Sunday, October 19, 2014

Return of the Phoenix: Driving the BMW M4

 photo P1180290.jpg For all its innumerable firsts, the new BMW M4 also marks the return of 2 key elements i am sure most of you would have already heard of or seen by now. The return of the Straight-Six (albeit now equipped with Twin Turbochargers), and that color. In BMW speak, it is now called Austin Yellow and although there might be some slight variances to its makeup, this shade is unmistakably reminiscent of BMW's fabled Phoenix Yellow. Like the mythical creature that reignites itself back to life, this new M-car rises up from the foundations of its predecessor with more youthful vigor and power than ever before, and in the process, is proudly christened with the M4 badge for the very first time.  photo P1180287_L.jpg Although re-badging the M3 Coupe might at first sound sacrilegious to fans of the marque, this move sits in line with BMW's recent shift in naming policy. What has not changed though is this remains BMW M's most popular sports coupe, and it comes with the credentials to prove it. 425 angry horses and 550Nm of torques lie dormant under the cover of a "down sized" 3-liter Straight-Six, keen to spool up its Twin-Turbos and so very eager to lay waste to some very expensive rubber.  photo P1180292.jpg Visually, there is no mistaking it for any other car in BMW's stable when painted in this hue. Unfortunately, this color remains a love/hate affair for me. Stunning to look at in pictures and dazzling under the showroom floors, it might be distinctive, but at times, it does come across as a little bit flash. Our test car also came accented with some dark chrome wheels which upped the visual aggression factor by quite a notch. If you are the sort of person who doesn't mind the attention at traffic stops, then perfect. But i'm not sure if this is the color i'd go for if i was to drop a big chunk of my hard earned coin for.  photo P1180269.jpg Apart from the bright paint, the rest of the bodywork has received the standard modern day M-Division cosmetic enhancements, with bulges and arches pulled aggressively over the generously sized wheels and M badges liberally applied both on the exterior as well as the interior. Along the sides, the 4-Series' Beemerangs have been replaced by a set of deeper cut outlet vents that swipe across along the entire length of the car aft of the doors.  photo P1180266.jpg  photo P1180263.jpg With cooling becoming a higher priority due to the nature of forced induction engines, large intake gaps now feature prominently up front and the end effect is a game face that easily parts traffic. Presence, this car has it. On the M3 Sedans, the widened stance is even more pronounced.  photo P1180256.jpg  photo P1180277.jpg Though the M4 might look imposing and hunkered down, extensive use of lightweight materials have brought overall weight down 80kgs from the M3s that came before. Even the boot lid uses SMC plastic over a carbon frame as part of the weight saving program.  photo DSC04376.jpg Inside, the first thing that you will first notice is, yes, the seat emblems light up.  photo P1180272.jpg  photo DSC04310.jpg Apart from the blingy seats which are in fact, extremely comfortable and supportive, everything else inside is of a high-spec leather-wrapped BMW no nonsense business class standard. Controls fall into place logically and the most important bits of information will be relayed to you via the lovely heads-up display.  photo DSC04440.jpg The most noticeable difference here is of course along the central tunnel where the stubby gear knob sits, flanked by a series of buttons and switches controlling throttle response, suspension setups, steering weight and how aggressive would Sir like his gearshifts to be. These life-altering settings can also be saved into 2 preset "M" mode settings which can then be brought back online with some very easy to reach buttons on the squishy steering wheel.  photo P1180270.jpg  photo DSC04433.jpg Thumb the starter button and the engine erupts into life with a cackling bark before settling into a baritone idle. There might no longer be a rumbling V8 under the bonnet, those who fear the M3 and M4 duo might have lost bits of their soul in the pursuit of turbo-charged power can rest easy. This car can sing it's own tune loud and proud. Thumbing either of the M buttons on the steering opens up some trick valves in the exhaust system and brings up the volume up to 11, for those times when you just want to wake up the neighbours.  photo P1180281.jpg On the move in regular traffic with the suspension in comfort, the M4 soaks up road imperfections well while maintaining a firm but comfortable ride characteristic. Coupled with a juicy amount of torque available down the rev range makes the car very drivable in everyday traffic. The gearbox might feel a little clunky in stop-start traffic but it's response and speed in swapping cogs once on the move alleviates any previous thoughts of it being inadequate in any way.

