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May 28, 2013

A Date with M: BMW Driving Experience 2013

Photos by Ulysses Ang
Even if we were clothed in the most casual clothes imaginable (and the occasional Sketcher’s Shape-Ups), we felt like a million bucks when our ‘shuttle service’, a fleet of BMW 7 Series limousines arrived just to bring us to the Clark International Speedway. We certainly felt every bit like that British super spy, sans the Vodka-Martini and the suave accent. Nonetheless, with our good looks intact, we couldn’t wait for our date with M. And when we talk about ‘M’ here, we don’t mean a frumpy, grumpy middle-aged woman boss; what we’re referring to is the most sacred letter to any car enthusiast: the BMW M line.

As the fleet of 7 Series arrived at the circuit, a host of flags reading “BMW Driving Experience” fluttered about, and right below them, a spectacle of lustful metal worthy of a car nut’s wet dream: the BMW 1 M Coupe, M5, X5 M, and the Z4 sDrive35is. Despite the early call time, the mere sight of these cars jolted everyone awake. Of course, before getting behind the wheel in one of these performance machines (the least powerful one has 340 horsepower), it was time for some mandatory driver training. And even the teacher isn’t just any ordinary guy, it’s JP Tuason—the only Filipino BMW M-Certified Driver Trainer and only one of 160 BMW M-Certified Driver Trainers in the world. Though he’s a close friend of those in the motoring beat, JP did the training with utmost professionalism.

Since the BMW Driving Experience is specifically designed to benefit BMW owners and would-be owners, the training starts with the most basic of basics: the correct driving position. JP teaches how to find the most ergonomically correct driving position (hint: everything starts with the seat height) in order to operate the car in the most optimal manner. After that, JP moves to explain the basics of circuit driving such as tackling a braking point. Finally, JP puts the various driver aids such as, Dynamic Stability Control and Dynamic Brake Control, into a context which is much easier to grasp. With the unpredictability of the weather as well as the varying driving skill of the people present, JP reminded everyone to keep all the driving aids on (though BMW is one of the few makers that allow drivers to turn all such aids off).

As a warm-up to the actual driving, we were given the chance to drive the speedway, albeit in a virtual manner using Tuason Racing’s very own racing simulator. After a couple of laps, it was time to move on to two basic exercises: slalom and emergency braking/maneuvering done with “run-of-the-mill” 1 and 3 Series cars. Though they’re not as powerful as their BMW M counterparts, these cars carry their performance DNA—such as the perfect 50:50 weight distribution. Using the 320d, we tackled a tight slalom course. Almost immediately, JP’s lessons on the right driving position (most notably the correct steering wheel hand position) showed their importance. After getting grips with passing through cones, it was time for the next exercise: extreme braking and maneuvering using the 116i and 118d. It was important for us to get used to how the car responds to sudden steering inputs while slamming on the brakes since this will be used for the track exercise later on. And after several tries at varying speeds from 50 km/h all the way to 75 km/h—we gained the full confidence on how the driver aids work in a BMW and it was time for the main event: track time with the BMW M cars.

First up is the youngest member of the BMW M family: the 1 M Coupe. Though it doesn’t have the raw horsepower figures versus its big brothers, the 340-horsepower 1 M Coupe is all about unadulterated driving precision (though it can still obliterate the 100 km/h mark in just 4.9 seconds). With a motor-racing developed chassis and a power-to-weight ratio reduced to 4.4 kilograms per horsepower, the 1 M Coupe is the spiritual successor to the original 1988 BMW M3 where it combines the raw capabilities of a racecar with the agility, versatility, and seating position of a compact coupe. To highlight these capabilities, JP laid down a slalom course through the circuit’s most challenging corner: the first bend from the long straight going through the downhill corkscrew bend. We had to ‘shoot’ through a number of gates while stopping at a box at the end. To make matters worse, any cones knocked down entailed a five-second penalty. For those of us who couldn’t drive a manual transmission, BMW prepared the Z4 sDrive35is which had the same engine outputs as the 1 M Coupe. While most of us did the time in around 25-30 seconds (I did 25.8 seconds), the eventual winner, James Deakin, did it in just 24 seconds.

After doing the slalom contest, it was time to tackle the entire length of the circuit using the biggest weapons in BMW’s arsenal: the 560-horsepower M5 and the 555-horsepower X5 M. Though their exteriors are apples to oranges incomparable, these two powerhouses do share the same potent power plant: a high-revving 4.4-liter V8 with M TwinPower Turbo. With that, the M5 does 100 km/h in 4.4 seconds, 0-200 km/h in 13.0 seconds, and a top speed of 250 km/h (or 305 km/h with the M Driver’s Package). Meanwhile, the X5 M does 100 km/h in 4.7 seconds, 0-200 km/h in 16.4 seconds to a maximum speed of 250 km/h as well. Since their performance figures are very close, a single X5 M served as the meat in the M5 sandwich. The three cars bellowed through the Clark International Speedway at breakneck speeds (up to 270 km/h on the long straight with JP behind the wheel), filling the air with the snarling note (and exhaust backfire or two) of the V8s.

When it was my turn, I immediately raced towards the blue M5 and found myself completely at awe at the dual personality of this sports sedan. It was precise, yet roomy; performance-oriented yet luxurious—if there’s a genuine case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality out there, this new M5 would fit the bill perfectly. Let loose on the circuit, it was fast, precise, and stable. It’s by far one of the most engaging cars to drive bar none. Perhaps the only problem was the helmet, which was getting in the way of truly enjoying the engine’s soundtrack.

At the end of the day, our senses were ignited and as we departed from the Clark International Speedway, we found ourselves with a new appreciation for these unparalleled performance machines. Though we didn’t end up saving the world from a dictatorial madman hell bent on nuclear disaster, we discovered that pure aesthetics, full functionality, and uncompromising performance can come closely related. Indeed, in every BMW automobile, whether it be regular 1 or 3 Series or any of the BMW M performance automobiles, dynamics comes without the compromise and power without limits.

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