2018 BMW M4 Club Sport F82. We introduce BMW’s harder hitting M4 CS F82 to the UK via a non-stop tour of some of Europe’s greatest race tracks. Circuit Breaker... BMW has enjoyed countless race victories at tracks around Europe; we visit a number of them in the new 2018 454bhp M4 CS F82-type, as a test of its mettle and to lap up the atmosphere. Text by Adam Towler. Photography by Aston Parrott.
The gruff, grating bark rises to a domineering pitch. Just 20 minutes ago we extracted the M4 CS F82 from the eerie silence of its hometown press fleet lair – all deserted, dimly lit corridors on a Sunday afternoon, clammy bunker-like warmth cloaking neat rows of pristine BMWs in stifling silence, ready for collection. Now, as we head north from Munich on the A9 autobahn, the traffic is light, the road dry, conditions perfect.
Without the synthetic drone of the artificial noise generator with which other M4 models are equipped, the twin-turbo six at last sounds like an actual internal combustion engine, with hints of the S50 from the E36 M3, the volume almost oppressive thanks to the CS’s freer-flowing exhaust. Time to get going for real. Past 120mph. Past 140, 150, 160.
Past 170mph, still with vigour. Then, at 174mph, a deft, barely perceptible lurch betrays the arrival of the speed limiter. With the finely poised balance of a ballerina rising up on the toes of one foot, the CS has reached the final phase of its aerodynamic envelope. At 160mph it was self-assured, but the persistent battering of the airflow around the body now makes it edgy, the response of the steering perceptibly lighter and less accurate – not ideal now that mild curves have become genuine corners. And this in spite of the CS’s bespoke carbonfibre front splitter and coquettish bootlid spoiler reducing lift. Every input I make is the slowest, weakest, smallest I can get away with. Concentration is all-consuming. Yet the 100 miles between Munich and Nuremberg disappear indecently fast.
Earlier, I’d been wondering if the M4 CS is a real M-car in the sense that you and I love to picture them. Efficient brilliance, hard-as-tungsten, but with a stein-swilling sense of hooliganism just below the surface that often leads to smoking Michelins. It’s only in the last few months, with the advent of the 2018 model year Competition Package specification, that the M4 has earned our favour. Now it’s the CS’s turn, and driving one to the UK via as many racing circuits connected with the BMW marque as possible should provide us with some answers.
It’s dusk when we reach the outskirts of Nuremberg, and we’ve nearly drained the fuel tank in one sitting. We’ve come to Bavaria’s second biggest city to visit the Norisring. A street circuit unlike any other, it resides to the south-east of the city centre and its history is anything but orthodox. Simplistic in layout, its 1.4 miles of long straights and just eight corners are laid out on the former Nazi party rally grounds, with the towering Steintribüne (stone grandstand) from which Adolf Hitler addressed the massed crowds in the 1930s at its centre.
Covering an area over four miles square in size, the development was one of the first projects for Hitler’s architect Albert Speer, but was never completed. Racing actually began here as early as 1947, and over the years the track has become an instantly recognisable part of German motorsport culture, with big crowds crammed into the grandstands watching single-seaters and top-level sports cars. But it’s the rough and tumble of the DTM (the German Touring Car Championship) that’s perhaps most closely associated with the place, particularly in its late-’80s/early-’90s pomp. Take 1987, when a certain Olaf Manthey, now of Porsche racing team fame, won in his E30 M3, with the rival M3s of Marc Hessel second and eventual season champ Eric van de Poele sixth.
It’s those screaming four-cylinder M3s that I picture as we pad around the lonely circuit tonight, letting the CS run wide at the exit of the Schöller-S chicane so that the front wing nearly grazes the wall – it’s not unknown for DTM drivers to actually brush the concrete barrier while seeking that last tenth or two. We also pass the small memorial for racing legend Pedro Rodriguez, who was killed on this stretch of the track in 1971 when the privateer Ferrari 512M he was driving hit the wall at speed and exploded.
It’s tricky to define, but there’s an uncomfortable, chilling atmosphere at the deserted Norisring that makes me zip my jacket right to the collar and look forward to leaving as soon as we can. This is a place where great evil was unquestionably present, and the sense of it in the darkness is profoundly unsettling.
I’d like to tell you something interesting about the journey to Hockenheim the next day, but the slog westwards is one long traffic-congested chore. The CS rides with the same taut but carefully defined movements that make the Competition Package M4 a surprisingly biddable companion, even if the featureless slabs of lightweight door-cards and simplified centre console mean there’s very little storage space for all the road-trip usuals.
