Yep, according to BMW New Zealand, the tolls at M Town are the most fun to pay in the world, and if they must be paid in burnouts, then sign me up for citizenship right now.

The last BMW M Town event we were invited to was in 2019, in the Outback of Australia. That was a blast, driving around a fake rally stage in X3M and X4Ms for the day. But that M Town was by invite only – no public allowed. Then, two years ago BMW NZ run an M Town event in the South Island, but unfortunately due to weather conditions, it didn’t go ahead.

Looks like someone had tolls to pay

This time, M Town is open to all – BMW owner or not – at Hampton Downs racetrack, near Auckland. The session would consist of a series of very different driving modules, all designed to push drivers out of their comfort zones. This would give them some experience on a racetrack, and perhaps – and ideally – teach them something.

Anything that gives New Zealand drivers better control over their cars must be a good thing.

Selection of previous M cars outside from oldest to most recent, including the much-desired E30 M3 from 1987

There are two sessions per day – morning or afternoon – and you do one, or the other. They’re both the same. During your session, you get to drive from a variety of BMW performance cars, from the M135i, the M235i and right through to the latest, juicy M3 Competition, M4 Competition, M5 Competition, and M8 Competition.

DriveLife headed to Auckland for the day to check out M-Town to see if it’s something you, or even your own adult children should consider doing.

CARS FOR TODAY

According to BMW, M Town is indeed where tolls are paid in burnouts, citizenship is registered via speed cameras, and morning coffee and donuts take on a very different meaning. Sounds like my sort of town so far.

After picking up my M Town passport, it was time to look through the specs for the M3 Competition Sedan and M4 Competition Coupe, I couldn’t wait to get onto the track with these cars. The twin-turbo, 6-cylinder engine manages 375kW of power, 650Nm of torque, and 100Km/h in 3.9 seconds. These cars are made for Hampton Downs.

Other specs include the M Drift Analyser, which records the duration, length, and angle of your drift – complete with star ratings for your efforts. There’s also a Laptimer of course, along with Track and Road mode buttons right there on the steering wheel.

Running an 8-speed M Steptronic Sport transmission with Drivelogic, the M3 Competition is priced at $168,990 while the M4 Competition is $172,990. There’s plenty of options to choose from, like carbon fibre brakes and a titanium exhaust system that takes 7Kg of weight off the car.

We’d also get into the M8 Competition Coupe today, with its twin-turbo V8 giving you 450kW of power and 750Nm of torque to play with. Getting to 100km/h in the M8 Competition will take just 3.2 seconds. Pulling down that speed are 395mm front/380mm rear discs, the fronts having 6 pistons for extra stopping power. The M8 Competition Coupe has a bespoke chassis, with a lowered roll centre, a wider track and a stiffer chassis.

M8 Competition

This car runs an 8-speed M Steptronic transmission, and is priced at $342,900.

And then we come to the M Car poster child: the M5. This is one of my all-time favourite cars, and today, we’ll be in the M5 Competition, with the same drivetrain as the M8 Competition. It has M xDrive with rear wheel bias – great for the race track – and has M Dynamic Mode which BMW says holds the key to controlled drifts and ‘particularly playful handling’. There’s also a two-wheel drive mode, allowing drivers to experience handing ‘in its purest form’, with no control systems holding the car back. Like the M8 Competition, the M5 Competition also has a bespoke chassis with a recalibrated damper system and a stiffer chassis.

The M5 Competition is $234,300.

DRIVE TIME

The afternoon would be split into 3 modules, and then end with hot laps with professional drivers, who wouldn’t be observing the 160km/h limit that we’d have to stick to.

Divided into 3 groups, our group got to go and do track time on the full track first. We got our passports stamped for this first module, where there were only M cars to drive; an M3 Competition, M4 Competition, M8 Competition, and M5 Competition. We could do much worse than those cars. My first car was the M8 (finished with a red leather interior, yum), the first time I had been in the Competition model. Straight off the mark, I could feel that 485kW and hear the noise it was making. We were all in M mode, so everything turned up to the max levels, but with traction control still on. That was fine with me, I did not want to crash into any barriers in this $300K+ car.

