Driven: BMW and MINI Drive Day

Carlton Boyce spends the day playing with two BMWs and a MINI. Tough old life, eh?

A lot of car manufacturers hold ‘drive days’, during which a motoring journalist can drive examples from its entire range. It’s a great idea that allows you to gain an insight into a company’s cars and its people.

My most recent was BMW and MINI. While some drive a dozen or more models in a day, I struggle to accurately process any more than three or four cars at a time. Here then is my mini-review of the BMW 750, M240, and MINI John Cooper Works.

I’ve driven a lot of MINIs over the years and, if I’m being completely honest, they tend to leave me cold. As a modern evocation of the original Mini, I think they’re too big, too heavy, and have an artificial eagerness to their steering that seems alien to me. They’re like a springer spaniel puppy: great fun for five minutes but exhausting for any longer.

And so it was with the John Cooper Works. Very fast (231bhp, six-and-a-bit seconds to 62, and a top speed of around 150mph), it suffers from more torque steer than anything I’ve driven in the past decade. Its equal-length driveshafts should help quell that sort of thing, so heavens knows what it would be like without them. There’s no proper limited-slip differential either, just a brake-activated torque vectoring set-up.

The suspension is firm too, especially in Sport mode. This means it bobs and weaves its way along the road on anything other than new tarmac. Fast, smooth, open bends show it at its best, but for nip-and-tuck backroads blasts that combination of overly firm suspension, tramlining on white lines, and massive torque steer means that you inevitably end up tiptoeing your way along. That’s the antithesis of what you need in a hot hatchback.

It’s not all bad news because the big Brembo brakes do a cracking job of hauling it down from high speeds without fading, even under repeated emergency stops.

So, while twenty-five grand doesn’t seem too much to pay for this level of performance – and I bet it’s a hoot on the track – the MINI John Cooper Works is not one for the press-on driver under real world conditions.

Next up is the BMW M240i Coupe. At £44,120, this is obviously a much better, faster and more capable car than the MINI. Just big enough to be useful but still small enough to be nimble, its 340bhp translates into a 0-62mph time of 4.6 seconds – and provides huge in-gear acceleration at typical overtaking speeds. It is addictively quick and as fast as anyone really needs in a road car.

Its ride is firm but more than acceptable when you want to just potter along, and it deals with small, high-frequency bumps as well as it does big, low-frequency ones. The handling is sublime, being easy to adjust on the throttle but almost fool-proof when the safety systems are engaged. It’s got a lovely steering feel, too.

Small and wieldy, the BMW M240 is the perfect backroads weapon while remaining sensible enough to act as your every day wheels.

Last, but by no means least, is the BMW 750i xDrive M Sport Saloon. A bit of a mouthful, the 750’s £85,810 price tag does get you an awful lot of car.

The 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 engine pumps out 530bhp, enough to push the Bavarian bruiser to 62mph in around 4 seconds. It is stacked full of toys too, and its cockpit offers the widest range of steering and wheel adjustment I’ve ever experienced. At 6’ 3”, I’m not used to only having the wheel and seat set at their mid-point…

Despite its executive status, the 750i M Sport does hard-edged racing car far better than it has any right to when you switch it into Sport mode. The exhaust note snarls and growls, and the suspension keeps that heavy body under close control without displaying anything so vulgar as even the slightest hint of a rough edge to its ride.

I chased down and overtook a well-driven MINI John Cooper Works through a series of sweeping, open bends – and my advantage wasn’t just in my car’s power; its xDrive all-wheel-drive transmission enabled me to better deploy all that power without fear of spinning wheels, and the beautifully tuned suspension enabled me to carry that speed into bends with composure and under complete control. It was so effective as to be almost cruel.

And yet, Comfort mode turns that chassis pillowy soft, cossetting and almost doughy in its ride. Quiet too, with that snarling exhaust note turning surprisingly coy.

Staggeringly good, you need look no further than the BMW 750i xDrive M Sport if you’re looking to spend six-figures on a multi-role sporting saloon.

 

Carlton Boyce @motoringjourno