IS THE NEW JAG TOO BRITISH?

IS THE NEW JAG TOO BRITISH?

True to its legend, it’s tough to beat a luxury British car for style. Our man-about-globe, Michael Satterfield of The Gentleman Racer, takes the new Jaguar F-Type P450 Coupe out for a spin on some country roads to get a handle on its drivability. Love ensues.  

Photography courtesy of The Gentleman Racer

GOOD, THEN GREAT

Few new cars genuinely get me excited these days. Outside of a handful of exotics, there aren’t many obtainable cars that I would describe as lust-worthy. Most companies today have resigned themselves to building just good cars. In fact, it is nearly impossible to buy a bad car in 2022. Like Jim Collins says, “Good is the enemy of great,” and there are far too many good cars in this world. But now and again (when the accountants aren’t looking), a great car can sneak through. Ladies and gentlemen, the Jaguar F-Type P450 is one of them.

 

Now some might say a car starting at $69,900 isn’t really every person’s car, and a sports coupe like a Mustang is more obtainable than a Jaguar. But when you consider this Jaguar is within $6,500 of a well-optioned Mustang Mach 1, and around $6,500 less than the GT500 (before markup), the value of the Jaguar shows. It is at its core a muscle car like the Mustang, but with a better tailor—fully loaded, including destination fees. The F-Type I am driving and testing comes in at $86,200.

The other obvious comparison is the Aston Martin Vantage, which, if equipped with the classic Aston grille, is a very handsome car, too. But the baby Aston starts at $139,000, and when you tack on the options, you’ll find most Vantages come in at between $175,000-$220,000. In shopping around Aston Martin dealers in Texas, the least expensive 2022 Vantage in stock is $170,086. So if you ordered a standard P450, you would save $100,000 and still be driving an exceptional, limited-production British sports car.

THAT’S MY TYPE

Buying an F-Type means, you are buying into an elite club because despite its good looks and sporting heritage, Jaguar is still a boutique company. They only build around 2,000 F-Types for the U.S. market a year, making them far more rare than the Porsche 911 or Chevrolet Corvette. While most reviews focus on pricing, 0-60 M.P.H. times, and cubic square feet of cargo space, most of those things don’t matter much in the real world, do they? There will always be a cheaper, faster car or one that is able to fit more golf clubs. So, buying an F-Type is a lifestyle choice, more akin to buying a luxury item than a mode of daily transportation.  

 

Sliding behind the wheel, the F-Type feels bespoke. In a bold color with a tan leather interior, it looks the part of the quintessential British sports car. For me, the F-Type is an escape pod. Just slip on some driving gloves, point it in the direction of the countryside, and dial in your favorite driving music. If you had a bad day, few cars help make everything right in the world, like the F-Type.

Pushing the start button brings the 444 hp, 5.0-liter supercharged V8 to life with a delightful rumble seldom heard in suburbia in these days of electrification. The F-Type P450 drives like a car with far more horsepower, and with peak power coming on fast at around 2,500 RPM, this Jag is a joy to operate on a twisty country road. Tapping the paddles, turning into a corner, and rolling back onto the throttle, it feels like a classic sports car. Almost as if it is channeling all of Jaguar’s racing heritage with every turn of the wheel. Plus, it just happens to have paddle shifters and dynamic mode. It is impossible not to smile while driving the F-Type on a great road.

THE OPEN ROAD 

Blasting out across the causeway over Lake Livingston towards Point Blank with the windows down is the kind of therapy one can only understand through experience. Ripping down TX-156 through the Sam Houston National Forest and taking the long way home, with the sound of the exhaust echoing off the trees, my Zen was broken only by the chirp of the radar detector, reminding me to check the speed limit. The F-Type wants to go fast, and it is easy to let the speedometer climb. The only thing that would have made this day better is if I had gone to a racetrack to experience the full brilliance of the F-Type.

 

Pulling into any small downtown, the car draws attention among the Ford F150s and Chevrolet Suburbans. “Is it the James Bond car?” one gent asks. I tell him no, it is a Jaguar, and I let him take a seat inside. He especially likes the optional glass roof but thinks it is too fancy for him. Even at the local country club, where the parking lot is a greyscale sea of Porsche 911s, and Mercedes AMGs, the blue coupe makes a statement. Its taut proportions look refined when parked next to some of these.

Perhaps that is what I like most about the Jaguar. It’s exotic, yet not in the garish orange Lamborghini way. It has an understated elegance that many cars simply cannot offer in a practical package for daily use. With that in mind, I would suggest you only drive the P450 if you are genuinely ready to buy one. Because once you do, you’re not going to want to leave the dealership without one.

REGAL RIDE

REGAL RIDE

The Rolls-Royce, a luxurious car by anyone’s standards, has a new groove. Its Cullinan model, a super sleek SUV, offers something for anyone with a taste for high quality. Join our TheGentlemanRacer.com’s Michael Satterfield as he takes one out for a spin and leaves the city behind.  

