If there’s anything I learned from my recent trip to South Korea is to never assume. I assumed my trip would involve driving a soon-to-be-launched model from a Korean car maker, but GC Mah told me it was actually for BMW. Fine, so I thought I was going to drive a Bimmer on Korean roads and again I was proved wrong. It’s not just another BMW media drive; it’s the BMW M Experience 2017. Joy of joys!
It has been two years since the last BMW M Experience event was held in Sepang, and this year BMW Malaysia was very kind to remind us what the most powerful letter in the world truly means (that’s M, by the way) by flying a group of us to Incheon, South Korea, where the BMW Driving Centre is located.
BIMMER FANATICS’ DREAM PLAYGROUND
Opened in 2014, the BMW Driving Centre is just a stone’s throw away from Incheon International Airport. To the uninitiated, it may look like a huge showroom and a service centre, but it’s actually a Bimmer fanatic’s dream playground. It’s no Nürburgring but there’s plenty to do here – there’s a 2.6 km racing track, a multiple course, a dynamic course, a circular course, and an off-road course too.
Unfortunately we only have a few hours to experience M before we needed to catch our return flight, so without delay we were escorted to a row of M3s and M4s. Too stunned to make a quick decision between an Austin Yellow M3 or a Silverstone M4, I was left with a Black Sapphire M4 marked with number “13”. Not sure why no one picked the car in the first place… Anyhow, with a twin-turbo 3.0-litre straight-six putting out 431 hp and 550 Nm under its bonnet, who’s complaining?
LAPPING IT UP
The track may be half the size of Sepang, but it’s not half the fun. While it’s mostly flat with a slight elevation, the combination of sweeping and tight corners should keep regular track-goers entertained lap after lap after lap, or at least until the rubbers wear off.
Although there were plans to extend the main straight, we did see 190 km/h come up on the HUD before we had to brake hard into a tight, sweeping right kink. To be honest, that caught me off guard once when I was trying to close the gap with the pace car ahead, but the M4’s razor sharp steering and impeccable balance conveniently pointed the nose back into line with confidence.
You could individually configure the steering, throttle, dampers, transmission, DSC, and even the HUD to your heart’s content and save two of your favourite modes into the customisable M1 and M2 buttons on the steering wheel for quick access, but our cars were already configured to demonstrate how wieldy or deranged an M4 could be. Either way, with the direct steering and the Active M differential, the M4 handled the bends like a veteran pole dancer. That probably explains why I’m so damn enchanted with the car already, but at this point I’m really getting ahead of myself, because there are more M cars to drive!
GOING TO THE GYM
Meeting the M2 is like meeting that really cute chick you’ve been stalking (don’t judge me, I mean I’m sure you do this too… right?) for some time but never had the chance to speak with in person. And once you do meet her, you try so hard to play it cool, but the brain somehow forces you into a spastic giggle. The M2 is close to being four years old now, but its athletic appeal hasn’t waned one bit.
We took the straight-six coupe onto a purpose-built gymkhana course to sample three drive modes – Comfort, Sport, and Sport+. The trio’s preset makes things a whole lot less convoluted than my experience in the M4, but the latter would truly come in handy when you’ve bonded.
In Comfort mode the M2 is a very lively little tyke and a polite one at the same time, slithering its way through the entire gymkhana course in a clean and controlled manner. Want more attitude? Sport mode unleashes more fun and makes slalom more interesting, while Sport+ allows for some tail-wagging antics, particularly at the hairpin and the donut part of the course. And like speed dating, you’re promptly taken away to meet another candidate, just when you’re about to get to know the M2. Oh well…
Waiting for me in the dynamic course was the M6 GranCoupe, and nothing prepared me for this. With sprinklers constantly wetting the tarmac, there’s no way of keeping the tail in check. We had get past the slalom and hard braking course while turning, and the 560 hp and 680 Nm from the twin-turbo V8 proved to be quite a handful on slippery surfaces. But the message was clear: electronic aids may be able to assist you in hairy situations, but ultimately you shouldn’t rush when the roads are wet.
Before lunch, we were offered another go in the M2 for a few more laps around the track. Who in their right mind can say no to that? I knew I would love the M2 after sampling the F22 220i back in 2014, but I didn’t expect to be so bowled over this cheeky little monster merely after a few rounds in the gymkhana section. The M4 might be able to lap the track quicker, but the M2’s petite physique makes it much more manageable and less intimidating at the edge. If you can afford it, by all means go get it before it’s too late. Seriously. I mean it.
The drive was so immersive to the point where I completely forgot that I was actually having lunch. But BMW wasn’t done. They had dessert on standby, and off we went to a hall to the preview of the M4 CS – a more focused version of the already brutal M4. Unveiling the car was Mr Peter Quintus himself, Sales & Marketing VP of BMW M. You could sense his passion about the M brand, proudly elaborating on how far the brand has grown and expanded to include M Performance models such as the ballistic M550d xDrive to cater to those “less extreme” clientele.
SAY WHAT NOW?
If you didn’t notice, among the three M cars I drove at the BMW Driving Centre, the M2 left the fondest impression despite being the smallest and least powerful M car of the lot. While the brand continues to push the for advancements in power and efficiency, we can safely assume that the future is looking bright for M-thusiasts. But not entirely.
Unfortunately, compromises will have to be made. We were told that the future is bleak for the manual transmission because it can only handle so much torque. The cost of developing a brand new transmission is unjustifiable due to the low take-up rate. On the bright side, the M DCT gearbox responds much quicker than the manual, and it’s much less of a hassle if you’re stuck in traffic. If you ask me, I’m not so much bothered by it because all I can think of right now is, how do I get half a million Ringgit to buy this German M-asterpiece?