Having a blast with BMW M in Incheon

By LEE PANG SENG | 4 January 2018

The BMW M Series used to garner appeal with only a niche section of buyers, but it has definitely seen a boom in the last five years.

It probably had to do with the fact that BMW is producing more M models to cater to the increase in worldwide demand. An excellent example is the M2 Coupé, which today fetches a higher price slightly used than a new one in Europe.

This is because BMW is not increasing the production volume of this model significantly despite the strong global demand. Those who don’t want to wait months or longer to get their cars would gladly pay a little more for a slightly used one.

The current M scenario was presented by BMW M GmbH sales and marketing vice-president Peter Quintus at the BMW Driving Centre in Incheon, South Korea.

BMW M4 (Incheon Korea - BMW M GmbH sales and marketing vice-president Peter Quintus) - 01
Quintus with the M4 Coupe

Since introducing BMW M Performance Automobiles - cars that are race track ready, in 2011, the ready uptake by customers was highly encouraging.

Sales grew from under 10,000 M Performance vehicles in 2012 to 30,356 cars in 2016, and this was in addition to the BMW M Automobile range that came with less powerful engines.

With both M models, the growth rate since 2011 showed an upward trend from 19,118 cars to 67,829 in 2016, with an annual sale surge of almost 39% in 2015 and more than 40% in 2012 and 2014.

BMW M GmbH sees 2016 as its best year after having recorded the highest number of M vehicles sold thus far. While it looks like sales might have reached a saturation point, Quintus says that M car sales during the first quarter still showed an upward trend.

Our visit to the BMW Driving Centre in South Korea was to experience the safe and dynamic quality of BMW M and M Performance cars when driven hard.

BMW M6 (Incheon Korea) - 01
An M6

For us, the four routines started with a slalom run before braking hard at the end of it to see how these M cars would come to a safe stop while taking avoiding action.

The more enjoyable ones were taking to the 2km circuit of varying corner tightness and camber in different BMW M cars to feel their dynamic behaviour under the respective settings during a timed mixed trial course.

Picking an X5 M for the first slalom-emergency stop routine, we were advised to exit the slalom course at 80kph before hitting the brakes hard until we came to a complete stop.

We were beginning to turn at the point of braking and if we went too fast, the vehicle would understeer off the artificially wet course, which we did on the first run. We were probably above 90kph when hitting the brakes and did better in subsequent runs to stop within the course by maintaining the recommended speed.

As expected, the X5 M took to the slalom course with little body roll and apart from knocking into a few cones on the first run, it was a well-behaved SUV (sport utility vehicle) when braking hard into a corner.

Our first foray on the 2km circuit was in the M2 Coupé; this car is powered by a 3.0-litre straight-six engine that punches out 370hp at 6,500rpm and 465Nm or torque between 1,400rpm and 5,560rpm.

BMW M2 (Incheon Korea) - 02
The M2s out for some hard driving.

It has a seven-speed double clutch transmission with Drivelogic and you could choose Normal, Sport or Sport Plus; the final option means traction control is switched off.

Performance-wise, the M2 Coupé would spirit you to 100kph in 4.3 seconds; fast enough to take your breath away! We were under convoy control with each of us (our group had three Malaysian and two Australian journalists) taking turns to follow the pace car over two laps.

The pace was anything but slow as each of us pushed the M2 Coupé with the different dynamic settings. By manually selecting the gears via the steering wheel paddles, the M2 Coupé revealed its track ready prowess taking to the respective corners with good grip and stability.

We preferred Sport and Sport Plus as the firmer suspension settings meant higher limits of driveability through the twisty sections. Lunch break was followed by another fast drive on the 2km circuit, this time in the BMW M3.

BMW M3 (Incheon Korea) - 01
The M3s

Our group instructor had pre-set two driving modes that we could choose from to gauge the car’s dynamic qualities. Soon after hitting the track we realised how refined the drive was compared to the earlier one in the M2 Coupé, which felt raw by comparison. The settings allowed us to feel the M3 in somewhat Normal mode and in a more dynamically efficient poise respectively.

It has the same engine as the M2 Coupé but is chipped to deliver more; 431hp from 5,500rpm to 7,300rpm and 550Nm from 1,850rpm to 5,500rpm. By being a heavier car, its 0-100kph sprint is not much quicker but still fast enough at 4.1 seconds for the seven-speed double clutch transmission model, which we drove.

The M3 handled the track’s twisty character with better aplomb; we felt less of the car’s physical force as we barrelled into each corner, downshifting and getting it pointed the right way to follow the pace car as best as we could.

We recalled our exhilarating drive with the M3 and M4 on the racing circuit in Faro, Portugal some three years ago, and enjoyed more of the same in South Korea.

BMW M6 (Incheon Korea) - 02
An M6

Our exuberance was clearly evident when we overtook another group of journalists driving the M2 Coupé, not once but twice, in a controlled manner on the single straight.

The final routine of a timed mixed course was to get the best of the M2 Coupé dynamically by steering it through at the quickest time possible. This section comprised of a slalom, a sharp turn, a mini-roundabout, a chicane and a short sweeper before finally coming to a complete stop within a boxed section.

We were advised to take the course in second gear but were free to choose the dynamic settings; Normal, Sport or Sport Plus. Fully aware of our hard charging style into a corner and losing the rear sometimes, we opted for mostly Sport and clocked consistently in 1 minute 21 seconds.

We found the corner after the slalom the hardest to deal with as we felt the turbo lag when flooring the accelerator to pick up speed. We tried downshifting to first on exiting the slalom but found too much power at hand forcing us wide at the corner.

BMW M2 (Incheon Korea) - 01

After the fifth attempt, we decided to select Sport Plus to see if we could get a faster time with traction control off but the approaching rain called for an earlier stop.

How did the others in my group fare? Both my Malaysian colleagues improved to 1 minute 20 seconds subsequently but the two Aussie journos were clearly quicker, often doing 1 minute 19 seconds.

The session proved that if adrenaline driving is your cup of tea, the BMW M Performance car range is definitely the way to go.

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