It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why a number of carmakers, including BMW and its closest rivals, have started to introduce models to cater to every possible niche, and then some. Take BMW for example. Gone are the days when its product planning department had to just think about the 3 Series, 5 Series, 7 Series and Z cars.
At an age where diving into whatever market you can find is the way to go, having just three models in the line-up will not cut it, unless you’re Alfa Romeo. So, to keep up with market demand, BMW inched its way into the SUV/crossover market (X1, X3, X5, X6 and the new X4), created a GT line (3 GT, 5 GT), four-door Gran Coupes (4 Series GC, 6 Series GC) and is now into electric with the i3 and i8.
And that’s just the half of it – a 2 Series MPV anyone? So we imagine that it would be pretty hard for BMW’s marketing department to differentiate the many models in Munich’s stable.
The BMW 2 Series, which replaces the old 1 Series Coupe, is a vehicle that is “supposed to bring back the fun in driving”. But you might then ask: “isn’t that what all BMWs are about?”. Well, BMW does not think so. In fact, as an owner of the current F30 3 Series, I must admit that the car is tuned more for comfort, unlike the E90 it replaced.
What about the M cars? Yes, they are driving machines fit for driving Gods. But they are also priced as much as a 22×75 double-storey terrace house in Malaysia! So, where does the 2 Series stand? It is supposed to be a fun-to-drive car for the younger urban market. With the word ‘younger’, you can automatically assume that it’s for those who have lower purchasing power than M buyers, but the 2 still doesn’t come cheap, not in Malaysia.
According to product manager Thomas Edner, the 2 Series is a BMW that puts “driving” as the focus point, more than other non-M cars, and its weight distribution is the closest to 50:50. Just so you know, BMWs don’t have exact 50:50 weight distribution, more like 50.4:49.6. You might also notice the association with the classic BMW 2002 in the 2’s marketing collaterals. Munich considers the 2002 as a BMW that pioneered driving pleasure, and that the 2 Series is here to claim that crown.
That said, BMW has been trying new ways to market their cars. Besides the usual online and print ads, BMW has been pushing experiential events for current and potential customers. The company also invests a lot in producing viral video content. With the 2 Series, BMW decided to come up with a “driftmob” video, featuring the range-topping M235i in a sequence of drift stunts.
The online-exclusive video is officially called the BMW 2 Series Coupe Driftmob, and Paultan.org was the only media outlet from Asia invited to check out the making of the video in Cape Town, so you’re looking at some pretty exclusive content here.
The objective of the video is pretty clear: to align the 2 Series with the art of drifting, which resonates with it being a driver’s car. This project took about four months of planning between BMW and its relevant agencies. So long? Yes, as the production is of Hollywood quality, from the equipment to the people behind it.
The concept of the video sees five M235is being driven in a metropolitan city, before suddenly breaking into a drift sequence when they arrive at a large roundabout. To help make this a success, the production team teamed up with one of the world’s best driving stunt teams – the people who brought you action scenes from The Fast and The Furious franchise, Iron Man and The Dark Knight Rises, among other blockbusters.
Riley Harper, the stunt coordinator who has worked on 40 productions of films, TV and commercials assembled five precision drivers from around the world to pilot the BMWs. First on the list was Samuel Hubinette, a Swede who has recorded the most wins in Formula Drift history. Next up was Rich Rutherford who has worked on 200 feature films including Iron Man 2, Transformers 3 and Drive. Then you have Rhys Millen who holds titles in Formula D and the Red Bull Drifting Championships.
Conrad Grunewald, a strong Formula Drift contender with his own racing school, and 2011 Formula Drift champ Daijiro Yoshihara make up the rest of the team. All five drivers, with the direction of Harper and director Mic Rodgers, practiced on an empty piece of tarmac with a similar diameter to a roundabout, since they had limited access to the actual location, which is part of a public road.
The practice took days, with the 326 hp cars and ZF eight-speed automatic transmission going through certain modifications. First is the rally or drift-style handbrake lever. The M235i has a manual handbrake lever, but they needed something closer to the driver and with more precise feel. Next was the rear differential. To make them easier to drift, the red coupes needed locked diffs.
BMW has one in its M Performance parts catalogue, but when preparations for the shoot started, the diff was not on sale yet. So the mechanics had to modify the standard unit. Finally, slight changes were also made to things like the engine’s torque curve via the ECU.
With that done, and with unlimited supply of tyres, the drivers practiced, practiced and practiced. We attended the final practice session in Cape Town, South Africa and were in awe of with what we witnessed. All five cars were drifting with just two to three meters gaps from each other, and the cars were drifting around the roundabout consistently. It looked like they could have drifted in that sequence for half an hour, non-stop! The level of precision these guys have is totally out of this world!
If I were to put a 50 cent coin on the tarmac, they could have gone over it, countless times at the same position. Before we moved on to the actual shoot location in Cape Town, we were given a taste of making a BMW M235i go sideways, with a stick shift!
Yours truly was given the opportunity to drift the car in a circle. But I must admit that it is not that easy to hold the drift in the M235i. Don’t get me wrong, this coupe is an excellent driving machine and is easy to control in say, a half circle drift. But it requires more finesse to complete a full drift, likely because of the car’s short wheelbase and the rigid chassis.
It is easier to do the same in the F30 3 Series, since it has a longer wheelbase. It’s softer too, so things move a little “slower”, making it easier for you to hold the drift. Get my drift? ;)
With the M235i, I had to be quicker with my throttle and steering inputs. So, having to drift it consistently in a same line around a circle that’s about the size of Bulatan Segambut in KL was simply epic. We then moved to the actual location, which was closed off to other road users by the police.
The traffic circle turned into a Hollywood shoot location, with pick up truck carrying a camera for close-up shots as well as helicopters for aerial shots. In one of the runs, we were allowed to sit next to the drivers, as passengers. I sat next to Ryhs Millen – did you know that his daily drive is a Ford F-150 pick-up truck?
During the drift run, I noticed that his technique is quite different from how I normally carry a drift. I had to constantly depress and release the throttle while making slight steering adjustments and looking through my target points. These guys were constantly full on the accelerator, all the time while making little adjustments on the steering wheel. Then they would left foot brake or yank the handbrake from time to time to control the speed. Gotta try that out sometime!
Ryhs revealed that the drivers had to improvise a little during the actual shoot, as the diameter of the circle was slightly different, and most importantly, grip levels were higher. On top of that, the drivers were supposed to drift without emitting too much smoke from the tyres, as that would not look nice on video.
We can’t wait for the final video to be out! It is expected to be released by the end of the month, so watch this space. Meanwhile, check out our exclusive teaser video and behind the scenes photos.