Our resident track test ace spent a day at Aldo Scribante with a battalion of M badged machinery, from the most affordable M140i to the most expensive M760Li xDrive. The star attraction, however, was the limited-edition M4 DTM.
There’s nothing like a good old track day to send a motoring journalist's anticipation levels through the roof. BMW South Africa asked if we would like to drive 1 of the 12 BMW M4 DTMs allocated to the local market. The DTM is a bit like a GTS just with a slightly different paint scheme and a different front and rear wing. Obviously, it’s difficult to turn down an offer like that, especially when BMW said the drive would be at Aldo Scribante in Port Elizabeth. It’s a great little track with loads of challenging corners and a long front straight to stretch the legs on the M4 DTM...
The limited-edition M4 DTM (front right), might be the rarest of the ensemble, but the M760Li next to it, has much more fire power.
However, when we arrived at the track we discovered not just the M4 DTM, but a delicious ensemble of M-badged machinery, some with pure M-DNA and others with cross-breed blood in their pipes. The range on offer comprised M140i, M240i, M3 Competition Pack, M4 Coupe, M760Li and M4 DTM. But which one should you drive first?
Getting the eye in
Having only been around Aldo Scribante in a less powerful Opel Adam S, it was difficult to judge how fast the corners could be taken – most were flat out/close to it in the spiky-haired Adam S. Here, today I would have twice, 3 times and (in the M760Li’s case) 4 times the power to deal with.
A peak output of 250 kW is plenty in anyone's book; the M-fettled 140i is entertaining, but its brakes are not well suited to track use.
I headed straight to the 40i badges. The 1 and 2 Series should be good starters before chomping into the main course of Ms. Having 250 kW makes a huge difference on track compared with the 110 kW of the Adam S. Corners that were taken flat out before needed brakes and those that needed brakes before needed bigger brakes. A whole mindset shift was needed, I stepped back after just 1 lap of attacking corners to a strategy of easing my way into things. Make no mistake, the M140i and M240i have a "handle with care" attitude about them, even if they are not full-blown M models.
Moving on up
At the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb earlier in May, I was pipped in my class to victory by an M3 Competition Pack. Naturally, I was keen to see what the car was like since it has more power, more torque and less weight than the F-Type 400 I drove up the hill. Mad is the answer, bonkers in fact.
The M3 Competition Pack
How the driver of that (Robert Gearing) survived 12 runs up the hill and lived to tell the tale is a modern day miracle. The M3 Competition Pack constantly breaks traction, every gear change provokes the rear tyres to attempt an escape from the axle altogether. It’s lairy, I think I would even prefer poking a bear with a very short stick as opposed to trying to drive quickly in that M3 Competition Pack. It's a handful, to say the least.
Why does it exist?
I have no idea why a BMW 7 Series needs a 448 kW V12 engine, but I'm helluva glad it does. It’s not even about the numbers dispensed by the engine, it’s the rate of acceleration that blows your mind. Of all the cars I drove at Scribante, it was the 760Li xDrive that boggled my mind. Flatten your foot coming on to the long main straight and the digital speedo can’t keep up, it seemed to refresh every 30 kph as it climbed beyond 200 kph.
The in-gear acceleration of the M760Li is, in a word, ferocious
Yes, that's correct, the big daddy Bimmer achieves a velocity of 200 kph-plus before it reaches the temporary chicane three-quarters of the way down Scribante's straight. It's insanely quick in a straight line but laughably hopeless in the corners: it’s a big car, really big in the long wheelbase format (as the Li denotes). A track is no place for this car, because it leans in the bends, its tyres groaning in protest over the amount of lateral load being shoved upon them. The Autobahn, that’s what this was made for, to keep up with Bentleys and S-Classes wafting serenely along at 250 kph.
Time for the M4 DTM. I’ve driven the even more track-oriented M4 GTS, with its adjustable rear wing and front splitter. I only had a chance to drive it on the road though, where it was less than the most suitable piece of equipment. On a track, it’s surely a whole different machine, right?
Sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres and a rear spoiler keeps the M4 DTM's rear end well planted, up to a point...
Perhaps its derivative, the M4 DTM, would be able to tell me, but I was a little nervous, especially after the M3 Competition Pack had palpably tried to "murder" me an hour before. Tyres and downforce make all the difference: the DTM has sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres and the rear wing helps settle its rear end. The fancy adjustable suspension had undoubtedly been set up for the track, but it improved the whole experience vastly.
I found immediate confidence in the M4 DTM's rear end; there was a definite predictability in the way the back would step out. It’s a more controllable package... something that, as a driving aficionado, you can progressively ask more of as you get to know the car. Even the steering somehow feels more communicative, possibly because you’re not wary that you may have to catch some snap oversteer, as was the case with M3 Competition Package.
The M4 DTM is, like the GTS, a great track car... but is it the best M4 of the lot? Read on...
The titanium exhaust emits a more natural sound too, it's best described as a heavy rasp as it howls along towards the limiter before the M-DCT transmission whips another gear into action. This newcomer is a really, really good track car and what it does is make me think that the upcoming M4 CS may just be the ultimate all-rounder: a perfect blend of M4 DTM and M4 Competition Pack. With the M4 CS, you get the grippy tyres and copious downforce from a GTS/DTM, but you get the slightly softer ride and rear seats from the Competition Pack, now that’s the ideal recipe, if you ask me.