About to hit the track in the M8 Competition

Heading out of the pits, I could feel the car wanting to shoot forward, eager to get onto the track. It is a phenomenal machine, both in sound and performance, and the occasional bursts of full throttle really showed its stuff. My God, this car can move.

On the track it was very good. You could feel its weight, even with xDrive all-wheel drive in action. Still it did well, and feathering the throttle out of some of the bends showed you could get this big coupe around the corners very quickly. The M3 in front of me stayed in front of me, as the M8 and I blasted around the track.

Three laps over, it was back into the pits to switch cars. This time I was in the new M3 Competition, a car I had been dying to get into. Finished in Isle of Man Green Metallic, it looked stunning, and opening the door showed the orange interior. That might sound ghastly, but in the flesh it looks amazing. After adjusting my seat and other controls, I followed the lead car out on to the track. I was expecting to be disappointed after the twin-turbo V8 M8, but I wasn’t. The M3 makes a different sound, but it’s still a great sound. There’s the expected barking between gear changes up and down the ‘box, but it does have a nicely baritone sound to it.

M3 time, complete with an orange interior

Once on the track proper, I was able to test out the handling and compare it to the M8. There’s a big difference here; the turn-in on the M3 is brilliant, and the car feels so freaking nimble, it’s incredible. It made the M8 look like a boat. The M8 handles very well, but the M3? Superb. It grips, corners, goes. Steering feedback is excellent, and the brakes up to the task – once they had warmed up. To start with they were felt underwhelming, and I had been spoilt already by the M8’s brakes, which are outstanding.

Three laps were over too quickly in this car, and I went back to the pits to change into an M4. This car was finished in Sao Paulo Yellow and interestingly, had a light blue interior. It wasn’t my thing, but I could see some buyers loving this combination. After the first lap in the M4, it surprised me. I expected it to be pretty much exactly the same as the M3, but it doesn’t seem to handle quite as well. It didn’t feel quite as stuck to the road as the M3. Not by a long margin, and if you had driven the cars a week apart you would never know, but back-to-back after the M3, it was noticeable. It turns out the M3 has a wider rear track than the M4, so perhaps it’s down to that. Regardless, the M4 is still a delicious drive on a racetrack. It makes the same amazing noises as the M3, in a two-door coupe body. I could live with that.

The awesome M4

Next up, one of my most favorite cars ever; the BMW M5 Competition. This car has a great stance, just sitting there. Heading again out of the pits, the M5 reminded me just how good it is. With that same twin-turbo V8 as the M8 Competition, it sounds beautiful, and shouldn’t really handle as well as it does for such a large 4-door sedan weighing almost two tonnes.

The always-brilliant M5

But the M5 has xDrive AWD to keep it planted, so you can really use that 600hp on the track. Perhaps not on the corners, although the M5 Competition can really hustle it around the bends, make no mistake. Keep in mind, this car is well over $100,000 cheaper than the M8 Competition, yet has the same drivetrain.

After my laps in the M5, it was back into the M8 and then M3 for a few more runs, then our time was up, and we headed to the off-roading module.

Off-Roading Module

You wouldn’t think that off-roading and Hampton Downs would go together, but attached to the racetrack is a purpose-built off-road course to test out a car’s capabilities in a ‘created’ environment. We wouldn’t be using M cars for this, so instead had access to X5 M50Ds and X7 M50Ds for this module. I’m not sure we needed quad-turbo diesels for a bit of off-roading, but I wasn’t going to say no to getting behind an M50D again.

X7 M50d ready to go off-roading

The off-road course was only 200 metres from the main track, and started off with a steep hill climb. We each drove to the top of the hill, then used Hill Descent Control to reverse back down the hill to where we started from, naturally not touching the brake or accelerator; Hill Descent Control would do all the work. This part was simple, so then it was back to the top of the hill and use Hill Descent Control on the way down the other side. I’ve got to say you couldn’t see anything ahead of the car since the hill was so steep, but we were told to turn on the front parking camera. This gave us a great view ahead and down, and was a nice workaround to the lack of visibility. We ended up driving off the parking camera, since we couldn’t see anything otherwise, and it worked perfectly well.