Initial thoughts after a drive point to the new M4 being a more refined and maybe even, relaxed car to drive around town in. Granted the steering might be a little bit heavy at times but overall, it feels slightly less high-strung than it's V8 predecessor. This is no cause for worry because once you come across a series of empty tight twisty roads and bring up either of 2 preset M modes, that M could very well mean magic.  photo DSC04374.jpg  photo DSC04387.jpg With the hammer dropped, the century sprint arrives in a scant 4.1 seconds. And through long high speed curves, the M4 remains composed and planted eager to push harder and faster. The absolute limits of this car are easily out of reach for mere mortals like me but the joy of driving the M4 is how playful and balanced the car is when responding to driver inputs and directional changes at levels that sit well within the capabilities of normal drivers like yours truly.

Big CCBs (Carbon Ceramic Brakes) shave of speed without fuss nor fade and with a wide spread of power at your disposal, each new corner arrives as quickly as the previous gets dispatched. It gets very addictive and you start gaining the confidence to put down the power earlier through each bend until the traction control systems kick in to hold the car steadfastly on the line, saving you (and the machine) from yourself and a massively embarrassing situation.

This car inspires one to just keep pushing on and while it might feel a little sedated in traffic, totally comes alive when freed from the confines of the concrete jungles.  photo DSC04368.jpg There have been many youtube videos showing this car thrown through corners with smoke billowing from the rear wheels and the drivers peering out at the road through the side windows. While that does make for a very entertaining show, the reality is that for most of us who value the safety of our license and the car, turning off traction control on public roads is not a particularly wise thing to do. But if or when you do find a nice big empty piece of tarmac to wander beyond the limits of grip, it comes as a pleasant surprise how not-very-difficult it is to man-handle over 400 sliding horses.

The mechanical magic here comes in the form of BMW's trick Active M Differential, which when hooked up to gobfuls of torque from the engine, allows one to adjust the pivoting angle of the car by applying varying degrees of throttle movement. This car just wants to dance and it lets you have fun leaning on it while learning to control its rhythm, balance and poise.  photo DSC04365.jpg  photo P1180245.jpg Absolutely mega in execution, beautiful to drive under control and uncanny in how well behaved it remains when that control is breached. This Phoenix is reborn, and ready to reign once again.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Another Saturday Morning Breakfast Jaunt

 photo P1180294.jpg Another weekend went by and what better way to unwind than to head out early morning with some friends for an early Saturday morning drive. Of course, having a BMW M4 to play with sure made breakfast that little bit tastier.  photo DSC04333.jpg  photo DSC04330.jpg The morning posse.  photo DSC04315.jpg  photo DSC04357.jpg Morning drive regulars sans M4 of course.  photo DSC04349.jpg  photo DSC04330.jpg That color. So striking. So love/hate.  photo DSC04379.jpg Wasn't part of the group but this rather rare Clio RS197 sure looked good.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Random Shot: A Legendary Spot

Chanced upon another rare piece of Japanese metal while i was returning a car to M-car dealership, Munich Automobiles.  photo Legend_55.jpg For those not in the know, Munich Automobiles sits in the same compound as the local dealerships for Alfa Romeo, Lamborghini and previously, Lotus. So it's actually quite a daily occurrence to see exotics parked all over, if you looked at the wondiwo reflection, there's a Huracan just in front. (+ There's even a Disco Volante in the Alfa showroom). This Honda sitting quietly by itself might not have the same visual pow-wow as the Italians nearby but it is probably one of the rarest cars on our local roads. I've only seen it one other time and that was probably over 10 years ago. Fun fact, Harrison Ford shilled for these in Japan over 20 years ago. Legend.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Little Joys of Car Life

 photo DSC01766.jpg Ah diecast, the little 'joys' for car enthusiast the World over. I say 'joys' because even though most of us really love these little models and have probably one time or another bought one or two (or ten), this little hobby of building our little dream mini garages can go from harmless little fun to a full blown and very expensive hobby! Made much worse if you have a case if the OCDs.

