Two weekends ago, I got invited to a track day organised by Sapura Auto for BMW M owners, I don’t own a BMW but I work with people that do . See, this event was not open for media but our beloved official limited edition E46 M3 CSL got us invited for it, so I took our camera along.
We attended the M drivers training program and it began with a talk about what goes into M cars, how they’re built, and what’s so special about them. Apparently, all M cars are tested for 10,000km in Nurburgring before being approved for production.
The gentleman giving a talk about it certainly got me convinced that the E90 and E92 M3 are cars that every petrol head, gear head, machine head, or whatever it is they call their heads these days, should have. He ran us through the design and build process of the new M3 and even ran through the Nurburgring to explain how they used the legendary track to further hone the already very capable M3, impressive stuff.
With all that M3 wisdom fresh in our heads, we headed to the track with our new found knowledge and respect for the CSL. We headed out in groups of 5 with a lead car driven by a pro driver, our pro driver was no less than Ian Khong himself, one of the brains behind the successful Malaysian car park race series, Grass Roots Autosports (GRA). But it’s a pity all of that talent was leashed to a mediocre 525i thus keeping the CSL on a leash too as we were not allowed to overtake the lead car, but it was nevertheless a thrilling drive, we’re pretty sure Ian had fun in the 525i, not quite sure about the car though.
We pitted after about 5 laps, bringing an end to the CSL vs 525i drama but it was not the end of the track day. We were promptly ushered back into the pits for a different kind of ride, in my opinion, a more tamed ride; you got to agree that the E92 M3 has got no character like the E46 M3 CSL does, lets not even talk about the E90, but to be fair, we will keep the final judgment to when BMW releases the E92 CSL.
So we were taken for a ride in the E90 M3 first, piloting the car was another Khong, this time it was Ivan, I was in safe hands, not that I doubt anybody’s driving ability, I just like feeling safe, but it was not to last. The sedan M3 is the first in the country, and comes with BMW’s newest and technologically advanced M-DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission) 7-Speed Transmission.
With stability control, traction control, and every other traction retaining electronic gizmo off, the M3 can be a handful if the driver is not careful, but it also can be a fun car in the hands of a good driver and Ivan proved it. I always wondered why people never used M3s for drifting, besides the cost factor, we found, thanks to Ivan, that it is a very tail happy car when the electronics are down, it has all the power you need to summon the tail out, it’s well balanced to retain the slide, it handles like a dream but, unfamiliarity with the car makes it quite snappy when reeling the rear back in and it had me wishing I wasn’t seated in the back.
The V8 powered E90 felt very much at home on track and with a wide Formula 1 circuit like Sepang, you can really let the car loose. At the pit straight, the car was gunning for the 300km/h mark but the attempt was cut short when turn one seemed to be approaching at an alarming rate, secretly I hoped Ivan would drift through it, but sadly he chose the proper racing line.
The smell of burning rubber filled the air around the pits as we pitted but we weren’t the only ones contributing to the stink, the E92 which was ferrying other guests around had its own share of tyre burning moments and thats where we were heading right after a short break and small chat with a gorgeous lady who was ushering us around, no numbers were exchanged though, sadly. Now the E92 M3 (in case you haven’t already figured it out, the E90 is the saloon while the E92 is the coupe) has a totally different character compared to the E90, probably the fact that its a manual has something to do with it.
I was in the passenger seat and that gave me the chance to appreciate everything that goes into getting a E92 to insane speeds on a circuit, in other words, it’s more engaging and, fun. The pilot of the E92 was this mysterious guy called Eeric, he was in his helmet the entire time, I shook his hand and was chatting with him during the entire ride, coaxing him, taunting him, but that was it, I never met him after that, could have just been Schumacher for all I know, oh well.
If I got a chance to drive the car, I would have been able to tell you in depth abut how it handles and stuff, but thing is, I didn’t but Eeric did, and he seemed to be having the time of his life with the E92, by the time I got my turn, he was probably on his 30th lap around the circuit and judging from the excitement in his voice, he was totally loving it, simply brilliant. See the thing with the E92 is you have to do everything on your own, it has an electronic safe net if you mess things up but it can be torn down if you so wish and I think you should on a circuit like Sepang. Charging through the corners, powersliding through some while gunning for the apex through others, the M3 soaked it all up, delivering the best while operating at the peak of its abilities on a world class circuit certainly is something legends are made out of.
