All posts by Mitchell Weitzman

I Drove a Manual M4 Today, and it was Awesome

An M4 Competition, that is, the most powerful and focused real M4 you can buy today. I have had chances to drive multiple M3 and M4s, both competition and standard ‘base’ models (oh the horror, the horror of a base M4…), but never the opportunity of one with a clutch pedal. If you’ve read my stuff before you’ll already know I’m a fan of changing gear myself, rather than pulling a slim metal blade 1 centimeter. I’ve also always had reservations of the new M cars because of their turbocharging and lack of steering feel, but by the grace of his holiness the lord of clutch, it’s just better with a stick. An M3/4 always felt detached to me, but by putting an H-pattern next to you and a third pedal, the missing bonding element of driver and car has been remedied.

To be frank, the involvement is on another level. Now I can’t just rely on that prodigious wave of torque that the S55 twin-turbo provides, because now I have to make sure I’m in the right gear for it to make mayhem of the asphalt below. The satisfaction of riding out second gear and getting a smooth, yet quick 2-3 shift is deeply rewarding as well. And those heel-toe…oh wait, that’s right, you can’t. Well, you can, but what’s the point when it has software that automatically blips the throttle on downshifts. And I honestly have no idea how to turn this bit of programming off. I clicked into MDM mode and it still did it. I then turned off DSC completely and yes, it still did it. It makes normal driving easier and allows quicker downchanges, but I had trouble liking it.

Here’s an example: going down from 4th to 2nd, I put the clutch in and selected 2nd with my right hand, and as I’m used to on my E46, slowly let the clutch out to ensure smooth transition to the lower gear. Problem is, the car already blipped the throttle quite heavily, so instead of feeling the clutch grab and drag as I eased it out, it remained light with zero feel. Not an issue, just something to get used to. The quicker you changed down a gear, the better it works. Perhaps there’s a fuse for it…or a wire to snip.

Also, another slight grievance, the car in question had only 800 miles on it, but the gearshift was a bit clunky, with what felt like a diff thud on several upshifts, but I’m sure it’ll smooth out over time. The difference in shift quality between a M235i and 5,000 mile one assure me this. Never have I enjoyed driving a new M car as much. It even gave the engine more character, as the manual exposes turbo lag. It now becomes your responsibility to keep the engine in the sweet spot when you ask for it. And it’s by no means a chore. Changing gear is supposed to be fun, after all. You also feel the boost build more intensely. In second at 3k you can floor it and you think, “nothing, nothing, oh wait, I think it’s there, yes it’s-HOLY BLOODY MOTHER OF 21-YEAR-OLD SCOTCH!” I’ll say it again, in this case, lag is cool. It’s character.

What I really didn’t like though? I love the wheels of the competition package, and the marginal power boost, but damn is the ride stiff. Even in comfort on admittedly rough surface streets, the ride was medieval. Smooth roads are mostly fine, but with some surface breaks and chewed up tarmac, it’s tiring. Tradeoffs though are supreme steering reflexes and zero roll in the chassis. Everyday though, I don’t know if I could do it. Yet, those wheels though. But that ride…BUT THOSE WHEELS. It’s tough, I know. #1stWorldProblems.

I feel I may have got sidetracked with the purpose of this story. So again, back to the topic, I drove an M4 with a manual transmission and it was awesome. Adding back that lost ingredient fixes my largest gripe with the M4, and that was a lack of intimacy and connection. It’s the prescription for both symptoms. DCT is great; it’s fast, efficient, and easy, but I personally find it boring. And you can brag to people you drive a stick also. First thing I do when I see a cool car on the street? Walk up to the window and peer in to see if a gear lever resides inside. What can I say, I’m a romantic. Buy a manual and you’re ride will also probably be more valuable in the future as well. Just speculating. Save the manuals!