I should know, i started young, receiving 1/24 Bburagos as presents and eventually graduating to buying my own 1/18 Maistos as a student. When i started working a few years later, i discovered the World of UT Models, Autoarts, Kyoshos, Minichamps and eventually, Exotos and CMCs amongst many other brands.  photo louis-cars.jpg I even started my very first blog writing about diecast, it's gone now but thanks to sites like Wayback Machine, it's been nicely archived on the interwebs. (Click to view it here) Maybe, that was kind of the precursor to Garage36. ;)

This also means that with limited space, my collection of miniatures progressed from this nicely curated fleet:  photo DSC01184.jpg To something like this (x4 corners of the room):  photo DSC00910.jpg Of course this took a big toll on my wallet but i guess i was lucky as i started collecting back when the 3 big brands in 1/18s, Autoart, Kyosho and Minichamps, were still relatively affordable. Standard Autoarts could be hard for SGD$80-120 and the higher end Millennium cars were going for about SGD$130-$150, Kyoshos came in somewhere in between with Minichamps sliding just under the Kyoshos. I guess one could say that was the golden age for us diecasters.

My diecast collecting story eventually paused when i sold almost every car off (keeping only 7) to fund the down-payment of a real car. Not a bad trade i think.

So years have passed and i have watched as prices of 1/18s soared and i instead got my mini car fix from some much more wallet friendly Hotwheels. Once in a while i do get tempted (Rubystone 964 RS, i'm looking at you), but so far, i've not strayed back into the addictive World of 1/18s. That is, until i found myself in a little shop tucked away in a little corner of this little city, Motorsports.  photo P1180228_500.jpg It all began a few weeks earlier where i was innocently browsing through diecast on ebay (don't we all), looking through an inventory of models from a relatively new (at least to me) company, OTTO. I've been slowly following the cars they release and boy do they have good taste in their subject matter. Their previously release E36 M3 Coupes have been sold out for months and though i see some pop out online once in a while, i just couldn't bring myself to pay the inflated prices being asked. Interestingly, OTTO have made the decision to re-release another batch of E36 M3 Coupes, but this time in LTW form. Not wanting to miss out this time, i scanned through the ads and found that one of them was located in Singapore and it was a shop! Calls made, messages sent, car reserved, it was time to head over and collect.  photo P1180209_500.jpg To be honest, i have visited Motorsports years back when i was still in diecast collecting mode, back then they were hidden inside the shopping recesses of a 5-star hotel and if my memory serves me correct, featured mostly F1 and motorsport-related cars, hence the name i guess.

This time though, oh my, the shop might not be the biggest out there but what a selection of cars they have.  photo P1180211_500.jpg Quality not quantity is key here. I spotted so many desirable cars, reminds me of those smaller stores in Japan full of interesting little cars.  photo P1180214_500.jpg Though prices of most 1/43s are not exactly what you'll call "cheap", they seem to be a much more viable alternative to 1/18s. Looking at this F40, I'm sure modelling techniques and construction methods have also improved alot over the years.  photo P1180217_500.jpg  photo P1180218_500.jpg That G-nose. Need one badly in my life (in 1/1 scale of course :P ).  photo P1180221_500.jpg Perhaps also, since living spaces have shrunk, many have started turning to 1/43s.  photo P1180219_500.jpg Can't blame them as you just can't beat the sheer variety of cars in 1/43 form.  photo P1180224_500.jpg If you're on a slightly tighter budget, how about these Hotwheels? Sure don't look like the ones i see in the department stores.  photo P1180226_500.jpg So much want, so little money. It's really awesome that a local store is bringing in all these "non-mainstream" brands. They hands-down win it on subject matter alone.  photo P1180208_500.jpg I came, i collected, i went home happy. So next time you are in the area, do drop by Jacky's little automotive treasure trove and tell them this little blog sent you there. Just try to keep calm and remember you need some money for food and daily necessities too! Motorsports can be found in the basement of The Adelphi, 1 Coleman Street, Singapore 179803 (closed on Sundays). Have fun!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Random Shot: Speedhunting on the streets

 photo alfetta_500.jpg Excuse me while i fawn over this fine example of an Alfetta.