip in ice/snow, and consequently, higher speeds and greater thrills.

batch 29694924108 d3a0ecbbe5 b

The other thing about driving on ice/snow is it’s a great leveller, and for the purposes of our day’s exercises, demonstrated that big engine firepower doesn’t necessarily translate to the biggest smile, and vice versa.

batch 43519444492 abffdd223c b

If anything, the largest difference comes from the drivetrain, since rear-drive and the all-wheel-drive of the X models behave differently – the all-wheel-drivetrain caught us out initially when we applied the same amount of opposite lock as we would in a rear-driven car, because the tyres would suddenly grip and start pulling you awry!

batch 41758057910 babd987e6c b

As with most things, it’s about patience, practice and more practice. Get frustrated too quickly and everything will go pear-shaped, since swift progress on ice/snow only comes with a clear head. In fact, when you’re holding that perfect continental drift around the drift circle amidst the tranquility of the alien alpine landscape, it’s easy to shut out everything else and attain a Zen-like state, so it seems as though it is just you, the car and the great outdoors... until that is, your co-driver pipes up plaintively to say, “I’m going to be ill, stop and let me out.”

 

David Khoo
Author: David Khoo
David is a big petrolhead who has been dabbling in the car trade since 2001 and currently oversees Top Gear Singapore. His stories often take an eclectic slant from the predictable, and he's able to craft a compelling read that lets you see the cars (often old!) in a new light.