BMW recently hosted one of its M Track Days at the famous F1 track, Circuit of the Americas, in Austin Texas and we had the opportunity to attend and enjoy. These events are held at tracks all over the world but we were only able to attend the COTA portion of the U.S. portion. BMW M is the host of these track days and there were many, many M cars on hand. Many of which were fully kitted out in M Performance Parts, making them even more exciting than normal M cars. The cost to attend is $250 but it’s guaranteed fun.
COTA is arguably one of the fastest race tracks in the world and is home to the United States Grand Prix, so we obviously jumped at the opportunity to drive on such an fantastic track with open arms. Its long straightaways and combination of fast, tight corners make it a perfect test-bed for BMW’s M cars. It was also the perfect place to push the cars back-to-back, both standard M cars and M Performance Parts-equipped cars, to get an idea of the difference between the two.
Many of these M Performance Parts increase performance and handling only at a level of driving that is dangerous for the street. So driving these cars back-to-back on one of the best tracks in the world was a real treat and really allowed us to see what M Performance Parts had to offer. And that was really the point of the event, to sample these cars against each other and spot the differences.
The cars we had on hand were the BMW M2, M3, M4 and 340i. Some of which were left in stock form and some were fully decked out with M Performance goodies. Having the exact car in stock for and upgraded form really helped us get a good feel for what these parts do. While the stock cars are fun, it’s cool to see what a few upgrades can do. The M Performance cars were fitted with quite a few bits to really enhance the experience. Things like stiffer suspension, carbon fiber aerodynamics, stickier tires, titanium exhausts and, in the case of the BMW 340i, limited-slip differentials. There are more add-ons than can be had, obviously, but these are just some of the upgrades our cars were fitted with. The fill list of M Performance Parts can be seen here.
BMW M3 and M4
With cars like the BMW M3 and M4 Coupe, the M Performance Parts are really all about excitement. Both cars already performance at such a high level and both are already so fast. So it’s not like a few carbon aerodynamic tweaks are going to drastically improve performance. However, these parts can drastically improve the excitement levels. The titanium exhaust option fixes the biggest problem with the M3/M4 — the noise. That upgraded exhaust brings a lot of it and it sounds metallic and raw, like a proper M car should. It’s also shockingly loud. Cold start will wake your neighborhood.
They also look better with the M Performance parts. All of the carbon add-ons and stripes make them look brash and angry, like they belong on a race track. If you’re looking for something more subtle, these visual upgrades obviously aren’t for you. But if you want something that looks as loud as it sounds, these visual add-ons will be sure to delight.
When driven hard, the stickier Michelins provide incredible grip through COTA’s faster corners, allowing almost silly cornering speeds. Turn-in is better and the rear axle feels far more controllable. This is in part due to the sticky tires and the sportier suspension. Turn 3 and the famous COTA “esses” was the spot to test the grip and it did not fail us.
Then, when you get the car on the straights, you can really ring the engines neck and hear the blare of the titanium exhaust. All while holding onto and looking at the M Performance steering wheel, which is wrapped in leather, Alcantara and carbon fiber.
The one M Performance part that stood out on this M3 was the rear wing made of carbon fiber. Compared to the stock car, the M3 felt more planted, like a proper race car and a bit more stable in corners. Hard to tell how much better it is, unless you’re a pro race driver chasing the tenth of a second.
The upgraded suspension definitely got me through the tight corners much faster than the standard M3. The car just felt much more tighter, thanks to the two spring struts with height-adjustable spring plates for the front axle and 2 individual springs with height-adjustable spring plates at the rear. The height adjustment offers a range of between 5 and 20 mm.
So the entire track-day experience can be upgraded with M Performance parts.
As for the BMW M2, keeping it simple is always best. The biggest reason why the M2 is an enthusiast-darling is that it’s about as simple and pure as you’re going to get from a modern BMW. It’s the most engaging and entertaining car in BMW M’s lineup and was the car most enjoyed driving at COTA. If there’s a complaint about the M2 it’s that it’s not as visually exciting as the M3 or M4.
The M Performance livery helps with that, adding M-colored stripes down the shoulder line and around the rear diffuser. It makes the M2 look racy and exciting. Also, the Style 763 M wheels look incredible. They’re probably the best additions to the M2, as the car’s standard wheels look a bit humdrum. The wheels are wrapped in the Michelin Sport Cup 2 tires, which shine on a track like COTA.
The exhaust helps, too, though it’s not a fully titanium exhaust like on the M3. Though, it does sound fantastic and the M2 equipped with the upgraded exhaust was the best sounding car at COTA. It has the natural advantage of using BMW’s N55 engine, which sounds better than the M3/M4’s S55. So with the upgrade it sounds unreal.
Again, the upgraded suspension is what shines on the M2 as well. The recommended lowering of the M Performance coilover chassis compared to the standard chassis is -15 mm, but a further lowering of -5 mm is possible as well. There are also 16 setting options for tension stage attenuation / 12 setting options for compression stage attenuation.
The “tuned up” M2 was a blast in both the tight and fast corners, gave me the confidence to be more aggressive. Confidence came also from the brake system which gets some love via more-aggressive M Performance brake pads, which BMW says utilize a compound derived from endurance-racing setups.
The suspension upgrade is, in my opinion, the best aftermarket upgrade on the M2, especially if you occasionally track the car. It changes the character of the M2, much more fun to drive and more planted on the track. It also somewhat makes you a better driver, you feel faster with each passing lap.
What blew me away was how much more the M2 can be improved, with the right parts. Gives me hopes that the rumored M2 CS will be a proper track monster, in the compact segment.
Though it’s on the non-M cars that the performance upgrades can be much more noticeable. For instance, on cars like the BMW 340i, the limited-slip differential options makes a huge difference on track. Whereas the car’s standard open-diff would cause some choppiness and uneasiness through skids, which can be annoying and even dangerous, the limited-slip diff allows for really smooth and controlled slides. It also helps put the power down dramatically, which makes lap times better and your overall track experience more enjoyable. If you’re looking to do any sort of hard driving or track driving, the limited-slip diff is a must-have option.
Also, for cars like the 340i, the upgraded M Performance exhaust can make a world of a difference. Being that those cars aren’t proper M cars, their exhausts, while very nice, are a bit muted. So the upgraded exhaust system can go a long way to making your standard car sound like a real-deal M car. On non-M cars, the visual upgrades also carry more significance. Without the flared wheel arches and snorting nostrils of the genuine M cars, there isn’t as much visual drama to the BMW 340i. So adding M Performance liveries, carbon fiber aerodynamics and different wheels can make your standard BMW 340i look like a genuine performance machine.
During our time at COTA, we pushes these cars hard, back-to-back, all day long. It was not only a really fun and exciting experience but an interesting one as well. It’s not often we get to really put these parts’ values to the test by driving them against the standard setups. Through the brutal gauntlet that is the Circuit of the Americas, we truly learned what these parts can do, how they improve the car and which ones are worth getting.
A day at the track doesn’t get much better.