New BMW 5-series Review on Road and Track

By Mitchell Weitzman

“They’re doing a 5-series event at an F1 track?” Was my first thought of BMW’s Back to the Track event, starring the new G30 coded 5-series, at, yep, the Circuit of the Americas, a full-blown Formula 1 race circuit. This isn’t for a new M5. It could be out of it’s element I thought, why not have this in Palm Springs or Miami? Nope, COTA will suffice.

Now for the real fun. BMW invited out some talent out to show us a good time, in the form of Adam Andretti, yes, one of those Andretti’s, overall Le Mans winner Davy Jones, former F1, INDYCAR, and CART driver Roberto Guerrero, do-it-all open-wheel and sportscar man Shane Donley, and legendary track day instructor and racer Mark Wolocatiuk. Their mission? Drive as hard as possible and as close as possible.

So there I was, on a plane to Austin, Texas to drive the new 5 series. I want the new 5 to be good, of course. As comfortable as it was, I was always underwhelmed by the prior 5er, favoring older models in its stead, finding it somewhat boring with little engagement.

So what has changed? It’s a new chassis featuring lighter metals like aluminum and magnesium (no Carbon Core present here), and the new engine family migrated over from the 330i and 340i. There are several autonomous features as well. One such is a lane assistant that will keep the car in your lane providing micro steering adjustments as it scans for visible lane markings and hooks up to following the car in front. When coupled with adaptive cruise control, which will brake and slow down to a complete stop if the car in front does, and then speed back up to your set speed; It’s the closest to autonomy this side of a Tesla. There’s even a ‘display’ key that looks like an old small phone with a tiny touchscreen. With the right package, you can tell the car to pull into or out of a parking spot while standing beside the car, mostly for showing off to your friends. Gesture controls have been passed down from big brother 7 as well. I don’t see the practical use of them as it means taking your hands off the wheel, but I’m sure your date and her friends will be impressed. My favorite tech comes in the form of a 360-degree camera with many many viewing angles. Honestly, there is no excuse anymore for curbing a wheel here. And of course, none of this is standard.It has simply become a tech lover’s delight. Continue reading New BMW 5-series Review on Road and Track

Cooper Tire RS3-G1 Update in California’s Monsoon Winter

So as some of you might have heard, California is getting a lot of rain this winter. I thought it was supposed to have been last year, with all the El Nino talk, but El Nino has got nothing on what we’ve had this year. Quite simply, in the last two months, Sacramento has just about accumulated the amount of rain it gets in an entire year. In TWO MONTHS. There was five inches of rain in a four-day span just the other week…

Anyways, enough about the weather. What this meant though was it presented the perfect testing ground for these new Cooper Tire RS3-G1‘s  wrapped around the wheels of my 330i ZHP. These are touted as an ultra high-performance all-season tire, designed to work and excel in the rain. So how are they doing? Quite well. MUCH better than those Sumitomo summer tires I had prior in the wet. In short, when the road is soaked, I don’t find myself tiptoeing around corners. Approaching a right turn merge lane at a signal, I don’t drive any slower than if it were dry, such is the confidence the Coopers give in less than ideal conditions.

My favorite bit is switching off the traction control and adding gratuitous power through a good corner (when the coast is clear of course) to gleefully play with the balance of the E46 chassis. It’s quite addictive, this. Nothing like hanging out the ‘arse of a rear-wheel drive car. And it’s easy too! I can thank the tires for that, as the front does not wash out at all either. So yes, they have good grip in the wet and can be playful upon desire.

Through standing water, a few inches deep, they do aquaplane ever so slightly. Going straight through an asphalt river I do lose the ability to provide steering input momentarily. It doesn’t throw you around however, nor jerk the wheel around. They track straight through it, which is good and causes no alarm. This does only occur when the water is at least a couple inches deep.

Overall so far, I am very satisfied with the new rubber. The dry grip remains outstanding with severely good wet weather performance. Unfortunately, no real snow driving yet, and I don’t really want to. As Jeremy Clarkson once said, “In the snow, as any BMW driver will tell you, front-wheel drive is a lot better.”