Review: BMW Performance Center West Driving School – Two-Day Car Control Clinic

By Jonathan Spira on 1 November 2016
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A series of signs greeting students at BMW’s Performance Center Driving School in Spartanburg, S.C. carries an important reminder: “Don’t forget to breathe.”

BMW, which has offered driver training in Germany since 1977 and in the United States since 1999, now has a permanent facility in Southern California. The BMW Performance Center West, located in the aptly named town of Thermal, offers the same complement of courses including one- and two-day car control and BMW M schools as well as the BMW Teen Driving School, found in Spartanburg, although it doesn’t yet display the now-famous signage.

There’s a very important reason why drivers of all skill levels should go beyond their driver’s ed course in high school. First, automotive technology sees significant advancements with new driver-assistance methods being introduced every model year. Despite the vast amount of safety systems that have been added to today’s BMWs, drivers know very little about what their own cars offer and how they work, and even less about defensive driving. Second, driver’s ed covered what was needed to pass the typical road test in the United States, and barely scratches the surface in terms of what to do in real-world driving.

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On a rather warm (117° F or 42° C) day, I made my way from the nearby Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa to the Thermal Club, where the BMW school is located. BMW’s new building was still under construction and is slated to open later this year but our temporary accommodations were quite pleasant.

The morning started with a briefing that provided important information to keep in mind when behind the wheel as well as an outline of what we would be covering over the two-day course. My classmates were ten people from a trucking firm in Oklahoma on a company jaunt. BMW offers custom corporate programs and invites groups from companies and organizations to attend its standard courses.

The concise briefing (BMW emphasizes behind the wheel time, not classroom time) focused on proper vision (“Keep your eyes up!”) and the advice “Look in the direction you want to head” could not have been repeated often enough in my opinion. Our class learnt that almost everyone adjusts their mirrors incorrectly (basically, you should adjust them so far outward that the viewing angle of the side mirrors just overlaps that of the cabin’s rearview mirror), we discussed braking, acceleration, and steering and soon enough we were sitting behind the wheel of a BMW M235i.

Then we were off. The instructors – all skilled drivers – were eager to share their knowledge and their pedagogical skills could put to shame many university lecturers. Class size was limited allowing individualized attention and the instructor/student ratio was approximately 1:3 (this, of course, may vary by program and exercise). There was always a clear explanation at hand and nothing fell into the “this is the way we do it” or “do it my way or the highway” camp. Throughout individual exercises, instructors would communicate individually with each student via radio providing feedback and suggestions.

Click here to continue to Page 2Braking, Skidpad, and Knowing Where to Look

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