Car and Driver takes a large array of contenders to Virginia International Raceway to determine how quick the sportiest cars on the market are in a controlled environment.
Lightning Lap can be considered the equivalent of the Nürburgring Nordschleife where many automakers fine tune their cars. The three-minutes laps offers long straight lines, elevation changes, and combination of slow, fast, and, scary-fast corners.
From BMW family, the U.S. magazine chose the almighty 1M, the tuned up 335is and Z4is, along with BMW’s fastest truck: X5 M.
Let’s have a look.
BMW X5 M – 3:11.1
Despite the X5 M’s flabby, 5289-pound curb weight, we expected it to be fast. And it is. Forget about the Grand Cherokee SRT8. The BMW blows its doors off. This SUV is quicker around VIR than the BMW 335is, as well as the Audi RS4 and BMW Z4 M coupe we ran here in 2007. Hell, it hangs off the rear bumper of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo.
We also expected that the brakes would perform well, and they exceeded in that regard by shrugging off a five-lap stint.
But we didn’t see this one coming: The X5 M’s plentiful ground clearance benefitted its lap time. Exiting the “Bitch” corner a little wide, we dropped a tire off track, which did not faze the X5 M’s chassis even a bit. The four-wheel drive did its job and the left-rear Bridgestone Dueler kicked up some grass, so we carried on with what ended up being the X5 M’s fastest lap of 3:11.1.
BMW 335is – 3:10.5
The 3:10.5 lap a 335i turned at our 2007 VIR event is just another reason to believe that those early turbocharged BMWs made more power than the advertised 300 ponies. After all, the 320-hp 335is is only 0.1 mph faster down the front straight, at 131.6 mph.
Even with the slower-than-expected lap time, the 335is is so committed to chassis neutrality that it might as well be Swiss. From the sharp left-hand Turn Four until the start of sector two, the 335is will change direction as readily with the gas pedal as with the steering wheel.
A transmission can’t be the only culprit for a car’s disappointing performance, right? Actually, it was the only complaint of the two drivers who drove the 335is. Subjectively, there were no glaring criticisms. Its chassis is slightly more upset by curbing, and the steering turn-in isn’t as immediate as the 1-series M’s. But the brake pedal offers nice initial bite; it’s easy to modulate and thus trail-brake.
The 335is is a joy to drive, even if this one was simply not as quick as the 335i from several years ago. We would choose the standard manual transmission if it were our money. And maybe that would improve the BMW’s lap time. It would certainly increase the fun quotient.
BMW 1M – 3:06.6
If there is anyone left out there unconvinced of the benefits of a wide torque band, they should take a lap in a 1-series M. At VIR, the 1M uses third gear for roughly 80 percent of the track because its 370 pound-feet of torque are available as low as 1500 rpm. That torque and fairly tall gearing (111 mph max in third gear) meant that we could go through sector four without a potentially chassis-upsetting gearchange. That helped the 1M complete that section in 14.7 seconds, tieing the mid-engined Cayman R and Evora S.
The same can be said for sector five, where we sailed along in the 1M, locked in third. In most other cars, we had to perform a fourth-to-third downshift there. With a short wheelbase and M3 suspension components, wheels, and tires, the 1M turns in crisply, without delay, and remains gleefully free of understeer. When we hopped back onto the torque wave exiting a corner, we were greeted with a healthy but manageable dose of oversteer. This was common but most pronounced at slow corners, such as Turn One and Oak Tree. Most of sector four is performed on the ragged edge of a full-on high-speed D1-like drift.
Lap after lap, the 1M’s brakes erased speed without a fight or any fade. And since it topped out at 133.9 mph on the front straight, there was a lot of speed to erase.
Even if the 1M couldn’t top the 3:05.4 lap its big brother the M3 posted in 2010, it delivers real M performance. And, like a bona fide sports car, it demands respect.