ThunderFox profile picture ThunderFox 6 years ago

I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I still haven't found what I'm looking for - General

So, today was a really nice day for me, as I got a chance to participate in the BMW Driving Experience at Autódromo do Estoril.

It was but a week ago that an unassuming email arrived at my work inbox, saying that registration was open for whoever wanted to be included in a raffle, from where 30 lucky winners would be chosen to participate in this experience.
Back then I remember thinking to myself, “this may finally be my chance to try out the M2!”. And lucky me, I got a pass!

Fast forward to today, when after lunch I pick up my trusty ole Punto from the parking lot, and drive my way to Estoril. That familiar feeling when you’ve just been given a chance to enjoy what you like was all over the air, and I was certainly enjoying it. Parked my car right next to a bunch of boring daily commuters, find me an 1M (my BMW dream car) and an M3 E30 parked near it. Oh yeah, this day just keeps getting better!

I still haven't found what I'm looking for - General

As I arrive at the entrance, there’s a fancy light show with ambient music, directing people to the familiar sight that is the pit access tunnel. As I come out the other side I am greeted with a very nice view of a fancy expo. You can barely make out that you’re inside the pits, usually filled with dirty growling cars and their owners, eager to get their rubber on the track. But today the pits were classy. A counter houses the check-in facilities, there’s a small presentation room, a huge room with BMW collectibles, and a huge section dedicated to the BMW Motorrad division. On the next set of pits lies a whole room dedicated to the Mini Experience, where you can find the several Minis, some aftermarket parts being displayed, an M4 and an i8. Gorgeous!

As I check in, I’m told we will have a briefing, followed by a drag race, then a small “twist and go” experience in an X3, and finally, we get to experiment some [M]ean machines on the racetrack. Oh boy!
A really nice fellow gives us a brief, but thorough presentation on safety measures and how the cars behave, eventually says something like “you aren’t really braking until the ABS kicks in, you’re just slowing down…”. That made me cringe a bit, but okay, I get it that 99,9% of people there have probably not ever driven a car without ABS on the track. Fine with me!

I still haven't found what I'm looking for - General

So onto the first experience. We were given a pair of M235i cars to drag race. The instructor tells us to floor it as soon as he gives us the signal, and so I do. To my (probably bad-habit-derived) disappointment, the car takes a LOT of time to respond, and to launch, but the whole thing was fun nevertheless! Simple and easy fun!

Afterwards, we were handed out an X3, in groups of three people plus the instructor. This car was equipped with a rigid plastic shell on the rear tyres, so you could basically “drift”… Okay, let’s pretend I did not say that. You could make it powerslide very very easily. The exercise here was to test the stability control of the BMW X3. As stated by the instructor, “floor it till it hits 50km/h, then turn the steering wheel 90º to the left and let go of everything!”. And so we all did. When sitting in the back seat, this provided a scary experience, but sitting in the driver’s seat (and provided you had the resolve to let go of everything for 360 degrees… Some didn’t), the car would just spin around and straighten itself. It was loads of fun. I felt a bit sorry for the car though.

I still haven't found what I'm looking for - General

Finally, there was the on track experience. We had a first lap, fast driven by the instructor, then we switched places, took two extra laps driving ourselves, and a last one to cool down the car.

All in all, it was a really awesome experience, and I really want to thank both BMW and my company for making this possible. If you have the chance, please do try to go to one of these Experience Days, as you get to try out some fantastic machinery, and overall, have a really nice afternoon!

“but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…”

Okay, so I’m not really done yet, but I wanted to go into this from another perspective. Let’s go back a bit, to the part where we got to test the cars on track!

As we arrive at the pit lanes, the whole assembly of cars was missing. Another group was still driving them. As they start arriving, to my dismay, I see only M4 and M3. Not that I don’t like them, but I really really wanted to try the M2. As I’ve mentioned before, my BMW dream car is the 1M, and not being able to ever buy one since they’re rare as unicorns, I would really want to know if the M2 is the “next best thing”.

As the cars finish arriving at the pit lane, I see that the last few are actually M2s. OH YEAH! Then we got told that we get to choose the cars we ride in. As everybody else seemed so interested in the M3 and M4, I just made my way to a beautiful metallic blue M2 that was sitting there! Just as I would love to have it!

I still haven't found what I'm looking for - General

I get into the passenger seat, and the instructor says to me, “it’s nice you chose the M2. The other cars are more powerful, but this one is more balanced! I really love to drive it! It’s 370 horsepower.”

“How much does it weigh?” - I asked.

“Around 1600kg.”

That is a LOT of weight, but okay. We proceeded on track and the instructor did some fenomenal driving. I told him “I would not have the guts to do this with my own car… Nu-huh!”. After that, we got in the pit lane and I sit myself in the drivers’ seat. The ESP must be on at all times during these tests, but I asked him to put the gearbox in sequential so I could use the steering wheel paddles, and the driving mode in the sportiest setting. The exhaust growl on this thing was amazing from the get go!

But as soon as I got on track… That’s when it hit me.

The car is amazing to drive. It turns in really well, and the power delivery is linear and extraordinary. The brakes… A full blown wonder! But the car was practically driving itself. The stability control really holds the car back, you can floor it and still barely feel any traction loss. When it does, you feel like you’re losing the front first. The steering is not that communicative, and the brakes, they work awesome but you can barely tell if the ABS is doing it’s job, if the traction control is doing it’s job… You just point it where you want it. The car drives itself.

Then there’s the issue of the weight… The car may behave in an agile manner, with all the computers working to keep you from ruining this two-tonne beautiful monster truck. But you really can’t hide that the car is heavy. It is. It feels like it. It’s a massive thing to steer and you barely feel like it has 370bhp.

As we get to the end of the last lap, and into the pit lane, the instructor asks if I liked it.

“Yeah I loved it”, I said, “but I would not ever trade this for mine on track”
“What do you drive?”
“An MX5… Not stock though.”
“I see what you mean… It’s a lot lighter.”

And there I sealed forever more that strong urge to someday own an M2.

The car was. Completely. Amazing. Hands down, if you want to drive fast on track, this car will do it for you. But, to be fair, it’s not that fast. I asked on Facebook, moments before the experience “is it miata fast?”. It is. With all the aids it has, it’s probably a hell of a lot faster on track. But in terms of raw speed, probably just as fast as the MX5, at least in it’s previous turbo iteration with around 200bhp. It’s a lot of weight to carry around, this one, coupled with a very long gearbox.

And the real deal breaker for me here would be: The car is not visceral. It’s not raw. I don’t mind driving a slow car as long as I can feel a stiff brake pedal, a gearbox grinding the oil at high revs right next to my legs, a mechanical gearstick, and each small pebble on the track floor through my steering wheel. To me, that’s what driving is about. The M2 is a really technical and capable car, but does not deliver in this aspect.

As I arrived home I got to meet a couple of friends who loved track days, told them what I had thought, and one of them said: “In a few years, it won’t matter. The current generations will drive and love these cars, and will never know the raw feeling of driving an Escort MK1 with a Quaife gearbox through a bunch of tight corners”. Sadly, he’s right.

The M2 would still make the most awesome daily driver! <3