This is the1

On a track tour­ney, Craig Duff sees the en­try-level BMW up­stage its dearer sib­lings

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Road Test -

+ THE M135i and I are snarling in frus­tra­tion as we’re forced to hold speed through the 250-de­gree right-han­der.

For once it’s not en­tirely driver er­ror.

New Zealand’s new­est race­track, High­lands Mo­tor­sport Park near Cromwell, is a 4.8km con­coc­tion of cor­ners de­signed to give man and ma­chine no re­lief.

The only thing that runs off this track un­scathed is rain­wa­ter and there hasn’t been any of that since the cir­cuit opened at Easter, so a tal­cum-pow­der­ing of dust lies in wait to pun­ish any de­vi­a­tion off the rac­ing line.

The prospect of ar­gu­ing with the Armco and con­crete bar­ri­ers tends to give even me a de­gree of pa­tience.

BMW’s baby per­for­mance car is on the limit of its mas­sive me­chan­i­cal grip but is still let­ting me know my steer­ing and throt­tle fi­nesse are about as sub­tle as Bob Kat­ter. The M-sus­pen­sion can only do so much with so lit­tle tal­ent, as the fas­tre­ced­ing M6 ahead shows.

A few laps later and the base 116i hatch is even more im­pres­sive through the same sweep­ing turn — and all the turns that fol­lowed.

De­spite its skin­nier rub­ber af­ford­ing a lit­tle less grip, the en­try-level 1 Se­ries — weigh­ing 160kg less — clings to the cor­ner at a sim­i­lar pace, al­beit with a bit more bob­bing sus­pen­sion.

It’s only as the lock comes off and the power goes down that you re­mem­ber the en­gine, as will­ing as it is across the rev range, is chan­nelling about half the 135’s out­put. Which helps ex­plain why the auto-equipped 116 costs $41,300 and the M135 is $75,100.

The other sur­prise per­former is the tri-turbo X5 M50d. The big SUV car­ries its weight like a rugby for­ward. It’s not the quick­est of this quar­tet to change di­rec­tion but there’s no sign of wal­low­ing once pointed in, thanks largely to the anti-dive sus­pen­sion and all-wheel drive sys­tem that trans­fers torque de­pend­ing on which wheel’s about to let go.

The mon­ster diesel has a mo­men­tary lag as the go pedal is mashed but then winds up like a tur­bine on the tini­est straight. The next cor­ner is con­se­quently ap­proached at pace but in no sense is this a 2.1-tonne truck — the brakes refuse to fade de­spite in­ces­sant flog­ging.

Fi­nally, there’s the M6. Point it at a fast bit of road and the pre­mium coupe is in its el­e­ment. A flat de­sign and well-en­gi­neered lay­out help dis­guise the 1.8-tonne mass as the 4.4-litre V8 pro­pels the grand tourer from cor­ner to cor­ner at a pace that has pas­sen­gers pray­ing to slow down.

But this is a track and the M6 will hold neck-strain­ing cor­ner pace with­out com­plaint. When it does break loose, the trac­tion con­trol hands con­trol back be­fore the pace has slowed.

The ver­dict? If you’ve the coin, High­lands Mo­tor­sport Park is a re­ward­ing place to play. The same ap­plies to the BMWs that plied its sur­face last week.

BMW holds the global lead in the pres­tige stakes and that’s down to the dy­namic ca­pa­bil­i­ties of its cars.

In Aus­tralia, it needs to fine-tune the fea­ture/cost re­turn to re­gain that lead from the arch-ri­val with the three-pointed star.

Tony Quinn is as well known for his pas­sion for mo­tor-sport as he is for own­ing VIP Pet­foods. The self-made mul­ti­mil­lion­aire has in­vested a re­puted $20 mil­lion to cre­ate a 4.8km prov­ing ground and mem­bers-only play­ground that can be bro­ken into three sep­a­rate tracks.

The High­lands Mo­tor­sport Park is an amal­gam of cor­ners from some of the globe’s most fa­mous race­tracks. The lay­out in­cludes GPS-re­pro­duced ver­sions of the Spa Bus Stop and the Nur­bur­gring’s banked Carousel.

The venue will op­er­ate as a test fa­cil­ity and a pri­vate track for mem­bers. Top-tier mem­ber­ship costs $NZ4800, with an­nual track fees of $NZ4500 — plat­inum and in­ter­na­tional mem­bers get 80 days of track time a year. Quinn also plans to host the fi­nal round of the GT se­ries in Novem­ber.

Given the close­ness of the bar­ri­ers, it prom­ises to be an eventful race.

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