And Bayernhymne is sang by all patriotic Bavarians, cause it’s their state anthem. But for the guys behind these amazing BMW M cars, its a totally different chant. In a bid to experience that feel, Keegan Dorai heads to South Korea to sample some of the most finest BMWs at the groundbreaking Driving Centre in Incheon.
”One night seems a little too quick, but it was a bloody splendid one”
words by KEEGAN DORAI
And that’s just one out of the two exaspirations that are bound to happen. Whereby the second one being that we’re heading outbound to Seoul on a midnight flight. I couldn’t be bothered as me and the group are embarking on a journey to experience the most athletic models from BMW, or best known generally, the fire-breathing M cars.
Yes, the BMW M Experience of 2017 is taking place at the marque’s latest Driving Centre in Incheon. Not far away from the country’s main airport. The facility also includes a landmark visitor centre where they display an array of accessories, the latest models from Mini, Rolls-Royce and a couple of bespoke BMWs coated in special paint colours dubbed as Special Paint editions.
Costing over RM322million in total investment and spreading across 60 acres worth of land, the Driving Centre is primarily developed for customers and enthusiasts to experience a range of performance cars and bikes as well. However, you can drop by for a scheduled service if you’re a BMW owner residing in South Korea. And of course, you can even experience the academy, dine in at the restaurant or cafe on site, and check out other in-house exhibits as well.
Hell yes, the very first model scheduled for all of us in order to kickstart our M Experience right after our briefing round. This time, it’s all about engagement, and our testbed included in the program for this is the full 2.6km circuit situated just right beside the facility. But for the first two laps, familiarising with the track and car is rather imperative in this case.
While doing so, i’ve decided to leave it in Comfort mode just for the sake of it. And good lord above it glides effortlessly with comfort, really. It’s no surprise that the M4 might just get you into thinking that you’re piloting a regular 428i M-Sport. It was remarkably an offhand experience at the wheel.
But as pace picked up later on with the instructor leading us in a M3 in front, it was time to push the M1 button. Essentially one of the two customisable modes — the other being M2 — that stores your tailored driving fashion. However, both mechanisms have been optimised by the guys at the centre to gain us a straight-up feel at the wheel.
Upon activating it, the steering response becomes sharper, and the exhaust does muster a noticeable higher pitch. It's literally like poking the bear with a stick in this paradox, waking the M4 up by subliminally telling its time to get up and hunt for winter’s provisions. For all that I know off, it became quite a hoot to drive as it powers through corners more dynamically with you in search for a memorable tango session.
Outcome? The M4 simply steers with lots of feel, and also accelerates off briskly after completing a fast through in an apex. You can literally feel the feedback from the dampers minimising flex in exchange for grip, and the differential doing its wizardry to keep all progress going even more gracefully.
But how about the more hardcore M2 mode? Well you’ll soon realise that traction control is completely off, and this is where you’ll start doing all the naughty stuffs. Now with a more sharper steering feel, it was bliss as the system tapers excessive electronic aid to your driving. Not for the faint of heart as the M4 could get a wee bit too tail happy — but nope — I am not complaining.
BMW X5 M
The section where the surface is constantly awash, I was directed to a BMW X5 M all before the fanfare started. Interestingly, the chaps from the facility did include two M6s for this sequel, one being a four-door Gran Coupe and another with two doors less. And coming to think of it, the xDrive present inside this monstrous 567bhp and 750Nm piece of magnificence would be a great help.
Indeed it was true as I watched them humorously slither about after flooring from a standstill start, and glissading while tackling the slalom bit and braking. While doing so with the X5 M during my turn, it was still challenging — but the xDrive did the job very well at the end — balancing both necessary power delivery and minimising slippage at vital parts of the dynamic course.
Does it behave like any M vehicle? Well not really but the X5 M does certainly feels like a hippo doing the ballet without breaking a sweat. I mean, its still a sizeable and quite hefty performance SUV so don’t expect it to outrun any of its smaller siblings in the lineup. But no matter how cutting-edge your car is in this case, don’t ever break the sound barrier when the roads are soggy.
(Gymkhana And Track Course)
Jumping out of the M4 and X5 M, it was time to take on the gymkhana and track course with the BMW M2. Being the most sought after specimen to date offered by the M-division, where some do even say that it’s practically the modern day incarnation of the E36 M3. I am expecting no less than superb on this snippet; just hoping that it wont end up like how normally people go on banging about how great Penang food is but in essence it isn’t.
Involving a series of slaloms, one main circle power through and a fast narrow curve before a complete stop, the instructors did said it will be rather challenging. I’d say it’ll be challenging with a M6, or the M4 due to their sheer bulk and power delivery. And that proved me right after completing my first go.
If agility is what you’re looking for with a sweet spot in power delivery, the M2 simply scores a masters in that assessment. With traction control on, you can feel it’s trying all the very best to keep itself in line without getting the tail out. So does it feel like you’re going on rails? I don’t think so — it acts like a Staffordshire Bull Terrier in peppiness — pouncing its way through the course with great poise.
Best of all, the steering wheel simply inclines to the direction you’re turning at, despite being an electronically-assisted unit. The response is instantaneously rapid with genuine feel in feedback. Could this be the best EPS ever made gifted to human civilisation? I certainly think so.
Out on the track, we we’re given four laps in total with the M2. And as usual, we began our escapade by piloting the M2 in the most median way, just like how you’d commute from home to work on a busy highway filled with lunatics and right-lane hoggers doing 50km/h.
Yes, it was nice and cosseting. It was so ‘normal’ that I could just have a cup of coffee without the lid on. That’s the same feeling you’d get by driving your typical run-of-the-mill saloon without any gusto or enthusiasm on an A to B drive. A lap later, the instructors leading us radioed over by saying we’ve had it; let’s bring out the inner devil named Sport and be merry.
The M2 is very basic when it comes to technological tour de force. It lacks most of the electronic compensations you can find in the M4, where you can basically turn the aforementioned into a commodity of your liking to emulate what you really desire for. What the M2 comes with is just the same mode selector button you can find in any ordinary BMW, and the modes available at your disposal are Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus.
In Sport, there’s a considerable difference in overall response. Traction control is still on watch but with the mappings altered, changes in agility is definitely noticeable while pacing around the track. But how about Sport Plus? Oh deary me.
By just a push of a button, it went from amusingly fun to magnificently cracking. Now with less interference, getting its tail out while going through a corner becomes a rather easy affair, but the cooperativeness of holding while at it — with verve — was terrific. Coupled with an ultra-responsive steering with spot on tactility, and a sweet torque flow, the M2 is so delightful that you can even rhyme along with it as quickly on a straight-line, and at corners, too.
In this case, the M2 did teach me a very good lesson. Anyone can be a fast bloke at the wheel by driving a gazillion-horsepower automobile on a straight course. But what matters the most in the end is a superlative machine that keeps your skills in check without breaking your limit barrier. This is what I call absolute engagement. It’s a true drivers car.
Could this be the best car I’ve ever driven in my career? It definitely is. Given if I woke up one day and someone has accidentally wired half a million Ringgits into my account, I would jump out of bed, head down straight to a BMW showroom in my pyjamas without any hesitation, pester them to bring one in and leave out all the rest.
BMW Driving Centre