The CS is effectively a further round of honing on top of the Comp Pack. It shares the same excellent chassis, although the adaptive dampers and electromechanical steering have both been reprogrammed, largely to take into account the new Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres. They’re fitted around lightweight forged rims with a proper motorsport aesthetic, and in addition to the aforementioned aerodynamic addenda there’s a new bonnet with a pronounced power-dome and a large vent slashed into its front; it’s made from carbonfibre and is 25 per cent lighter, so BMW says. Even so, all-in the CS is only 5kg lighter than a DCT equipped Competition Package (the CS is DCT only).
Hockenheim is one of those racetracks with an indefinable air of former glories. While still an active F1 circuit, it’s never been the same since the giant loop into the dense forest was closed and the track redesigned by that hate figure of circuit design, Hermann Tilke, in time for the 2002 German Grand Prix. Today, if you’re persistent and smile like you know where you’re going, you can drive out to where the old forest loop would rejoin at the stadium section.
The arrow-straight strip of tarmac that leads to the horizon is now for ramblers and cyclists, not 200mph racing cars. BMW memories? I spend a moment in the silence trying to imagine Hans-Joachim Stuck racing to second place in the 1981 DRM round with his Schnitzer-run BMW M1 Turbo, a car that developed as much as 1000bhp. What I should probably be thinking of is Ralf Schumacher’s victory in the last GP to be held on the old track, in 2001, at the wheel of a Williams- BMW FW23, its V10 screaming at 19,000rpm.
Onwards. I’m in the groove with the CS now: the Alcantara ‘lightweight’ sports seat so comfortable, my preferred driving modes set (comfort for most things to avoid artificial weight, medium engine response, fast but not too harsh gearshift, comfy ride). Flugplatz Mainz-Finthen makes Bruntingthorpe look like Heathrow in the summer holidays. As the oppressive heat builds in the still Rhineland air I trundle the CS past the preserved American army guardhouse – a remnant of the facility’s post-war life – and head for the active part of the airfield. It’s been a short and uneventful drive from Hockenheim.
A motley ensemble of meek light aircraft doze silently as they wait for a pleasure or student flight. It’s a far cry from the summer of 1943, when this aerodrome would have reverberated with the roar of Luftwaffe fighter planes tasked with defending the Third Reich against the onslaught of American heavy bombers undertaking mass daylight raids. Their hangar is still here, clinging on but seemingly irretrievably decayed, the silence poignant.
It was also far from silent on 20 May 1990, when the DTM arrived. With a relative lack of permanent venues, and burgeoning popularity, the series’ governing body sought new tracks even if they were entirely temporary. Unlike in Britain, many of Germany’s airbases were still active or only recently decommissioned in the 1980s, so going motor racing on them was much like racing in England in the early 1950s, with circuits laid out with cones and tyre walls, runways still clearly marked, and parked aircraft visible in the background. Hans-Joachim Stuck would win the 1990 season with Audi’s steamroller V8 quattro saloon, but E30 M3s, now in ultimate 2.5-litre Sport Evolution form, dominated the results at Finthen, where Johnny Cecotto achieved a double race victory.
However, you can’t go on a tour of German racing circuits and not visit the greatest of them all. Getting to the Nürburgring from Mainz is easy, and the final part of the journey there provides the sort of roads on which to at last enjoy the CS’s more dynamic attributes.
The CS offers an extra 10bhp over the Competition Package model, along with another 36lb ft of torque. The resulting 454bhp and 442lb ft are more than enough to satisfy, delivered with an unyielding punch and an enthusiasm that’s maintained as the revs rise. Having said that, as the miles pass, I still miss the old naturally aspirated M engines, and I’d trade the additional performance of the turbo motor for some of that former crispness and fiery top end. There’s the question of intake noise, too: the CS’s engine sounds mighty through the mid-range, but its voice never evolves at higher rpm into something more exotic.
Yet this is still a very rewarding car on a multitude of levels. There’s a connection in play here, founded in a steering rack that’s genuine in its responses in spite of the bulky Alcantara-covered rim. Its reactions are always positive, and while this M4 can be as spiky as ever when the boost takes hold, there’s such superb balance inherent in the car, aided by the Cup 2s’ undoubted raw grip, that it breeds real confidence. You always know you’re playing a senior game with the CS, but it’s hugely satisfying to feel you’re on top of it, rather than it leading you.
It’s been raining at the Ring and the smooth roads through the forests around the circuit have an almost icy lack of grip, but the CS talks back at you, encouraging and warning in equal measure. Tired but elated, we finish the day with a big hunk of steak cooked on a red-hot stone at the Restaurant Pistenklause, washed down with some excellent German beer and surrounded by thousands of items of motor racing memorabilia on the walls. Somewhere, inevitably, will be an image of a BMW CSL airborne at Pflanzgarten in the 1970s. Outside, the CS sits cooling in the shadow of Nürburg castle, and only a few Touristenfahrten laps (we arrived too late to play) could have made the day any better.
