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Driving the Autobahn, not in my Thirdgen tho...

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Old 03-31-2017, 10:20 PM   #1  
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Driving the Autobahn, not in my Thirdgen tho...

For those interested in what it is like to drive on the German Autobahn the following is a recap of my recent experience there.

In Germany all speed signs and speedos are in km/hr (no smaller numbers on the speedo in mph like on US cars) so I will convert for convenience.

As to a bit of background, one of our daughters has been living in the Rosenheim / Passau area of Bavaria Germany for several years now. Fortunately for me she has been dating a German fellow who is into cars. Sebastian takes advantage of the unrestricted speed areas of the Autobahn whenever possible. He was my partner in crime in this adventure.

As to the Autobahn, it is the multi-lane highway type road you expect in the US. Most areas are speed restricted. However as you get further from populated areas the beautiful speed limit sign with the red diagonal line through it indicates beginning of unrestricted speed area. In this area you can basically go as fast as you want. Some rules though.

1. There is no passing on the right. I never saw anyone passing on the right.
2. You must control your vehicle and be able to see far enough into the distance to brake properly if necessary.

3. When the speed returns to restricted you must down to that limit by the time you get to the sign. So going from an unrestricted area to perhaps 65 mph might require some serious braking which you expect to do and expect to see routinely from other cars even when traffic is light.

4. The speed limit is frequently posted on large overhead LED signs which span the lanes and also have built in radar detectors and cameras. So itís common to get an automated speeding ticket via this mechanism in Germany. I did not see any police on the highways during my week of driving there. But I did get a ticket from a more rare portable radar unit (while we were stuck in rush hour traffic on the way back. I think I was going 30 in a 20 zone or something. )

Typical speeds on the Autobahn are 40 to 75 mph. 40 would be near an accident or construction or congestion as the signs somehow know to update around these areas.

In unrestricted areas the common speed, that which most vehicles travel, is about 100 mph. So if you are doing 90 expect to be passed by all manner of common cars, Fords, Toyotas, Hundais, lots of BMW, Audi etc. The Smart car brand is still common there and there are a lot on the road but I doubt that car could go 100.

For a week we rented a 4 door Ford Focus hatchback. Enterprise gave away the Mercedes we reserved when we didnít show up on time. The Ford was a 2.0 Liter turbo diesel with a 6 speed stick. On the Autobahn the fastest I could get it to go was 125 mph. It took a while to get to 125 but it did cruise at 100 comfortably. Funny how you get used to 100 quickly so where you have to slow to 70 it really seems slow.

For ďAutobahn DayĒ Sebastian and I split the rental of a BMW 6 series. My understanding is that it has the most powerful V-8 BMW makes. It is a 4 valve per cylinder variable valve direct inject twin turbo 4.3 liter. It is rated at 550hp. It has a 7 speed paddle shift dual clutch trans with different modes for steering, suspension and shifting. It has a heads up display which shows the speed, gear, and most important to me the current speed limit (which it gets by watching for signs on the side of the road).

BMW has their world headquarters in Munich with a huge sales building, museum, and a factory (you can see it online) so Sebastian and I drove in and rented the car for the entire day direct from HQ. It was only about $220 for the whole day, which to me seems like we are paying for just insurance. I live near Miami and I know renting a car like this can approach $1K a day.
Anyways we saw the M6 just like our rental on the showroom floor. Base price $125K. Optioned out to $175K. Our rental was near high end (only 1 thing missing which I will cover later). We took care of the paperwork and headed to the basement where the car awaited us.

In the basement there was a sample of every current BMW for sale including the I8 which is a wild looking car if you havenít seen it. The coordinator dressed in suit and tie took us to our car and walked around the car and touched every curve with his fingertips. Even around the rim of every wheel looking for dings or scratches. Turns out there was a scratch on the right front wheel that was easy to miss but we didnít want to be responsible for of course.

Sebastian started the drive out onto the roads of Munich and we headed south towards the mountains. I had him drive first as he was more familiar with the car, the area, and the autobahn in particular.

