As my plane approached Munich or “München” as it’s called by the locals,
I realized that I was visiting the home turf of BMW, the birthplace of a brand
that started manufacturing here in 1922 and has grown to a network of
28 plants in 13 countries.
By Helmut Dostal
The purpose of my visit was to get my hands on the new 425 horsepower BMW M4 Cabriolet and spend some ‘quality time’ with it on the factory test track in nearby Maisach. I’d also planned a test drive into the foothills of the Bavarian Alps and Austria’s off piste ski territory.
Day one: Test track
An “eye opener” for even the experienced car guys in the group, the first day’s Driving Dynamics seminar, taught by resident ex-race car drivers and engineers at the BMW Academy, focused on driving dynamics in adverse situations. From basics like helping us to understand the physical forces that are at work if a driver is about to lose control
of his car, to seating and hand positioning, the session was definitely a master skill developer.
Adrenalin-rush track tests further reinforced what we’d learned. Emergency braking and steering trials on wet surfaces and immediate lane changes without touching the brakes at 100 km/hr, seemed extreme in the classroom. But on the track, they were obvious need- to-know, life-saving manoeuvers.
Day two: BMW Welt exhibit, museum and factory tour
Our morning began in the BMW Museum with a ‘guided journey of discovery’ that started with the early R32 motorcycles and continued to historic top-of-the line vehicles. And then we were invited to spend time at the futuristic BMW Welt (world) where the fluid lines of the building seem to float in space—simply a shrine to the latest mini’s and motorbikes, electric and hybrid cars and the ultra luxury Rolls-Royce.
There is a special delivery pod for those fortunate guests who are there to pick-up their very own BMW, complete with a premium lounge and photography set for the handover of the keys and vehicle introduction. First class, indeed. Then it’s from sheets of steel to completion at the factory. Yes, there’s definitely something magical about watching how a finished luxury car is born during our personal tour of the BMW plant in Munich.
After a brief introductory film starts the tour, it’s full speed ahead into the 500,000-square metre state-of-the-art production facility. It’s a fabulous behind-the-scenes look at the creation cycle that has us watching the engine being built, seeing the body stamped to the assembly and final testing. Imagine 40 minutes of walking along a clean, safe path made of steel in one of the most hi-tech factories in the world. Elaborate robots have replaced the old fashioned man-on-the line and they perform their tasks with the precision, graciousness and dance-like movements of a gymnast. Their remarkable programming has the line assembling models of different sizes and specifications in an uninter-rupted sequence. And, after the car has performed a stationery speed test that takes it up to 150 km/hr. the iconic BMW rondel is attached to its hood and it’s turned over to its excited owner.
Day three: Test drive
Back at the test facility in Maisach, the training team and a line-up of dazzling BMW M4 Cabriolets greet us. The GPS is set to our first destination, the scenic
Hotel for Friends in Mösern, Austria. I punch the ignition and with a friendly growl, the 425-hp. TwinPower Turbo engines come to life.
Soon I’m on the fabled Autobahn, where my driving speed is only limited by my tolerance for risk and, of course, traffic. Unfortunately, the latter made sure the needle did not move much past 200 km/hr. In no time, I switched to the smaller roads that gracefully wind through scenic villages towards the foothills of the Alpine mountain region. I hardly noticed that I crossed the border from Germany into Austria, courtesy of the European Union.
At slower speeds, I found the M4 to feel as much at home. Its seven-speed double clutch transmission shifts smoothly and almost imperceptibly. The leather seats are comfortable and provide very good lateral support; the interior’s ergonomics, instruments, and overall design are excellent. The retractable hardtop folds neatly into the trunk, still leaving a good amount of space (220 litres) for luggage. When driving with the top down into the mountain region, I appreciated the three-temperature neck warmer that is built into the headrest and provides a gentle breeze of warm air. Of course, my M4 was equipped with all the BMW Connected Drive features such as the new Navigation System, Head-Up display on to the windshield, Driving Assistant and Active Protection.
Needless to say, the drive up winding mountain roads and hairpin turns was pure pleasure. The M4 is very strong and yet, nimble and precise when cornering with gusto. Speaking of gusto, when I arrive at the beautifully situated For Friends Hotel in Tyrol, our hosts from BMW had arranged a lunch with traditional Austrian specialties.
On the drive back to Munich, I activated the manual gear shift using the paddles on the steering wheel and had a choice of Comfort, Sport and Sport+, I could also make the same choices when it came to the Adaptive M suspension—quite like fine-tuning an instrument. To complete this performance menu, my car was equipped with M carbon ceramic brakes and gold-plated calipers.
By dinnertime, I’d travelled 250 km cruising back into the Driving Academy’s compound to reluctantly hand back the keys. This was truly a memorable driving experience!
BMW M4 Cabriolet technical specifications:
Engine: Twin-Power Turbo 3.0 liter, 6 cylinders
Power: 425 hp.
Transmission: 6-speed manual or 7-speed automatic
Price in Canada: $84,500