Mondello track reveals BMW M awesome capabilities

Mini Cooper S, M2 and M4 tested on Kildare track

Conor McHugh


Conor McHugh


Mondello track reveals BMW M awesome capabilities

The BMW M4. Photos courtesy of Dave Humphries.

A few weeks ago I was invited out to Mondello to take part in what they called the BMW Driving Experience Powered by M.

The Experience involved driving three cars, a Mini Cooper S, a BMW M2 and a BMW M4. With each car you had four laps around the track, and a instructor in the passenger seat beside you.

In the case of the BMW's the instructor had pedal controls in case you did something remarkably stupid. This is probably a good thing, because there are, lets face it, a lot of idiots out there.

The Mini has a 2 litre petrol engine and the two BMW's had 3 litre petrol engines with twin turbos giving you in the neighbourhood of 400 bhp.

Obviously, being BMW 'M's, there's a lot of technology in them, other than the engines, which enable them to go very fast - things like intelligent and stiff suspension and all manner of things to control your ability to potentially lose control, like traction control etc.

Mondello is a place where you can get some sense of the enormous and impressive capabilities of these cars. Public roads are not really. The M4, for instance, can hit 100 kph from a standing start in 4.1 seconds, although 100kph is not something that tends to bother you too much when you've come around the bend before the final straight at 60kph and  you're hitting 150 kph as you pass in  front of the pavilion.

As somebody who has driven many ordinary cars over the past few years - including some which are regarded as being fast - but never driven a car designed to win races, it quickly occurred to me that this was a level of speed and performance that most of us will spend a lifetime driving to Tesco and never experience. More to the point, any jackass who doesn't approach cars like these with a great degree of humility,  is likely to have a brown trousers experience.

My instructor, Kevin Grogan, was calm and unflappable. For twelve laps he talked me around the course,  through important features of the cars,  their capabilities and the track. When I finished, I asked if he was likely to drive around the track much quicker than me. He said he was, and offered to do a lap.

As pretty from the rear as any other angle.

The biggest difference between him and me was that having way more experience in the car, the  track, and generally driving at these speeds, he had a better sense of  what they are capable of, and therefore he was able to brake much later, and fling the car around the bends much faster than me. I had only sat in it for the first time 15 minutes earlier and only done four laps.

Also, I was conscious of how much the car was worth and didn't want to be the guy who crashed a  €114,279 BMW. Yup, that's right, the price of a one bed apartment in Sallins.

But that's not what's going through your head as we (quickly) approached a bend at 170kph (110mph) and he hasn't hit the brakes yet.

It occurs to you that you're probably about to die.

But you don't. Kevin slams on the brakes well past the last minute and the car flies around the bend way faster than you'd think was possible. There's no skidding, no  quick corrections. It's all smooth and controlled.

Afterwards, Kevin explains that this is what you get for your €114k.

All the science and engineering in this car is what allows you to hit such high speeds and in safety. And he said it as an engineer would, rather than a heavy-footed petrolhead, which is exactly the tone you want to hear from an instructor.

There are many people who will wonder at the point, or the value of creating cars that go so fast that their true value is only revealed when you're 60kph over the speed limit. But the truth is that the engineering advances employed in creating them is what makes our everyday cars safer and safer - surely something we can all appreciate.

The BMW M4, can go from zero to 100kph in 4.1 seconds.

The M4 was heavier and longer than the M2. You might say that the M2 was more nimble, but you could also argue that it felt a tad less stable. Both were automatic although there was the option to use the paddles.

The Mini was the only manual out of the three, and the only one where I was not required to wear a crash helmet. It was still as fast or  faster than any other car I'd ever driven to that point.

All of the cars had enormous torque across a significant range of revs. The BMW's in particular routinely red-lined at 6,500 rpms, which sounds a lot scarier than it is.

The good news is that the BMW Driving Experience is available to anyone. Just ring 045-860200 or by clicking here.