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Paul Gover grabs his race helmet and heads to the track to test drive the latest BMW M2 Competition and M5 Competition.
The only way to really get a handle on a BMW M-car is to make a sharp turn off the public highway and head for somewhere private.
A racetrack is the best destination, because you can explore the limits in safety and with someone more talented and more experienced to show you the right way to hustle through the curves and punch down the straights.
That’s why every pocket rocket M2 and master blaster M5 sold in Australia comes with a BMW Driving Experience course, something that regular BMW buyers can also experience for an extra $1,395.
But there is a more to the M-car experience at the tail end of 2018, with BMW Australia unleashing the M2 Competition and M5 Competition and deciding the best way to showcase the cars is to bring a small group of journalists trackside to experience what the Competition badge and package adds to two of Australia’s favourite driver’s cars.
Which is why we are at Sydney Motorsport Park – better known as Eastern Creek – with Bathurst winner Steven Richards and rally champion Cody Crocker to guide us around the circuit.
But, first, the cars – which are both now standalone models, not just an M2 or M5 with a Competition badge on the boot.
The M2 Competition, priced from $99,900, now has the twin-turbo six-cylinder engine from the bigger M3 and M4 in its smaller two-door coupe body and with 302kW it can sprint to 100km/h in just 4.2 seconds.
Cooling the engine means visual changes with bigger air inlets in the nose, where there are also adaptive LED headlamps...
... while the update also brings bigger brakes, a limited-slip gearbox, a carbon-fibre front-suspension brace and sports seats.
The exhaust is new, with electronically-controlled flaps so it can pop and bang to satisfy people who like to advertise their arrival or departure.
The M5 Competition, from $229,900, also gets an upgraded twin-turbo V8 engine with a 19-kilowatt power boost to 460kW, with tweaked driveline and suspension that drops it 7 millimetres lower than a regular M5.
But, since it’s also a luxury car, there is a 16-speaker Bowers and Wilkins sound system, auto sun blinds, auto aircon with individual settings for each seat...
... and a set of stunning bespoke 20-inch alloy wheels.
But there's a beast inside this beauty, with a top speed of 305km/h and a catapult ride to 100km/h in a supercar-style 3.3 seconds.
My time behind the wheel at Eastern Creek starts on the skidpad, where the only 'rule' is the obvious one: “Don’t crash”.
I start with the M2 Competition, beginning with all the road-car safety systems in place to get a feel for the surface. Then I flick the switch to the M1 system setting - there are two special buttons behind the steering wheel - and finally M2 with no net.
It’s a rorty little beastie and the surface is treacherous. Not consistent, either, with variable grip and different water levels - not a lot different from a back road on a bad day.
Hitting the accelerator hard kicks the back end sideways in this old-school rear-wheel drive car, and there are some satisfying skids. But it’s also easy to step over the limit, spin and have to start again.
The M5 Competition is something completely different. For a start, the basic package is all-wheel drive – so BMW can sell them into the snow-belt states in the USA – but the M2 mode transforms the car into a rear-drive drifter.
The M5 Competition is much easier to slide, more satisfying to drive, and much more controllable. That’s down to the longer wheelbase and an engine with so much torque that you don’t have to be revving it to the maximum for a fun run.
With stage one done, and a M-car kick delivered to anyone who thinks this is easy, it’s time for the track.
First up, it’s the M2 Competition – I choose the DSG auto – and work my way through the M-settings one lap at a time. Once again, the M2 Competition fires up like a New Year’s Eve display, punching out of the pits and turning every corner into a balancing act of power against grip.
The stability control intrudes surprisingly early on the first lap, but we’re already well beyond road-car sanity, and is then switched off for two more laps of increasing speed and fun, including a few rear sldies and an easy 220km/h down the straight.
My day finishes in the M5 Competition and it’s a perfect way to graduate from the course.
The M5 proves easier to handle and feels more settled even with only rear-wheel drive and pushing hard to the redline in each gear.
It’s easy to see why so many BMW owners tick the box for a Driving Experience course, if only because they get to explore their limits without threatening their own car.
At the end of the day I’ve learned more about the cars, polished my driving without threatening my license, and had some Grade A fun.
The M2 Competition and M5 Competition? What they say is what you get, and they are genuinely great – and great fun – on a day when, instead of being reigned in and held pack, you are pushed to your personal limits and encouraged to discover what the M-car mystique is all about.