BMW M Track Experience 2019 – welcome to M Town07/26/2019
When you see three diagonal lines coloured blue, purple, and red next to the letter ‘M’, rest assured you’re in for an exciting time. Established in 1972 with just a handful of employees, BMW M GmbH was initially formed to facilitate the German carmaker’s motorsport programme.
The first project that resulted was the iconic Batmobile, also known as the 3.0 CSL, which dominated the European Touring Car Championship. Based on the E9 coupe, this approach of taking an ordinary BMW and injecting it with motorsport DNA would form the basis of the company’s operations.
However, the very first road car that wore the BMW M badge was the M1, which was a bespoke model not based on any existing model at the time. The first mid-engined BMW existed strictly for homologation purposes so the company could compete in race classes (initially FIA Group 5 but later Group 4), where regulations stipulated a certain number of road-going versions are required to be built.
Even though the project had its issues, BMW persevered, and the first units made their way to customers in 1979. While the distinctive wedge-shaped styling by Italian legend Giorgetto Giugiaro, Dallara-designed chassis and the fact that Andy Warhol made an Art Car are notable talking points, one of the more important aspects of the car its M88 3.5 litre inline-six engine.
The mill was adapted for use in the first M-badged 5 Series known as the M535i, which would eventually be known as the M5. Since then, the company has expanded its range of M cars, with the M635CSi (aka the M6), M3, M8, M4, 1M, and so on. At the heart of all these M cars is performance derived from motorsports, and that hasn’t changed in the company’s illustrious history.
The latest crop of BMW M cars continue this tradition, and to sample them, there’s the BMW M Track Experience, which is a motorsport experiential programme that allows participants to take a BMW M model to its limit under the supervision of experienced instructors.
Thankfully, the programme came to our part of the world, which saw BMW Malaysia convert the Sepang International Circuit to M Town, complete with a selection of “tour guides” like the latest M2 Competition, M4 and M5. Truthfully, who could say no to an opportunity like that?
The programme operates in a similar fashion to the BMW Driving Experience that is held yearly at the racing circuit, where a small group of drivers follow an instructor onto the track and are allowed to push to the car (and their talents) to the limits. As not everyone can be Bruno Spengler or Marco Wittmann, the instructors are there to ensure things don’t get out of hand for the safety of participants.
Our first stint was in the M2 Competition, which had a very playful nature right out of the gate. The combination of a S55 3.0 litre turbocharged straight-six with 405 hp, rear-wheel drive and a relatively short wheelbase packaged into a small body made for a very nimble car that is aggressive to change directions, and demands restraint when it comes to throttle application.
While balanced, several instances where this writer got on the power a little too eagerly did result in the car’s safety net kicking into action, which makes for a humbling reminder that power without control doesn’t mean squat.
After three laps in the entry-level M car (today), we swapped on over to the M4 to continue the M Town tour. With a more powerful version of the S55 and a longer wheelbase, the dynamics of the M4 are noticeably different to its pint-sized counterpart.
For one, it feels less spiky behind the wheel and is a little more forgiving in the corners, so even if your attention is waning from bipolar weather, it won’t feel out of hand. The engine has plenty of pull too, so you can put some distance from the M2 Competition on Sepang’s two long straights.
There’s no doubting the M4’s capabilities, but it just lacks the edge-of-your-seat excitement that the M2 Competition supplies. It’s a matter of preference this, but you can’t go wrong with either of these two cars.
Our final sampling of the day was in the M5, the new one with the fancy all-wheel-drive system. I called the model the quintessential sports sedan in a prior review, and this remains true yet again.
The biggest M car on track on the day, the M5 makes you forget it weighs nearly two tonnes thanks to its S63 4.4 litre twin-turbo V8 that efficiently sends its 592 hp through the M xDrive system. It isn’t effortless, but it’s close.
In corners, you have more confidence to get on the throttle earlier without having the traction control icon flashing at you, as the all-wheel drive system does most of the work to find traction. This allows you to slingshot out of corners with ease, which is remarkable given the size of the thing.
Compared to the M2 Competition and M4, the M5 does feel a little isolated on the inside, and some might say it dilutes the driving experience a tad bit. However, as an all-rounder that can be toned down once you’ve had your fun on track, after fiddling with the numerous system modes, it’s the one I’d want to take home.
As a means to sample BMW M cars, there’s nothing quite like the BMW M Track Experience. Not only do you get to try out different models, there’s also ample amount of seat time, which is kind of a luxury at any circuit.
There’s also a sense of mutual respect between the instructors and participants, as you (and your co-driver) are the only ones in the car, with only a radio as a means to communicate with the lead car, and it’s up to you to make the smart decisions and have a good time. If you want to try and chase the instructors, be warned that they will be well aware of your advances, and will simply make life tough for you. Don’t believe me? Come to M Town and find out.
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