Once out on an unrestricted area of the Autobahn he punched it and the car pulled like crazy up to 150mph before he slowed for traffic. Above the center console are gauges for real time HP and torque so I would read out to him what the engine was doing while he kept his eyes on the road. Once you get going that fast your entire concentration is on the road and both hands on the wheel. Unlike lots of places in the US there are not many plain old boring straight roads that are ripe for high speed. Especially since we were headed into the mountains. Also I read Germany spends twice what we do on the road system so the roads are really smooth and well maintained.
We approached a rest stop and it was my turn. I am almost 6í4 but with a seat and steering wheel adjustment I fit snug and comfortable. We were way out in the countryside now and getting into the foothills and traffic was light so I was ready to put the pedal down.

I got on the highway and since I was concentrating on driving I left the trans in auto shift. Once I saw a long, empty, slightly downward stretch of Autobahn I put the pedal to the floor and waited. The speed came up very quickly. 140-150-160-170. At 170 mph the computer started restricting engine power to hold top speed down. Apparently this is the only option we did not have in this car. There is a software option that removes this limit so the card can go up to 211mph (thatís 340km/hr). The car was still pulling strong at 170 so I believe it could do itís top speed with no problem.
So with enough road we knew our top speed was 170 mph which the car could do easily. We were also impressed by how much torque the engine made, and with the 7 speeds it was easy to keep the engine pulling like crazy from the 40 to 150mph mark where we would commonly come up to traffic.

We drove up to a mountain pass and made a U-turn and came back along a mountain road with a lot of switchbacks and steep ups and downs. This was more unnerving for me since of course I was not familiar with the road and sometimes there was no guardrail just a drop off that went straight down, way down. Speed was generally only about 40 mph and there was only a rare chance here and there to go above that. The car handled very predictably and there was only one chance in my driving where we had a steep switchback down to the right and I had the visibility to see no cars or people below. I went into the turn very fast, braked hard, and slid the car around the turn and accelerated out of it. This kind of driving takes practice and I felt I could have done better with repeats. Another thing that made me nervous about this mountain road is that it is a favorite with racing bikes which appear out of nowhere.

Once down out of the mountains we took the Autobahn back to Munich, there were a couple stretches of unrestricted speed which were fun to drive now that we were comfortable with the car.

We burned about ĺ of the tank and the BMW price was not that much more than the street price for gas so we let them refill it.

We sweated as the suited finger once again went around the car checking for oddities. Fortunately it was all smiles. We had not let the car out of our sight even at lunch so we expected there would be no new nicks or scratches.

During my week of driving It was rare to find other cars on the Autobahn doing what we did that day. Even top end cards like Porsche GT-4 and huge cruisers like the 7 series were not going that fast. I saw one Hummer, one Ford pickup, and one Corvette Z06 during our two week stay.

If you ever get the chance to drive the Autobahn I highly recommend it!

Cheers, Tim
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Old 04-02-2017, 12:11 PM   #2  
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Re: Driving the Autobahn, not in my Thirdgen tho...

Thanks for posting!
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Old 04-02-2017, 07:28 PM   #3  
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Re: Driving the Autobahn, not in my Thirdgen tho...

Very interesting, thanks for posting.

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Old 04-06-2017, 10:46 PM   #4  
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Re: Driving the Autobahn, not in my Thirdgen tho...

i was stationed in Germany for 4 years. the autobahn is amazing. i hit 160 mph in my chevy cobalt ss supercharged. also went on the Nurburgring and Hockenhiem.
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Old 06-28-2017, 08:54 PM   #5  
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Car: 1989 Formula T-Top
Engine: 350 TPI - twins are here!
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Re: Driving the Autobahn, not in my Thirdgen tho...

We are probably going back for another visit next year but I don't know about driving on the ring. I would love to do it but the tube videos show a lot of amateurs almost losing it mixed with supercars racing around them and being a public road in a performance rental car seems to be a recipe for disaster. I'm torn about it.
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