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The BMW Driving Challenge 2023 was an experience of epic proportions

A fitting event to sample the Ultimate Driving Machine

The BMW Driving Challenge 2023 gave the author the chance to fully experience the automaker's cars on the limit. PHOTO BY MANSKEE NASCIMENTO

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the biggest BMW fan out there, but I have always respected the brand. I grew up knowing the classic tagline “Ultimate Driving Machine” (yes, I just carbon-dated myself) and seeing its cars in old James Bond films.

In recent years, I have experienced the German marque’s newest cars, including its battery-electric vehicles that have left me a very good impression in terms of luxurious feel, driving dynamics, and technology. There was one curiosity that needed to be satisfied, though: What’s it like to drive its M performance cars flat out?

The answer came in the form of a trip in Thailand, dubbed the “BMW Driving Challenge 2023.” The venue for this whole-day affair was the Chang International Circuit in Buriram. The cars on the menu included the X4 M xDrive, the new M2, the M340i xDrive, the 330e M Sport plug-in hybrid, and the fully electric iX xDrive40.

No track-day experience is complete without getting to know your colleagues. PHOTOS BY MANSKEE NASCIMENTO

Arriving at the track on a perfectly sunny morning, I immediately felt the event radiating with energy as our BMW hosts presented the array of cars in the pit area. Participants included a few media guests mixed with customers from around the ASEAN region. I appreciated the fact that we were a small, manageable group, which meant we’d have more time to enjoy the cars.

Of course, the day started off with a short safety brief and driving theory course by our BMW instructors, followed by grouping assignments. The morning activities included a drift/oversteer exercise on a wet surface, an autocross run, and a racing line tutorial on the circuit.

The afternoon was broken down into a dirt gymkhana segment and guided hot laps on the track. My car partner for the whole day was Malcolm, a doctor from Singapore who is a proud owner of an F87 M2 set on upgrading to the new model.

The first exercise showed just how well modern safety systems prevent you from ending up on the wall. PHOTOS BY MANSKEE NASCIMENTO

We began with the 330e M Sport plug-in hybrid on the drift course set up nearby with a fire truck constantly keeping the hot asphalt wet. The whole point of this exercise was to appreciate BMW’s Dynamic Stability Control that maintained the vehicle’s composure even under slippery conditions.

The fun part was turning off the DSC and letting the car spin without doing any steering corrections, followed by short drifting runs applying the right steering inputs. For the last few runs, we were instructed to turn on the DSC to see how it all worked to keep the driver easily in control even when hitting a slippery turn at full throttle. Definitely something that gives peace of mind when tossing your car keys at your teenage daughter who just got her driver’s license.

The gymkhana exercise demonstrated just how nimble BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive system can be. PHOTOS BY MANSKEE NASCIMENTO

The next activity was the autocross challenge with the more powerful (378hp) all-wheel-drive M340i xDrive. After a few dry runs, the M340i showcased not only its more than ample power, but its superb handling and braking performance. Malcolm and I agreed that Sport Plus was the best driving mode to tackle the course.

Not being new to autocross driving, this challenge definitely got me quite excited as it involved finding that balance of utilizing the power on tap, and employing launch control while performing precise driving and braking techniques to get the best possible time. It was simply fun. I clocked a time that made our instructor give the thumbs-up.

When was the last time you saw someone take an electric SUV off-roading? PHOTOS BY MANSKEE NASCIMENTO

An interesting aspect during the afternoon leg was the off-road gymkhana with the all-electric iX xDrive40 SUV. If you own one, you probably would not drive it hard on rough terrain like we did, but we got the point. Instant torque with 326hp on tap, four-wheel steering, all-wheel drive, and a low center of gravity (thanks to the EV battery in the car’s floor) made it a hoot to plow through dirt and tight turns.

The highlight of the day was doing a guided track run with the M2 and the X4 M. PHOTOS BY MANSKEE NASCIMENTO

Without a doubt, the day’s highlight was on the track. After figuring out Chang’s lines by dividing the course into two sections, the afternoon was filled with exploiting more of the limits of each car (especially the M2 and the X4 M) while still being guided by an instructor as we gained more confidence with every run. It was crucial to always follow track rules as a major violation could result in a penalty of 200,000 baht (roughly P325,000).

I was up to pilot the new M2 to follow the lead M car, which was a 473hp M4 coupe, for full lap runs. To match the exercise, I switched the car to Track Mode and pressed the M2 button located on the tiller.

As we exited the pit area entering the first straight, my instructor gave me the go to floor the throttle as the 3.0-liter in-line-six twin-turbo engine instantly let off a sweet rumble. It was exhilarating hitting all apexes harder and powering out with more gusto to the next bend while mastering braking points before executing a turn. Such a visceral experience.

Even the author succumbed to the intense g-forces the X4 M could pull off. PHOTOS BY MANSKEE NASCIMENTO

Next was the beastly X4 M sport-ute. This all-wheel-drive machine was truly impressive with all 510hp. Though heavier than the M2, it managed to keep up with it hitting all corners feeling more like a sports car than an actual SUV. Impressive in every way.

To end the day, we got treated to shotgun rides on both the M2 and the X4 M with our instructors showing how it was done on the 4.554km, 12-corner circuit. Succumbing to intense g-forces was nothing short of awesome.

The best (and safest) way to experience a BMW is on a racetrack. PHOTOS BY MANSKEE NASCIMENTO

In conclusion, BMW’s latest lineup of M models are superb engineering creations that can cater to a number of preferences that offer remarkable performance, luxury, and tech served up in the best Bavarian fashion. It’s just a matter of what fits and how much you’re willing to shell out.

As I did a cooldown run behind the wheel of the new M2, I turned to my partner with a satisfied grin and just had to say it: “Truly, Ultimate Driving Machines.”

Manskee Nascimento

Manskee is a music-loving petrolhead who specializes in car care. He finds peace in long drives to and from his home in La Union.