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The Christmas Present for Petrol Heads

We Suggest Two of The Hottest Cars from BMW and Mini

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Kevin Haggarthy

Don’t you sometimes get fed up of being sensible? Forever having to make right and prudent choices about what to spend your money on and how to spend it? I guess we all have to be ‘sensible’ really – especially during these highly troubling times of job insecurity and a struggling economy.

BMW M2CS

MINI JOHN COOPER WORKS GP3

ENGINE

IN-LINE 6CYL 2,979 C TWIN TURBO

4 CYL 1998 CC TURBO

TORQUE

406LB @2350 -5500 RPM

450 NM

0-62 MPH

4.2 SECS

5.2 SECS

TOP SPEED

174 MPH (LIMITED TO)

164 MPH

POWER

444 BHP

302 BHP

PRICE

£75,355

£33,895

Well check this: A good friend of mine is self-employed and works all the hours God sends. Tucked away in his garage is a hard-earned Porsche 911 GT2 that he hardly gets a minute to drive. Covid-19 was a bit of a wake-up call for him, so he parked his business for a couple of weeks and took his GT2 for an epic drive across the Pyrenees. He’s back now beaming about life, and back to work again but he’s lived a dream and has no regrets. You’ve probably heard the saying, ‘No one lying on their death bed wishes they’d spent an extra day in the office’.

So, forget being sensible, forget financial prudency, and go and get yourself a BMW M2 CS or the new Mini GP3. Alternatively, take my advice and just buy whatever machine you can afford to that gets you excited about being alive. I’m choosing these two extremely exciting machines simply because BMW invited me to drive them.

BMW M2CS

Car buffs will have seen this black BMW M2 CS on the front covers of the motoring press over the last couple of months, and many readers will already have the lowdown on this limited edition ‘best yet’ M2. It is indeed quite a car. The regular performance stats don’t shake the earth these days but are impressive nonetheless, especially for a car this size that weighs only 1500kg.

Morning

So much to tell you about this car. There was a choice of manual and semi-automatic versions of the M2 CS to drive on this purpose-built track set up at the Bicester Heritage Centre in Oxfordshire. We took the manual of course – a no brainer. For those of you who snub manuals in favour of semi-auto ‘boxes’ please note that the majority of the orders for the M2 CS are manual. Maybe it wasn’t a bad idea to have my first drive of the M2 CS in the wet because in no time we had the traction control working overtime due to my over enthusiastic right foot on cold tyres (as good as these Michelin Pilot Sport tyres are). 444 bhp and a damp tight circuit put the M2 CS under considerable pressure to hold its own. We had just five laps in the morning session, (instructor beside me) and I left learning absolutely nothing about the car other than thinking, ‘You’d better be good if you want to tame this beast in the wet’. I walked away thinking maybe all the fuss was about nothing other than straight-line brawn and a fun waggly tail when you wanted to be naughty.

Versus afternoon

Come the afternoon, and an additional hour behind the wheel (again with instructor beside me) in mildly wet, and later dry conditions, the M2 CS and I got to know each other properly, and I was left gobsmacked by its capabilities – I would have been telling you all a completely different story if I had left after ‘just’ those five laps. While I too am a ‘performance driving instructor’ this time I was a little overly keen to gulp down his initial five laps in an M2 CS.

The brilliant instructor Christian Vann and I settled down to ‘learn’ the M2 CS properly. The ‘circuit’ started with an initial long left bend from the start line, followed by a sharp right, leading fast into a tight hairpin right-hander that, with entry speed, positioning, throttle and braking sorted you could go hard out of that final right-hander into an almost four-wheel drift to power down the short straight and back around to the start line again. Get all that lot right and you’ll get out of the car in awe of the BMW chassis engineers. The M2 CS is a stroke of handling genius when you understand what you’re doing with the car.