Photography courtesy of TheGentlemanRacer.com

THE NEW, NEW ROLLS ROYCE

If you say “Rolls-Royce,” most people envision something like those 1980s Grey Poupon commercials, stuffy, aristocratic, luxurious, but somehow a bit dull. Modern Rolls-Royces are anything but boring, and with new products like the Wraith and the upcoming Specter, that is starting to change. One of the first and most controversial models to break the mold was the marquee’s first SUV, the Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Since its launch in 2018, the Cullinan has become one of the brand’s most important vehicles, but can the Cullinan handle the duties of an actual SUV? To find out, I took it to a $20-a-day off-road park in Huntsville for a day in the dirt.  

The Rolls-Royce Cullinan I was driving costs nearly double the median home price in Walker County, Texas, where General Sam’s Off-Road Park is located. Most Rolls-Royces don’t see many country roads, let alone dirt roads. So, while the Cullinan has a button in the console that says “off-road,” hardly anyone uses it. Still, Rolls-Royce claims it is a capable off-road vehicle designed for oil barons and cattlemen who need to survey their vast landholding in the lap of luxury.

The shiny red Cullinan was outfitted with standard wheels and winter tires, the best option available for our adventure since 33-inch BFGs weren’t on the order sheet. This particular Cullinan is painted “Hell Rot,” which is basically fire engine red. In the country, it would be easy to mistake this massive bright red SUV for a volunteer fire vehicle speeding down a dirt road. All the Cullinan needs is some gold lettering on the door and ladder on the roof, and it would be ready for service in the local VFD.

I started off light, taking the Cullinan down some dirt roads and improved trails, but eventually, I headed to more advanced trails, which would be challenging for most stock SUVs. Surprisingly, the Cullinan took it all in stride. As I explored the trails of General Sam’s, I expected at some point to get stuck, requiring the backup truck to pull me out, but it never did. Unlike most SUVs with a plethora of switches, buttons, and levers to get into the off-road mode, the Cullinan literally has just one button to push, which simply says off-road. Just push it, and the Cullinan does the rest. After all, it would be indecorous to have to switch gears or get out of your heated seat to lock the front hubs.

OFF-ROAD OPTIMUM

I have never been so comfortable while off-roading, the perfect leather seats, isolation from outside noise, and the ability to focus simply on driving while the advanced Rolls-Royce off-road system figures out the rest. The same road scanning cameras and air ride suspension that make the Cullinan amazing to operate in the city makes it surprisingly capable off-road. The system is designed to take on deep snow, sand, mud, even fording streams. Once you reach your far-off location, deploy the optional Viewing Suite, and enjoy nature as Rolls-Royce intended.

 

Slow and careful is generally how you spend most of your time off-roading, but it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t see how the Cullinan could handle itself with a bit of speed. After all, there is a high likelihood that you might have to flee a rebel army or some international crime syndicate while driving your Rolls-Royce in exotic locations off the beaten path. Anything can happen, right? The Cullinan might be the size of a small army tank, but it is a fast tank that can power slide through mud, rip down dirt trails, and use all 563hp to shuffle uphill at great speed; you’d have a fighting chance at outrunning any Bond villains behind the wheel of it. In the world of SUVs, the Cullinan is in a league of its own. Even the Bentley Bentayga, one of my all-time favorite SUVs, has a starting price of just $177,000, while the Cullinan…has a base price of $330,000. But of course, being a Rolls-Royce means there are plenty of luxe options, and those options make the one I am driving come in at just over $417,000. Sure, for that kind of money, you could pick up three Range Rover Sport SVR Carbon Editions and still have money left over. Yet nothing makes the statement like seeing the Spirit of Ecstasy perched atop that imposing chrome grille, even when it is covered in mud.

GET UP & GO

GET UP & GO

The new Lexus NX redefines luxury, according to our expert driving enthusiast, Michael Satterfield of The Gentleman Racer.com. As the new year begins, why not take your driving to thrilling new heights?  

Photography courtesy of The Gentleman Racer

Lexus has unveiled an all-new NX for 2022. While it is the brand’s luxury-subcompact SUV, it is also, in many ways, a flagship model for Lexus. It is the first to feature the new Lexus lettering across the rear hatch, never before offered technology, and is the first plug-in hybrid to wear the Lexus badge. Aimed squarely at the BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA, and Audi Q3 models, the new NX needed to bring a lot to the table, and the small Lexus doesn’t disappoint. 

RESPONSIVE AND FUN

The NX offers two gasoline power plants and two hybrid options. While the base NX250 features a 203-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder with an 8-speed automatic and is surprisingly responsive and fun to drive, especially with the optional all-wheel-drive. For those wanting more power, the NX350 delivers 375-hp from a turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder with standard all-wheel drive. But while these conventional powerplants are very good, I predict that most luxury buyers will be more interested in the hybrids, which offer more horsepower and better fuel economy than their all-gas counterparts. 

 

The hybrid drivetrains include the NX350h, which packs a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, two electric motors that make 239 horsepower, and the top-spec plug-in NX450h+ producing 302-hp powertrain, to offer up-to 36 miles of electric driving per charge for the performance-minded driver. The F Sport package offers appearance upgrades and adaptive suspension. While the standard suspension does an excellent job at providing decent handling while still offering a luxurious ride, the F Sport does raise the fun factor when you are on a twisty road. Yet, I suspect most NX buyers will find the appearance part of the package more appealing than the handling. 

