Sunday, May 27, 2012

BMW 5 Series Drive in The Land of Smiles, Thailand.

While BMW Singapore was having fun hosting the new 3 Series Performance Academy, a small group of us were whisked away to participate in a 5 series drive in The Land of Smiles. With a select range of powerplants available on test, the drive would take us from the Capital of Bangkok, up north to the National Park area of Khao Yai with a full day of activites planned out for us at the local race track, Bonanza Circuit. But before we get started, a big thanks to BMW Asia for inviting me along for the ride. Our trusted steed for the journey up was the petrol-sipping 4-cylinder turbo-charged, 520i. Of course, not just any 520i, we had the awesome Touring. To those of you who read this blog, you'd probably know i have a thing for them wagons. All the space and all the grace. I reckon the touring actually looks better then the sedan, although i'm sure many might disagree with me. Our first stop was at PTT, a Thai state-owned SET-listed oil and gas company. After a short briefing, it was time to kick off the event. Our tanks were topped up with the good stuff and sealed. Gotta get myself a set of those blinky lights. Any reservations or fears we had about Thailand's infamous traffic jams evaporated away the moment we saw the police escort. What? Traffic? First rest stop provided relief for those with weak bladders. It also provided insight into a seperate toilet. That number "20" there, represents the bahts needed to utilize the restrooms, but the bahts you pay for the clean toilets also go to helping a charity for children. Win-win both ways. The rest of the journey up was pretty straightforward, allowing the photographers take some nice rolling shots. The Smokehouse, an interesting lunchstop with some fantastic food. Do give the place a visit if you are ever in the area. If you closed one eye and imagined the sun wasn't cooking your skin, you might just think you were somewhere in Europe. The Toyota Hiace there won't help with the illusion though. Just sharing some fine grub. Lovely interior. I tried to search for this later on in my trip, no joy. Our awesome escorts. Yes, that's a BMW police bike. Like a boss. A short drive after lunch brought us up to Bonanza Circuit. Pictures don't lie, but what they don't show you is just how hot it was outside. These fine gentlemen were our instructors of the day. Meant to give us an insight into the variants of the new 5-Series range, we had at our disposal, the new charged 4-cylindered petrol and diesel cars, a slightly older 6-cylinder NA 523i, and the most powerful of the 4-pots, the 528i. Each with similar underpinnings but unique in their own ways. A series of stations were set up to showcase the new cars' handling and power characteristics. And although bordering on sounding serious, it was in actual fact, chances for us to just take the cars our for a joyful, controlled hoon. The emergency lane change station brought our the cars' fine balance. With everyone piling on the speed after each run, it was also the stage for "cone-killing". Cones were harmed in the course of the event. The slaloms highlighted the differences between cars equipped with and without Active Steering. With a vast array of trick sensors and computer controlled wizardry, it was no wonder the Active Steering equipped car was much easier to control and maneuver about. The final station of the day, was a drag race between the new 4-Cylindered 520i and the slightly older Inline-6 523i. The winner gets a prize. *Hint Hint* Just to silence the critics, the smaller engined 520i trounced the 523i pretty much each and every time. As an added bonus, after the drag races, we were given some time to go round the circuit in the various cars, guided by our instructors. Personal impressions between the 520i and 520d? It's a tough call, and although the 0-60 times might be pretty close, i'd give the diesel powered car the slight edge with just that bit more feel of immediacy when you put your foot down. Points also go to the diesel for being more frugal with the expensive combustible liquids. Unfortunately, we were given strict orders to leave the traction control on, as the tight circuit provided no leeway for errors. At the end of the day, EVERYONE had a great time. Bags loaded up with space to spare. With the sun going down, it was time to leave the track after a fine day of tire torturing. A beautiful sunset, but the Muthi Maya resort resort that lay ahead, was even more lovely. The event continued into the night as prizes were given out for quizzes and of course the fastest drivers of the day. With much gratitude and kudos to the Playstation Gran Turismo team, i managed to edge out everyone over the entire event to clinch the fastest set time of the entire event. I guess all those late nights in front of the telly finally paid off in the form of a 8GB thumbdrive shaped like a BMW key. :) Soon after, morning came again and it was time to head back into Bangkok. We swapped over to the diesel 5 and it was time to hit the B-roads on the way out! Great fun if you're the driver, less fun when you're the passenger. Not because of motion-sickness, but because you'd be secretly wishing you were the one behind the wheel. As i was at the helm the day before, it was my compatriot's turn to pilot the car. Envious i was. Once at our final rest stop before Bangkok, i swapped cars as i continued my journey in Thailand for another day while the rest of the Singapore team headed straight to the airport for their flight home. Once again, thank you BMW Asia for the invite and thank you BMW Thailand for the wonderful hospitality. To end off, here's a video from the event.


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