BMW M track day: Burn rubber and go sideways

By JAY WONG | 3 February 2016

The roar, crackle and pop of BMW M (Motorsport) engines, along with the screeching of tyres, could be heard in the far distance at the Sepang International Circuit (SIC) one early morning as members of the media began to gather.

These M cars are not mere ordinary run-off-the-mill BMW production vehicles.

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They’ve been marinated in performance, stuffed with technological goodies and finally glazed with motorsport-like features before being served.

The line-up straight out of Munich, Germany, comprised of left-hand drive beauties such as the BMW M5, M3, X5 M and the X6 M among others, which have been readied for a scintillating three-lap experience each.

During our stint in each car, Sport+ mode was selected for the engine, transmission and suspension, which basically allows the vehicle to unleash all its fury when out on the track.

Helming such venerable vehicles will require some knowledge as to what lies beneath their sheet metal and what’s even more important is to approach these BMW thoroughbreds without arrogance, because a generous slice of “humble-pie” could be waiting.

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The M-badge means serious business, and novice drivers should take heed, but for track-goers who are skilled in the ways of hard-braking, paddle-shifting and line-cutting (to name a few) will find such a vehicle more than a bundle of joy to own.

Just like a horse and its rider, these M vehicles may take some getting used to, especially when drivers are usually accustomed to gentle trots around town with a comfort-oriented suspension.

Although these “M” vehicles were bred for some hard core track action, there’s still a gentle side to them that’s capable of providing a decent dose of comfort for everyday use and they even have the ability to be putty in anyone’s hands.

But punch the throttle down and that’s when their true nature emerges with a blink of an eye.

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At the start of the hazy morning, our first dose of “M-Power” came from the M5 (F10) - an elegant 1,945kg (kerb) piece of machinery that has a high-revving 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 (S63B44Tu) mated to a seven-speed dual clutch transmission (DCT).

With 553bhp from 6,000 to 7,000rpm and 680Nm of torque from a lowly 1,500 to 5,750rpm, being in Sport+ mode made the accelerator pedal super sensitive and that meant a slight tap made it think “full-throttle please”.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that we “spat” ourselves out of the pit lane with copious amounts of torque that made it feel nimble when being thrown around the bends, but due to its heft and being rear-wheel drive, the way its weight transfers under braking and shifting from corner to corner was hard to mask.

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While getting the engine revved past 7,000rpm, the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission mated to its mighty V8 was undoubtedly quick on changes and it was also very abrupt (much like a powerful forward surge) when shifting-up around the engine’s red-line.

Also evident was how the car seemed wanting to understeer its way around the track, although it didn’t happen, but yet there was a gnawing sensation in the back of the mind.

It could be attributed to the tyres’ grip levels fading out – or rather faded, since the car has already been out on a few prior stints, which may have allowed a certain nervousness about the car to rear its ugly head.

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The brakes were more than effective in bleeding speed especially when braking late into corners and its performance never seemed to waiver and ready to take on more abuse.

The next order of the day would be the M3 (F80), and although it’s visually larger than its predecessor, it is actually lighter, stiffer and more importantly more powerful than before.

With a high-revving 3.0-litre twin-turbo inline-six (S55B30T0) engine – a performance derivative of BMW’s current family of N55 engines, the M3 felt smooth, flat, and precise without much drama (not unless you want it to) around the track.

As usual, the tyres seemed worn and almost spent and give it a slightly twitchy rear-end, but it came as a minor inconvenience when it came time to put down all its 425hp and 550Nm onto the track’s surface.

It’s an easier car to deal with in comparison to the M5 - managing to keep a better on-track poise as temperatures began to rapidly rise during the mid-day.

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Even with the tyres lacking optimal grip, the M3 kept confidence levels up, unlike its larger M5 stablemate and there was even the absence of that nervousness initially found in the M5.

Finally, into BMW M’s larger performance Sport Activity Vehicles (SAV) to end the day, which were the X5 M (F85) and X6 M (F86) that came with a M-tuned xDrive all-wheel-drive system that provided plenty of traction - even on piping-hot tyres.

Both feature a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 engine mated to an eight-speed steptronic gearbox (instead of the M5’s seven-speed DCT) under their respective hoods and punches out 567hp from 6,000 to 6,500rpm and 750Nm of torque from 2,200 to 5,000rpm upon request.

While both SAVs weighed in past the 2,000kg-mark, pitch and roll for both were extremely well controlled at the front end, but it was the X6 M that displayed better rear-end stability when going past its limits.

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The X6 M would gradually lose its rear-end and allow for corrective measures to be calmly taken, but the X5 M felt as though it teetered between traction and a possible spin out that put much of the senses on high alert.

Although the Steptronic gearbox in both SAVs coped well under duress, a DCT it’ll never be with shift times still left wanting, and it still managed to provide an engaging experience for the day.

With the two SAVs coming in over 2-tonnes, it was necessary for the brakes to be applied a little earlier, but there’s no question about their durability and performance, which saw no lack of bite throughout the punishing day.

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At the end of it all, any BMW vehicle that’s gone through the German carmaker’s M division will undoubtedly command respect and admiration for the level of performance that’s been dialled into them.

Not to mention the performance pedigree that comes along with such cars, which will enable them to hold their own against almost anything on the road or track.