Jumping out of the E92 I headed to the Z4M coupe and 135i parked in the pits thinking I was going to get a ride in them like some of the other guys but I noticed everyone was walking away from me, away from the pits, heading for lunch, damn! And lunch folded our day at Sepang with the finest BMWs as company, I’m still sour about the Z4M and 135i though. However, Adam managed to hitch a ride with another pro-driver, Hisham in the 6-speed manual Z4M.
1. The Z4M as we all know is the base car that was chosen by PETRONAS SYNTIUM Team for Tokachi 24-Hours Endurance Race, a round in the popular 2007 Super Taikyu Endurance Series in Japan. Needless to say, the Z4M with its long bonnet, and engine positioned way back even behind the front wheel axle, effectively gives the car an almost 50:50 weight distribution. With its 6-cylinders 3.2 ltr S54 engine (same engine in the e46 M3) powering the small hatch, no wonder Fariqe, Hans-Joachim and Johannes did well throughout last year’s races. It was even gloriously leading the MME pack, even ahead of the Porsche RSRs before having to retire due to mechanical issues.
I personally had a blast in the Z4M! This M car is so neutral, so capable and so composed in the sweepers, and not short of power to sprint down the straights either. I dare to say it would easily keep up even with the famous Lotus Exige Mk 2 in its stock form. Super!
2. The revolutionary DCT (Dual Clutch Transmision) is as good as the DSG in Golf GTI. We all know that these twin clutch gearboxes are the most superior setup in roadcars technology to date! However, without getting to drive the DCT in the M3 sedan, the only difference that I noticed during the taxi ride is the artificial ‘jerk/surge’ they try to incorporate onto every shift, just like the ‘sensation’ u get in any traditional manual gearbox. This was PURPOSELY done since not every driver out there understand the true concept of sequential box, which is to get BETTER TIMING around a track, more than giving u the feel, the heel-toe exercise, the rev-matching, the blipping, the ‘control’, and the smile on your face when u get that PERFECT execution of shifts. That’s why some cars, come with sequential gears exclusively eg Enzo, Superleggera, Scuderia, Stradale, CLK DTM, M3 GTR and the CSL.
For daily driving, sequential gearbox offers the ease of an auto, but the efficiency of a manual, and that aspiring racer feel!! Apparently, they tune the software to ‘over-rev’ the next gear before engaging it, and once it engages, u’ll get that sudden ‘surge’ feeling, just like dumping the clutch. You might ask why. Well, because the engineers at the BMW M Division are concerned with the infamous lack of ‘feel’ between shifts, as aparent in the DSG.
3. The 4.0 litre V8 powerplant available in the new M3 (both sedan and coupe) is as good as ever, though I can’t help feeling that the latest 3series generation is a little too ‘grown-up’, both in styling and size. However, i believe these 3-series M cars got potential. The double-VANOS (double-VTEC equivalent) V8 roar with the stock exhaust when nearing the 8400rpm redline is a little muted, but still noticeable. Nothing an intake and titanium exhaust cannot solve.
To understand how much nicer the V8 is compared to the previous inline-6, just see it as a 4cylinders vs 6cylinders. The latter wud be more refined, smoother and less stressed on the limit. However, I still think the engine capacity is a bit too small for a V8 unit which makes it feel less industrious, and more mechanical than anything else.
4. All in all, the BMW ‘M’ division is slowly evolving, from inline configurations to ‘V’ engine setups, and from dog-leg manual box to sequential transmission. I won’t be surprised if the next generation M cars would come force-induced, away from the famous NA of the current M flagship! Whatever it is, we can see how the BMW ‘M’ camp is slowly getting more recognition in the ultimate motor sports race, the F1. This is testament to their technological capability and dedication towards providing the masses with usable daily ‘sports cars’ without sacrificing the safety, comfort, class and the whole purpose of the M series – to be the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’.