As far back as I can remember, I always wanted a BMW. I distinctly remember seeing a Boston Green 316i driving around the campus and telling myself I'd want one of those someday.
When I picked up an issue of Motor Trend in the school's periodical section, I ended up on an article about the E36 M3. The writers had nothing but praise for the car. Photos of the car powersliding through turns made the desire to drive one even stronger. The tagline, “The ultimate driving machine” has been burned into my memory ever since.
Over 20 years later, I found myself sitting behind the wheel of the latest cars from the M Division. Childhood dream accomplished, I say.
I woke up extra early that day, unable to contain my excitement. I merrily made my way to BMW AutoAllee to be chauffeured (yes, chauffeured) to Clark International Speedway for the M Driving Experience. The limousine of choice? It was none other than a 520d. After a relaxing ride on the highway, we were soon entering the gates of the track. We could already hear the turbocharged straight six engines singing around Clark. It was going to be a fun day for a BMW fanatic like me.
And there they were. Parked in front of me were the latest cars to come out of the M Division. In front of me lay an M135i, M235i, M3, M4 and an X5 M. After the initial briefing, ACC President, Maricar Parco, told us we'd be able to drive all of them for the event. This day just kept getting better and better. A safety briefing from the country's first BMW M Certified instructor, JP Tuason, set the anticipation high.
Before heading out to the track, we had a tech talk with BMW Group Asia's marketing head, Laurent Jaegle. He explained to us how the new M cars were made lighter than their predecessors and the history behind the M Division. After that, we were ready to ride with Tuason to show us what the latest M3 can do.
At first, I wondered why Tuason, driving the M3, was pointing in the opposite direction for the start of the demonstration. He soon set off backwards and whipped the M3 around for a reverse 180. We were soon blasting on the straight and into the first turn. Even from the passenger seat, one can feel the M3 corner as if it were on rails. With a pro behind a wheel, the car flew around the track with no fuss or drama and we reveled at the amount of mechanical grip the M3 had to offer. Tuason did reassure us that these cars won't bite when our turns come to do hot laps with them.
After being shown what the new M cars can do, it was our turn to drive. We weren't getting into the M3 and M4 just yet. We had to start out with the “baby” M's, the M135i and M235i. While they aren't full blown M cars, the 'junior M's' pack a lot of punch with sport-tuned suspension and 320 PS under the hood.
Our first drive was an autocross to see just how agile the M135i and M235i can be when the going gets twisty. We were given a total of four runs with the cars and from the start, we were able to experience just how much of a joy these were to drive.
Behind the wheel of the M235i, I darted left and right in quick succession and the car didn't even break a sweat. No snap oversteer or cone killing understeer, it was just gripping through the autocross with ease. What amazed me even more was the fact that I had left the car on Eco Pro mode, but I thought that it still felt sprightly off the line. Then again, with 320 PS, it should come as no surprise.
With the autocross finished, it was time to move on to, what I think, is the main event; hot laps with the latest M cars. I go straight to what my childhood dreams were made of, the M3. As I settled in, the saying, “never meet your heroes” popped up in my head. What if I'll be disappointed? What if the experience leaves me cold? We set off for our warm up lap with a sudden doubt in my head. At warm up speeds, it drove exactly like a humble 320d, albeit with a turbocharged straight six humming in the background.
When we crossed the the line to start our hot laps, my doubt soon turned to exhilaration. The M3 came alive, pushing me and Eric Tipan into the seat. We kept close to the pace car, another M4, and found myself having a lot of confidence in such a high-powered machine. I noticed that I had begun braking later, turning in faster and grinning wider as the laps flew by. The steering feel, the tremendous grip and the punchy acceleration left me with a huge smile on my face. The same sentiments were felt when I drove the M4 and X5 M with the latter seeming to defy physics being a heavy and tall vehicle.
I had met my childhood hero and it was amazing. If that wasn't enough, I rode shotgun with BMW driving ace, K.K Wong, for a practically sideways lap in the M4. It was finished off with a burnout and a couple of doughnuts on the main straight.
As I got down, I was reassured that BMW still stick to their “ultimate driving machine” mantra. The ultimate expression of that tagline was felt with the M cars we drove that day.
With people saying cars are becoming a little more bland to drive, BMW never let go of their principle of putting driving enjoyment first. It was an absolute joy to get the chance to drive the best Bavaria has to offer and this experience is something I'll be reminiscing for a very long time.