It takes grip levels to new heights, especially at the rear. You can be uncompromisingly hard on the throttle out of a tight right or left-hander, and you needn’t be worried about losing grip as the back tyres will hunch into the road and hold you there as if relegating over-steer to a dated concept. Put that down to genius dynamic wizardry and the brilliant tyres of course, aligned to that sweet 50:50 weight balance front and rear.

You can of course deliberately provoke a ‘Chris Harris’ tail slide for fun if you wish, but – especially in the dry – it requires a deliberate anchoring of the brakes and the guts to trust the car to slide out to an electronically controlled slip angle. In truth you don’t need guts really for the traction control on these cars make them almost fool proof. The guts come in after you’ve programmed your brain to accept that bends can actually be taken that fast – in the M2 CS they can.

What’s more you can have an equally rewarding handling ‘conversation’ with the front end of the car when driven hard too. As the handling of the M2 CS is very safe, understeer (when the car ‘pushes’ at the front on a bend or turn due to excess speed, less grip, or too tight a steering angle) is less of an, ‘Oh dear! I’ve overcooked it’ moment and more of simply another way of having high-speed fun; which is what the M2 CS was made for.

Of course, all this entertainment is for handling circuits. This is a road car. Yet look at it this way; if the M2 CS has such amazing on-track handling abilities, it is by default a very safe handling car on public roads. Ok, so the M2 CS and I didn’t get off to the best start, but we parted as blood brothers, simply because this car is an absolutely engaging and fiercely competent machine. Add to that genuine day-to-day usability and even at circa £75,000 it makes good value. My score out of ten for the Christmas list? Ten – no question.

MINI GP3

The new Mini GP3 – another hot one for us car buffs – sat idling to the left of the black M2 CS on the Bicester circuit. It looked bonkers – yet razor edged in purpose and styling. A roof mounted spoiler, aero-styled wheel arch suffixes, and bright red trim against a deep metallic grey paint job lends to the ultimate, in your face, ‘beat me from the lights if you think you’re bad’ machine.

Morning

I’m well past adolescence – or at least I thought I was until I saw this. For me, it was like spotting your favourite ride at the funfair. It was the morning five lap stint in the wet again; merely a matter of nudging the DCT box into drive, pressing the sport button, and flooring the throttle from the start line! The rest of the story was one of this 301 bhp front wheel drive and very stiffly sprung top spec Mini fish-tailing in the wet as the front wheels and amazing traction from its Hancook Ventus tyres, pulled the GP3 through the twist of tight bends and onto the circuit’s short straight like it was on a double dose of adrenalin. But you don’t frighten yourself; the chassis is too confidence inspiring for that and as we were on a track, ‘losing it’ had no greater consequence than ruffling the grass. Those five laps were akin to a sharp and very strong Espresso. I did those five laps quicker than my laps in the M2 CS – no, the GP3 isn’t quicker than the M2 CS, you just can’t jump behind the wheel of an M2 CS and power it around hell for leather without taking more time to get to know how to exploit its phenomenal performance. Put another way, the GP3 is a bit easier to drive as a ‘fresher’.

Versus Afternoon

GP3 part two – afternoon session. The circuit was dryer, but still a bit wet and already pumped up from the second drive in the M2CS. On dry tarmac you can better exploit the power and handling of course, and both speed and grip prove phenomenal. It’s failsafe and less powerful than the M2 CS, so if you’re not a particularly skilled driver the GP3 becomes instantly more rewarding. Cor, the GP3 is a great car though. You might be put off by the ‘boy racer’ decals, but after you’ve driven it, you’ll see that the performance matches the visual hype. Score out of ten? Eight.

Two truly phenomenal cars these. Each of these two will eventually go into that historic box of ‘classic collectors’, giving enthusiasts great pleasure for many years to come. Us older car buffs (some say I have a ‘car’ mental age of 14) sadly reflect on the fact that future generations won’t have the opportunity to enjoy great high-performance, combustion-engined cars in the way we have. All the more reason to make the most of it now and enjoy it all while we can. Happy Xmas!

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