The next morning and I feel the customary pang of sadness when driving away from the Nürburgring: it’s as if you’re leaving a cosy petrolhead womb and emerging back out in the cold, harsh environs of the real world, where perhaps, unimaginably, not everyone actually likes fast cars and motor racing. Funnily enough, it hadn’t even crossed my mind that the CS recorded a lap time of 7min 38sec around here, but I guess that’s the relevance of Ring lap times for you.
The pain of separation is mitigated considerably by a short drive through the Ardennes and into Belgium, then on to the breathtaking circuit of Spa- Francorchamps – perhaps the one place that can challenge the Ring for greatness. If you’ve never been there before – or even if you’re returning – there is little that can prepare the mind for the sheer scale, majesty and beauty of this track and its surroundings. The gradients are far greater than they ever appear on the telly, and the dense pine forests create a foreboding atmosphere that seeps straight into your bones.
Spa and BMW go together like the local frites and mayonnaise. Whether on the ‘new’ Grand Prix track, where the E30 M3s defeated the Sierra Cosworths in the 24 Hours of 1990, or out in the wilds of the original, 8.7-mile circuit, which was a favourite hunting ground for the 3.0 CS and CSL models in the classic touring car battles of the 1970s. It’s to the latter I always get drawn – in fact, I don’t think I’ve made a visit here yet without driving a ‘lap’ of the original outer circuit, such as it remains, on the public roads. To do so requires your powers of imagination. You need to block out the other traffic, the road furniture, the roundabouts and new junctions, and try to visualise it how it was in the classic imagery of the period.
Let’s be honest, other than turning a steering wheel and pressing pedals, racing out here back then had almost nothing in common with the modern form of the sport. Just consider a lap record average speed of 163mph in 1973; the 160mph Burnenville corner that lasted for an eternity and was bordered at its edge by only a flimsy piece of Armco; and a kink, not only fearsome because it was taken with the slightest of lifts at around 200mph, but because directly on its exit, just a few feet from the road, was the front door of a chippy (the Friterie de Masta, to be precise). The only thing that can remotely compare is the current Isle of Man TT circuit – the old Spa was a true road circuit in the most terrifying of senses.
BMW drivers won here, true, but they also died here, like Alpina CSL man Hans-Peter Joisten at Burnenville in the gruesome 1973 race, along with Alfa driver Roger Dubos who he was lapping while leading the 24-hour race that year. While such stories turn the stomach, for any race fan the magnetic attraction of Spa is undiminished. There are Ferrari FXX Ks running today, and as we watch them later howling up Eau Rouge trailing a wall of spray, so the emotions generated by this cathedral of motor racing are something I feel powerfully in my gut.
From Spa it’s on to the Zolder circuit. There are two reasons to come here. The first, sadly, is that it will be forever known as the place where Gilles Villeneuve, the great Ferrari driver, was killed in 1982. We’re also here because in 1988 Zolder was a round of the European Touring Car Championship, a scaled down version of the inaugural World series from the year before. Once again BMW’s E30 M3s fought the Ford’s RS500 Cosworths, and with a sudden downpour creating havoc part way through the four-hour race, it was the E30 of van de Poele and Roberto Ravaglia that took the win. For the latter, it was another step on the road to the ETCC Drivers’ title that year.
This leg of the journey is all about shrinking distances, and I’m missing driving the CS in the manner it wants to be driven. The moments when you can really use a car that sprints from 0 to 62mph in 3.9 seconds are not that frequent, even in the less populated areas of Europe. Back in the UK the CS is a caged animal in the south-east, and I’m feeling more than a little frustrated by the time we rock up at the more familiar surroundings of Brands Hatch.
On 13 June 1993, the BTCC was hitting its stride, a golden era before aerodynamics and big budgets really took hold; it was also a prime time for BMW.
‘Smokin’ Jo Winklehock won Race 1 in his 318i; teammate Steve ‘Soperman’ Soper took Race 2. That’s one of my key BMW motorsport memories, a little nugget that contributes to the marque’s extraordinary motorsport history, particularly in touring car racing. Smokin’ Jo, open-face yellow lid barely visible above the steering wheel, on the limit, winning. It’s just one example of why fast BMWs – and M-cars – matter, and it’s why, even if at just shy of ninety grand the M4 CS doesn’t really feel worth the extra over the excellent £62,080 2018 BMW M4 Competition Package F82, I am mighty glad BMW made it. It’s a proper M-car, at last.