Thursday, April 24, 2014

Random Shot: Bunny 36

 photo bunny36.jpg Looking really good in coupe form. It looks like LTMW's build of a Sarto Racing Rocket Bunny E36 is about to be done!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Four on the Floor: Driving the BMW 420i

 photo DSC01143.jpg Having driven and loved the range topping 435i earlier, it's not difficult to point out what the "entry-level" 4 series lacks over its more well endowed sibling. The brilliant heads-up display, parking cameras and a nice squishy leather steering wheel top the list of equipment that are sadly missed in the 420i. Notwithstanding these options, the 420i retains the basic essentials of what made the 435i such a wonderful car. A fantastically balanced chassis and the beautiful metalwork that envelopes it.  photo DSC01199.jpg  photo DSC01208.jpg Our test car in "Luxury" trim levels feature carefully placed slivers of chrome and multi-spoke wheels which, when combined in a lovely shade of black, does give it a more discreet appearance. A small bugbear would be the door sill trims with "BMW Luxury" etched into the aluminum. Luxury really shouldn't require labels.  photo DSC01233.jpg  photo DSC01276.jpg The interior of the "Luxury" 420i also trades flamboyance for a more restrained yet classy atmosphere. With dark woods and aluminum trim surrounds in place of brushed metals amid swaths of reds and blacks. What remains the same regardless of trim levels are the supportive and very comfortable leather seats and the classic driver-centric layout of all primary and secondary instrumentation and controls.  photo DSC01264.jpg  photo DSC01241.jpg Rear leg room and boot space remain above average for a coupe in its class with the extended roof line of the 4-Series giving those few extra inches of legroom for 2 extra passengers and their luggage.  photo P1170628.jpg A minor disclosure here, a week prior to driving the 420i, i was blitzing around in the almost 600 horsepower M5. In that respect, getting into the 184bhp '4 might seem a little anemic in comparison on paper but in real life conditions. The little charged 4-banger doesn't at all disappoint. What the 420i lacks in power and grunt , it makes up for in allowing you to explore its playful chassis dynamics without getting into too much trouble.  photo DSC01178.jpg Let me try to explain a little, yes the M5 packs a huge punch and pretty much decimates everything else on the road sans supercar. But because of that huge wallop of power and torque that comes on just above idle, you tend to tip toe your inputs and drive around with all your senses heightened and on the edge if you ever succumb to the M's constant temptations to drop the hammer. It is an experience which does tend to leave your mouth dry, but an invigorating experience nonetheless.  photo DSC01232.jpg The BMW 420i doesn't do ANY of that, progress though smooth, is at best brisk and there's no worry about flying off expressways when the pedal meets the metal. But therein lies the joy. Because the engine is less powerful, you are able to extract more out of it more of the time, you are able to stomp on the throttle as much as you wish without fear, without restraint. 270Nm's might not be much after an M5, but with less weight than a 435i, it is ample enough to cut through most traffic situations and allows for a rhythmic flow through roads with continuous bends. Go ahead, stick it into Sport+ everyday. It is a car you can enjoy without getting into too much trouble and i really like it because of that. The steering could do with more weight and feel as it felt overly light for me even in "sport+".  photo P1170596.jpg When you've had your fun, or on days you need to ferry people other than yourself, the 4 allows you to just lie-low and cruise. Suspension characteristics might be a tad stiff at times but most uneven surfaces are dampened out before reaching your bum. Such is the wonderful balance achieved by BMW.  photo DSC01134.jpg Unfortunately for the 420i there might be some in-fighting within the BMW stable as sitting in the wings at a similar price point, we have the M235i. Already garnering rave reviews Worldwide, this little pocket rocket coupe looks set to be a future cult classic. Or if you are willing to shell out a little over $20,000 more, you can get the 428i which i suspect to be the 4-series of choice. Personally i wish BMW would revive the "is" nameplate and release a 420is. Strip out the leather seats, remove bits of sound deadening, a hotter ecu tune and the piece de resistance, a manual shifter and a slippy diff.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Manic Street Machine: Driving the BMW M5 Competition Pack

