Turns out that winning your first-ever NBA title gets you more than just a parade. It also gets you an M Festival. And depending on where your interests lie, that’s better.
North America’s first-ever M Fest was held outside Toronto, Ontario last weekend, and BMW was kind enough to invite out us before the gates opened to give us a taste of what they had planned. Between the drag racing, the track experiences, the autocross, the race cars, the race car drivers, and so much more, it’s safe to say that no one was bored this weekend.
The M Fest has been going on for a few years now but has so far stayed far from the new world. With events in Germany, South Africa, and Japan, though, it was only a matter of time before the fest came to North America.
The location was a bit of a surprise, though. Canada’s storied Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.
Of course, there was no problem with the venue. CTMP has been around since the early ‘60s and was designed for F1 cars of the era. Considered one of North America’s fastest tracks, it was the perfect venue for BMW’s works drivers to take lucky fans for a hot lap in an M5. Having just earned poll at the previous weekend’s IMSA, M8 GT driver Jesse Kohn tried to take my head off in an M5.
So the venue was fine. It was just surprising that Canada was selected over one of the US’s bigger markets. Turns out, though, that Canadians disproportionately enjoy M products.
Canada is BMW M division’s fourth-biggest market by volume. Behind only the US, the UK, and Germany, Canada outsells China, Japan, and any other country despite the long winters and the small population.
“There’s a passion you feel for M Sport [in Canada],” says Marcus Flasch, president fo BMW M. “It’s a strong community for performance cars in general.”
And indeed it was. With more than 4,300 in attendance at the festival, BMW’s factory drivers were forced to give more than 3,000 track experiences and BMW had to pay for 186 tires.
It’s not all track experiences, though. The fun continued off-track with an autocross section filled with Z4s, M340is, and X2s for attendees to try out. Then it continued off-road, with CTMP’s camping area giving the more SUV-inclined among us the chance to test the X4 and X3’s off-road chops.
There was fun to be had without roads at all thanks to nightly concerts with acts like Serena Ryder, Dear Rouge, and more.
“The BMW M Festival was a huge success,” said Sebastian Beuchel, Director of Brand Management, BMW Canada. “The M Festival allows us to bring our brand to life and enable people – from customers, fans to enthusiasts – to interact and engage with all that BMW has to offer. We have the best fans in the world.”
As mentioned above, though, there were a number of driving activities to be accomplished and although we only spent a few minutes per car, that won’t stop me from opining on their quality. So here follow 7 micro-reviews of the BMW M lineup arranged by each event.
M340i: The 382 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque mean this thing takes off in a hurry. It didn’t feel as much faster than the four-cylinder as you might expect, but that’s mostly an endorsement of the four-pot. It gives you a little bit of oversteer if you ask for it, but the nose isn’t quite as pointy as you might hope.
Z4 M40i: Same engine as the M340i but a better package for the autocross. One of the most intuitive cars I’ve ever driven. Get in, go fast, look good doing it. The nose is direct, the tail is waggly and the Z4 made me feel like a hero.
X2 M235i: With 300-odd horsepower and all the performance chops of a Sports Activity Crossover (or SAC), the X2 M235i is a shockingly sprightly little thing. It really does feel like the hot hatch we all thought the X2 could become. Unfortunately, that also means that there’s a healthy amount of understeer. Naturally, having just jumped out of the Z4, a part of the understeer came down to me driving it wrong, but I don’t want to take all of the blame!
X3 M40i: This was the only vehicle I drove off-road. The course runs through CTMP’s campsite and the X3 M40i at least proves that it’s the M product for you if you live wayyyyy off the beaten path. I still find hill descent control uncomfortable and unnecessary (if the point of off-roading is to challenge yourself, why would I want to take both my feet off the pedals?), but it worked just fine on a reasonably steep and very silty downhill section. We also got some wheels in the air, which seemed not to bother X3 at all. Overall, pretty well done.
M850i Coupe: Dat V8 engine… It sounds good, looks good and will allow you to brake boost all day long. Thanks to its 530 hp, it gets to 60 MPH in just 3.7 seconds, which is mighty quick. I loved the convertible and the coupe looks better.
M2 Competition: We all say this is the M we’d buy at the office and it’s nice to be reminded why. Driven around CTMP’s Driver Development Track, the little M is a feisty bulldog of a car, utterly convinced (and convincing) of its ability to take on all comers. It’s easy to control at all angles of lock. The car feels fast, direct, and best of all, fun!
M5 Competition: Unfortunately, I didn’t get to drive this around CTMP’s Grand Prix circuit. Fortunately, I got a ride from Jesse Kohn, who had just set pole the weekend before. Breakneck acceleration is partnered with breakneck lateral Gs, the M5 Competition is a supercar aping car that looks like a regular sedan. It’s the Walter White of cars, the Steve Buscemi (in ConAir) of M cars, the Dexter of sports cars. And it doesn’t disappoint when a great driver gets behind the wheel.
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