Not much you can see from the driver’s seat here

Next up was a cross-axle test, and each of the cars simply cruised through this. At times it was one or sometimes both diagonally opposing wheels off the ground, but the X5s and X7s didn’t blink an eye, as electronics helped us just drive along on a steady throttle with no drama.

Then there was a steep angled drive, where the wheels would be up on the side of a bank at a reasonable angle. Again, each car motored through this challenge easily. After that was another cross-axle test, and getting out of the car to take photos, you could really see the suspension working hard to keep wheels on the ground where it could.

We all have a few goes at these challenges, switching between cars, then it was off to our next module.

Sprint/Slalom

There’s a smaller track adjoining the main track at Hampton Downs, and this was where we’d be doing our last module. There was a mix of BMW models for this event, and each of them quite different.

The track is 1.3Km long and divided into sections. We’d start with a sprint on full throttle, then around some of the track to a slalom, then around the whole, smaller track. It was a lot of fun – especially full-throttle starts – and certainly showed the different attributes of the cars we were driving.

M8 lead car about to hit the slalom

My first run was in an M135i, a model I had not driven before. After just one lap, I loved this car. It’s fun, peppy, and handles very well. It’s a small car after all, with a decent amount of power. It showed its prowess, slicing through the bends and the slalom easily. Even the full-throttle test was awesome, and that turbo motor sung out proudly right to the redline. Man, this is a great little car.

Next up and into the Z4. This was finished in silver, and certainly looked awesome. It definitely had more go than the M135i, and shot forward quickly on the full-throttle test. It handled reasonably well too, but I had been spoilt by the tiny M135i.

My third car was the M235i, a car which my wife and I spent a week driving around the lower half of the South Island. It went well, but didn’t feel as fast as the M135i, and didn’t handle as well. This same car did very well handling-wise on those South Island roads, so I knew it was good. Again, the M135i spoilt it for me.

The last car to choose from was an M340i. This car had the best engine sound of all four cars here, handling brilliantly, and nailed the slalom. It’s a great allrounder, based on that short time on the track with it.

My takeaway from the sprint/slalom was the M135i. A total surprise and not really a car I had taken much notice of before.

M340i, M235i, Z4, M135i

HOT LAPS

That part over, the official modules has been completed, and it was time for a few hot laps with a ‘proper’ driver. Since we were now wearing helmets, the drivers didn’t need to stay below 160km/h, and I was fine with that.

I got into the front passenger’s seat of the M3 with seasoned, professional driver Mike Eady. I could already smell rubber from the run he had just come from, so expected it was going to be a bit of a wild ride. It was. Mike did not hold back, hammering the track as quickly as he could for the first lap. He made it all look smooth and effortless, and that was with 4 people in the car, as we easily topped over 200km/h on the front straight.

Hampton Downs’ taxi waiting for a passenger

For lap 2 he took a different approach, “time to do some drifting” he said. And drift we did. Sideways at 170km/h is quite a lot of fun when you have faith in the driver. Not that we had a lot of choice as passengers, but I am sure we all enjoyed it. On coming up to the pits and a cool-down, he checked the M3’s Drift Analyser: 4.5 stars, his best result yet. The longest single drift we did was 172 metres, which seems very reasonable in a $169,000 car.

Getting out of the car, all anyone could smell from the three cars used was tyres. I’m sure we chewed up more than our fair share of rubber on the track in a few short minutes.

HOME TIME

With that, it was time to go. The whole day was a blast, and no one left without a smile on their face.

So, should you do it? Or should you send your teenager along to spend some time on the track with high-performance cars? Totally you should. It isn’t all about speed, it’s about car control. During every lap or module, the lead car would be giving us advice and instruction on the safest and best way to do whatever it was we were doing. It’s this sort of driving instruction that even seasoned drivers don’t get, and you should grab it with both hands. This sort of experience on a track may well save your or your child’s life on the road. You can’t put a price on that.

COST

$1,300 pp for a half-day session.

Sessions are morning or afternoon and lunch and other refreshments are provided.

You can find about how you can attend M Town here.

Thanks to BMW for inviting DriveLife along to this incredible event.

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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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