Road Test - BMW 320i
Zain Bulbulia has always had a passion for sports cars. Before he was shot he ran a business importing and selling exotic cars and he owned a Lamborghini and a Mitsubishi twin turbo GTO. He was just getting into the world of motor racing when his world was turned upside down. He had been a competitive sportsman playing provincial cricket and competitive squash. But with a twist of fate he stepped in to try to stop an argument between two people that he did not even know. Both he and his brother were shot. His brother died instantly and Zain suffered a spinal injury. This was the start of his ‘new life’ approximately 17 years ago. While lying in hospital his beautiful cars were repossessed as he could not pay his instalments due to not being able to work during his rehabilitation.
It was about a year after he had been shot that a paraplegic friend lent him an adapted car to drive. That was the turning point for Zain when he realised that his love for driving did not have to end. His sister gave him her old Mercedes and this was the start of regaining his independence, it was his key to getting back to being employed and he quickly discovered his talents for writing policies for the corporate world.
In the space of 17 years, Zain’s twist of fate took him from wheeling and dealing in 2nd exotic cars to Acting Head of Special Programs in the Office of the Premier of Gauteng. He has the privilege of developing policies that will assist vulnerable groups in our populations, including youth, disability, military veterans and older persons.
Zain drives a variety of vehicles for his work, and he is able to adapt to almost any car (as long as it has enough space for him.) At 6 foot 4 he has legs that demand their share of space in the car. His current BMW 320i has room to spare for his legs. The Sport Seat (which is an optional purchase) moves right back and with an 8 way adjustable electric seat he is able to change the seat angle which gives him a stable position for driving and also helps to accommodate some of the length of his legs. It has an electric backrest width adjustment for optimum lateral support which is a wonderful feature for people with limited trunk control and balance. Seat length, seat height, backrest angle and seat angle as well as thigh support are manually adjustable. An electrically adjustable Lumbar support for driver and front passenger seat, provides an ergonomically perfect seat position and good stability. A memory function for driver’s seat and exterior mirrors is available to make it easy to set up different positions for transferring and driving. Armrests and heated seats on the front seats are optional. By resting the elbow of the arm controlling the hand control, it these reduces fatigue in the shoulder.
The heated seats make a significant different to the blood circulation of anyone with paralysis, on a cold winter’s morning.
The height of the driver’s seat is lower than his wheelchair, ranging from 49 – 52 cms from the ground, so he uses a transfer board to get out of the vehicle.
Zain makes use of the VS Hydraulic hand control which he finds very responsive and comfortable to drive with. His car is just as sensitive to his mood and driving style, thanks to the Driving Experience Control. His choice between EcoPro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ allows him to change the mood of the car at the flick of a switch. When driving with passengers he gives them a relaxed, gentle and reassuring drive, but the moment he is alone he flips it into the Sports+ mode and with its sporty suspension, tiptronic controls and direct steering. He loves the athleticism of the car and how it instantly comes alive. The 8 speed automatic transmission provides close spacing of gear ratios enabling maximum use of the optimum rev range, which significantly lowers fuel consumption and enhances shift comfort. In the new BMW 3 Series Sedan, it is combined with an Auto Start/Stop function which automatically shuts down the engine to reduce fuel consumption and emissions during brief stops, for example at a red light.
BMW pride themselves in the innovative technology that they have developed in order to keep their vehicles safe, comfortable and efficient. Much of this technology has even greater benefit for drivers with disabilities. Hands Free Communication systems and Cruise Controls are essential for driving with hand controls. The Park Distance Control reduces the amount of neck and trunk rotation required when parking as it warns the driver with an acoustic signal when they get too close to an obstacle while parking. The Runflat tyres feature reinforced side walls allowing them to maintain their shape and rim position even after loss of pressure. This means that you can safely reach the nearest garage instead of having to put yourself at risk trying to change a wheel on the roadside.
Being a sedan the only part of the BMW 320i that does not fit Zain perfectly is the size of the boot. The frame of his rigid frame wheelchair fits without the wheels and there is not much space left for anything else.
There is no skimping when it comes to the safety features on the BMW range. With Dynamic Stability Control, Dynamic Traction Control and Active Protection all working together, all the safety components complement each other perfectly. Six airbags offer specific protection, while crash-active headrests at the front reduce the risk of whiplash injuries. In a critical situation, Active Protection additionally tightens the front seatbelts and automatically closes open windows and the optional sunroof. Post-Crash iBrake is able to stop the vehicle automatically after a collision, thus mitigating or preventing follow-on collisions.
His BMW 320i have been a reliable and trusty friend for a number of years and it makes a great vehicle for a driver with a disability, but as Zain climbs higher in the political world in the Gauteng Premier’s Office, his love for exotic cars has not dwindled and his dream of owning a Porsche again one day is slowly inching closer!