Fun Stuff

Piloting the 2019 BMW M850i, M340i, and Z4 on the Track

The 2019 BMW M850i xDrive, M340i xDrive and Z4 M40i are three very different new performance vehicles, but they all have something important in common: they’re made for enthusiasts who like to drive. Based on the newly redesigned Z4 sports car, 3 Series sedan and the all-new 8 Series coupe and tuned by BMW’s M performance division, these three performance cars are street-capable and track-ready right out of the showroom.

To demonstrate their performance potential, BMW brought us to the twisty 2.3-km Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit near Duncan, BC. After a track description and a safety briefing, they gave us each a helmet and let us loose. Here’s what we discovered.

BMW M850i xDrive

Long, low, and wide, the all-new 2019 BMW M850i xDrive Coupe looks almost too big and heavy to be a great track car. But after only a few laps, I realized just how wrong first impressions can be. Its newly revised twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 puts out 523 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque, and is mated to an improved eight-speed Steptronic transmission with paddle shifters, driver-selectable Sport and Sport+ modes; its full-time xDrive all-wheel drive is capable of sending 100 percent of the torque to the rear wheels.

The M850i xDrive is blindingly fast in a straight line and rocketed down the track’s long straightaway before I could finish saying “Bayerische Motoren Werke”. BMW claims an impressive 0–100 km/h time of just 3.7 seconds.

Even more impressive is the way it handles: The M850i xDrive carves up corners with ease, going exactly where you point it with a surprising suddenness which I attribute to its unique four-wheel steering. As well there’s minimal body lean, fantastic grip, and virtually no understeer or oversteer. And the M850i brakes for corners so quickly and consistently that I found myself constantly braking too early.

To be fair, much of the credit for the M850i’s quickness has to be given to the car rather than the driver. The M850i is loaded with sophisticated steering, braking, handling and powertrain, technologies that amplify or compensate for the driver’s abilities. Sensors constantly monitor the speed, road surface, and vehicle dynamics and instruct the car’s suspension, steering, brakes, engine, and transmission to work together in real time. For example, active roll stabilization firms up the shocks when cornering at high speeds, xDrive varies engine power from front to rear to improve traction, and Dynamic Stability Control can brake individual wheels to enhance stability.

These tech features and others enable the M850i driver to go faster and more safely than they otherwise would – and most importantly, without spoiling the fun of driving. Anyone who owns this car should take it out on the track at least once.

BMW M340i xDrive

Available with rear-wheel drive or xDrive (AWD), the new 2019 BMW M340i adds a performance dimension to a car that is already a fine driver, the new 3 Series sedan. For starters, the M340i replaces the 330i’s 255 hp 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder with a 382 hp 3.0-litre inline-six-cylinder which drops the 0–100 km/h time from 5.6 seconds to 4.6 seconds (4.3 s for the M340i xDrive).

Unfortunately, a manual transmission isn’t available for 2019, but BMW’s new and improved eight-speed Steptronic transmission offers quicker shift times and smoother shifts. In addition, the M340i has BMW’s new-for-2019 lift-related dampers that improve sporty handling without sacrificing comfort, as well as firmer springs and anti-roll bars, a higher degree of wheel camber and additional body struts. To further enhance handling, the M340i’s ride height is 10 mm lower than the standard 3 Series sedan.

On the track, you can feel and hear the distinctive and racy sound of the M340i’s 3.0-litre straight-six-cylinder engine as it rises and falls with each super-quick gear change. Our car had the xDrive all-wheel drive system, which actively varies torque front to rear as needed, and BMW’s M Sport rear differential – these work together to maximize grip when cornering, and minimize front-end ploughing and tail-sliding.

At speed, the M340i xDrive feels balanced and controllable during sudden directional changes, brakes quickly without diving too much, and steers with precision and ease of effort. The M340i xDrive is easy to drive fast and xDrive doesn’t appear to detract from its performance on dry surfaces. In the rain or snow, the M340 xDrive would be clearly superior. In fact, the M340i xDrive sedan may be the perfect all-around five-passenger family sports sedan for Canadian enthusiasts.

BMW Z4 M40i

The only true sports car of the bunch, the two-seater, rear-wheel-drive 2019 BMW Z4 M40i combines a traditional top-down, wind-in-the-hair experience with the awesome power of BMW’s powerful 382 hp 3.0-litre inline-six-cylinder engine, fast-changing eight-speed Steptronic transmission with manual shift paddles, and a host of anti-skid technologies designed to keep the sunny side up. Purists will lament the absence of an available manual transmission but it seems to be the trend nowadays as fewer and fewer buyers are choosing manuals. Never mind – the Z4 M40i is still a joy to drive on the track. Being small and light, it has a great power-to-weight ratio and sprints from zero to 100 km/h in just 4.5 seconds.

With the new vinyl top down, the driver can fully enjoy the race-car-like sound of the straight-six engine and the superior visibility of an open-top roadster. Low to the ground, the Z4 M40i whips around corners in a nimble and darty fashion, its short wheelbase and 50/50 front–rear weight distribution contributing to its agility and balance. The electromechanical steering is quick and responsive, and the brakes are super strong, another benefit of a smaller and lighter car. Did I mention that it’s comfortable too, unlike the hard ride of traditional sports cars? With the push of a button, drivers can choose between Comfort, Sport, or Sport+ modes for enhanced performance; but even in Sport mode, the ride is well damped.

What surprised me most was the lack of oversteer when taking sharp turns – here is where BMW’s suspension technology and safety features like stability control and limited-slip differential are able to compensate for the lateral forces at play when cornering. These safety features are particularly important when it’s raining or snowing, allowing the Z4 M40i to be enjoyed rain or shine without worrying about poor rear tire traction. That’s definitely a benefit for Canadian sports car lovers.