A rather interesting event invite came in recently, one that promised not only drive time on the Sepang International Circuit, but the chance to pilot the cars from BMW’s famed M division on the F1 track.
But the main course was the M cars. BMW M Track Experience Asia 2012, as the event was called, served up a delectable spread of Munich registered left-hand drive M cars, from the compact 1M Coupe to the hulk called X6 M.
BMW also previewed the hot M6 Coupe, but alas it was on a “can see, cannot touch” basis. From what we understand, BMW didn’t launch the M6 together with the 1M Coupe that day because the entire 6-Series range had not been rolled out yet at that point – there must be a cake for the sweet cherry to sit on! The range is now complete with the recent introduction of the four-door 6-Series Gran Coupe.
Back to the track, there wasn’t enough time to try everything, so I opted for the cars in the middle, the E92 M3 Coupe and the F10 M5, starting with the big saloon. This is the fifth generation model to wear the famous M5 badge, and M has packed in more firepower than ever before.
The V8 may be 600 cc and two cylinders down over the V10 powered E60 M5, but two twin-scroll turbos more than compensate, figures wise. There’s 560 hp and 680 Nm of torque on offer, channeled to the rear wheels via a seven-speed M DCT twin-clutch gearbox. 0-100 km/h takes just 4.3 seconds in this big bruiser.
A problem with track events is that everything is on a tight schedule (SIC track rental is very costly) and there are more drivers than cars. This means that there’s little time to sit in, get comfortable and acclimatise. And you don’t want to “waste” too much valuable track time puttering around to get comfy, because that will mean less time for the serious stuff that you can’t do on the road.
Before I knew it, we were already into the S bend of turns 1 and 2, powering out into a long right bend. The M5 is mighty fast, but deceptively so. That kind of acceleration is normally linked to a screaming, loud soundtrack, which leaves you in no doubt about the speeds you’re doing. It’s not quiet here, but it’s relatively civilised in the M5, so don’t forget the speedo!
I can’t tell you that this is the best car on earth, and that I drove the wheels off it and emerged a champ, because that’s not what happened. Perhaps it’s the great power at disposal, or my lack of finesse, or a combination of both, but I spend most of the time “fighting” the car, struggling to drive cleanly. I mostly know the lines that I should follow and the apexes that I should clip, but wasn’t hitting the mark, literally.
Personally, I’ve always believed that there’s such thing as too much power, and there’s little point if you can’t make the most out of it. The few laps in the M5 reinforced that believe. A mega sideways moment through turns 7 and 8 that I survived brought out some giggles and a sigh of relieve. It should be just the former. Driving down the pitlane, I’m just happy to bring the beast home without any bite marks.
My M experience wasn’t going exactly to plan, but then came the M3 Coupe. It’s more my kind of car in more ways than one. Just the right size, muscular yet subtle looks and a cozier, simpler driving environment were positives, and we haven’t even started the lap yet.
It didn’t take long for me to smile again. That naturally aspirated 4.0 litre V8 in the M3 is simply amazing. It revs beautifully and emits a snarly noise which gives a raw motorsports feel, making you want to take the 420 hp V8 past 8,000 rpm again and again via the shift paddles. It’s not just an initial mega kick in the back, but the whole rev range can be savoured like a journey. Addictive, I tell you.
I also really enjoyed the M3’s dynamics. It feels more “alive” and agile than the M5, and is a sharper tool for tackling corners, instead of bludgeoning them into submission. There’s more sensation in everything, which of course helps. And then there’s the M Dynamic Mode, which gives you happy moments by allowing the tail to slip before reigning the car in again.
The same mode is also available in the M5, but while I was apprehensive in the F10, I embraced MDM in the M3 and wouldn’t have it any other way. Even when sliding, I felt more in control as opposed to just being a passenger. Slower, but more feel and more fun compared to the M5. I’ll be sad to see it go, the E92 M3, especially if it takes that NA V8 along.
Nothing like a track day to bring out the best in the beast. If you’re lucky enough to own an M car, remember to give it occasional exercise at the playground. It’s good for both car and driver :)