 photo DSC01083.jpg It has been close to 30 years since the mad scientist at BMW's Motorsports division decided to shoehorn the race-derived engine from the M1 into the body of a 5 Series, close to 30 years since they created what was the fastest production sedan in the World and close to 30 years since they introduced us to one of the most iconic and revered badges in automotive circles, the M5.
 photo DSC01104.jpg With each iteration of the Munich express getting more powerful and quicker than the last (as well as physically bigger), BMW's latest offering is also the first M5 to swap out its natural aspirated engines for some forced induced power.
 photo DSC01032insta.jpg In some circles just hearing the name is enough to send the lips of car nuts pursing while their imaginations take over. So as you can imagine, being handed the keys to one does increase your heart rate a few notches.
 photo DSC01107.jpg Inside, visibility in the M5 is superb and drivers familiar with regular run of the mill 5 Series sedans will pretty much find themselves at home. With the exception of some extra buttons which allows drivers to configure various aspects of the car on the fly. Changes which can also be assigned to the 2 M buttons on the gorgeous M leather steering wheel, whose new design supposedly takes visual cues from the double-spoke wheels.
 photo DSC01109.jpg Someone higher up in M-Division must have been monitoring how most people have been comparing the M5 to the M6 Gran Coupe because they have now introduced the M5 Competition Package to set these 2 cars even further apart. Most easily distinguished from its predecessor by the redesigned 20-inch wheels which sit very flush to the bodywork. M engineers have also tweaked and sharpened the suspension, damper settings and tightened the stabilizer bars. Adjustments that have also resulted in the car sitting 10mm lower to the ground.
 photo DSC01023.jpg Speaking of which, the exterior aesthetics really is a literal interpretation of a 5 Series on steroids. All pumped up, beefy and serious. From the massive air intakes up front to those signature quad pipes which are now finished in the currently fashionable black chrome. Those quad pipes do more than just look good as the M5 now has a much more proper growl when you awaken the engine. I'm sure there was also some tweaking to the "Active Sound Design" setup as well as the car does sound alot throatier than what i last remembered. It's a pity though as the revised rear pipes do a credible job of bringing the V8 to life. Again i wish BMW would just reintroduce their use of butterfly valves in the exhaust to let their engines sing instead of piping in artificial noises.
 photo DSC01053.jpg This sharper and more focused M5 also brings along a 15 horsepower boost from the 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8. Up to 575hp from 560hp which means 0-100km/h times have been shaved ever so slightly. That 100km/h mark now arrives in 4.2 seconds if you manage to hook up the rear wheels to the road. I say "if" because this executive stormer can be a monster at eating up the rear tires. Unlike previous M5s which built up their power and speed like a rising and howling crescendo, this M5 prefers to lay it all down sledgehammer style.
 photo DSC00991.jpg Stomp through the lower gears (even in Sport mode) and power is forcibly removed at various points of acceleration until full grip is restored and everything around you turns into a blur as you enter hyperspace. With an extremely meaty 680Nm of torques arriving from 1500rpm, the constant flickering of the traction control light is just one of the reminders of how much the computers are restraining the wild beasts under the bonnet and keeping the car aimed straight. In driving modes other than comfort, throttle response remains sharp with only a hint of latency if the revs drop off. Once it enters mid-range though, any thoughts of it being turbo-charged are easily forgotten as the smallest inputs from your right foot are transmitted straight to the rear wheels.
 photo DSC00994.jpg  photo DSC01085.jpg The traction control on this car does seem to be working harder than on the M6 Gran Coupe. If you plan to turn it off, the car will even ask you if you really want to do it. I didn't as i figured if doing so needed a "confirmation", it was best left to the open confines of a race track. Brakes can be grabby and hard to modulate in crawls through traffic but work very well as shaving off big numbers from the speedometer.
 photo DSC01116.jpg Overall it drives like you'd imagine how an M5 would drive. Plenty of power, plenty of speed and an unnatural ability to hide it's girth through fast sweeping corners. And like it's predecessors, it has brought the "Iron fist in velvet glove" ethos up another notch against the competition. It will be interesting to see how much further the M5 can progress from here. For now, it's game on with one of the most manical sedans on the street.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Living the dream

Just watch.