Where the NX really shines is in the redesigned interior, which feels far more luxurious than you might expect in a sub-compact SUV. Ambient lighting, quilted leather-heated and ventilated seats, and the optional wood inserts all feel like they belong in a much more expensive vehicle. The much-maligned “trackpad” infotainment interface has been replaced with natural-language voice recognition that wakes up with the command “Hey Lexus,” allowing the driver or passenger to do anything from get directions or search for a restaurant to turning on the windshield wipers or adjusting the temperature. The dual-zone voice recognition can differentiate between driver and passenger, allowing passengers to adjust their climate zone separately from the driver’s simply by speaking the command. The user profiles are stored in the cloud so the unique settings can travel with you between vehicles. 

MORE TECHNOLOGY PER SQUARE INCH

The technology doesn’t stop with new voice commands. A standard 9.8-inch or optional 14-inch touch screen offers excellent visibility. The built-in 4G LTE allows streaming of Apple Music and Amazon Music, while the wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also standard. The Lexus app also enables users to use a phone as a key or share a temporary key via the app to any user they authorize…meaning you’re never really locked out of your car. 

Lexus has also equipped the NX with their latest Safety System Plus 3.0, which includes the usual lane-keeping feature, automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control. It also adds new features to help detect oncoming traffic and pedestrians to prevent collisions while making turns at intersections. The latest safety features even help prevent accidents while parked, with electronic door latches that work with the pedestrian safety system that prevents the door from opening if there is an oncoming cyclist or runner.

Lexus has said they hope the NX will reach a younger buyer demographic with a starting price of under $40,000 for the NX250. It certainly will, and it will have a broad appeal to older shoppers as well who don’t need a mid or full-size SUV. The top-tier NX450h+F Sport starts at $57,975, but if the plug-in hybrid doesn’t fit your lifestyle, the NX350h, with the optional luxury package, will give you the best of everything. 

TURBO STYLE

TURBO STYLE

With a high-performance vehicle like the McLaren 720S Spider, something special is in store that unleashes on the road, according to our luxe automotive expert, Michael Satterfield of The Gentleman Racer.com.

By Michael Satterfield Photography courtesy of The Gentleman Racer

WHEELS UP…ON THE GROUND

Sliding behind the wheel of the McLaren 720S Spider is an event, with its futuristic gauge cluster, electrochromic roof, and panel of switches and screens, one feels like they just climbed into something more akin to a fighter jet than a car. A push of the start button brings the 710-horsepower twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 screaming to life, and with the push of another button, you lower the retractable hardtop.

 

With the top open, the sound gets even better. It isn’t the loud burble you would expect from a V8 or the high pitch whine of some supercars, but it’s a smooth rumble that feels more mature than, say, the howl of a Lamborghini. According to McLaren, the 720S will do 0-60 in 2.9 seconds, with a top speed of 212 mph. While those numbers may sound exhilarating, the 720S Spider manages to feel relatively normal to drive. In fact, the power comes on smoothly, so it is easy to find yourself doing triple-digit speeds quickly. Once you glance down at the speedometer and realize you need to slow down, a set of massive carbon-ceramic brakes and sticky Pirelli P Zero tires help bring everything back under control.

 

In today’s world of 1,000+ horsepower muscle cars, 710 hp may not sound that impressive, yet McLaren has decided to focus more on weight and balance than just adding horsepower into their cars. Thanks to their carbon fiber chassis, the 720S Spider comes in just 2,937 pounds dry, making it 83 pounds lighter than the 650S Spider and just 109 pounds heavier than the 720S Coupe. Because of this focus on weight reduction, a fully equipped McLaren Spider is still lighter than the stripped-down versions of Italian supercars.

 

EXPERIENCING THE ROAD

To really get the most out of the 720S Spider, you might want to sign up for the Pure McLaren Experience, hosted in the US at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin. Not only do you get to drive the same track as the McLaren Formula 1 team, but you can also get a ride-along with pro drivers who will show you the limits of what a McLaren can do in the hands of a professional.

 

If a track day isn’t in the cards, the Twisted Sisters is a great place to take a car like the 720S. Made up of Ranch Roads 337, 335, and 336, the entire loop is around 100 miles and starts and ends in the small town of Leakey, Texas. The Sisters follow the canyons and hills through a series of tight twisty turns and provide some amazing views but stay focused on the road…since it is one of the most technical drives you’ll find in Texas. Pushing it in the canyons, you really feel how well balanced the car is and how every part of it is built to perform.

 

Returning to civilization means traffic, potholes, and parking lots, but the 720S Spider settles down and becomes as drivable as any other car. In comfort mode, its quiet, smooth, front-end lift, and 360-degree backup camera, makes navigating parking spots worry-free. The only weak point is the McLaren 720S’s infotainment and navigation system takes some getting used to.

 

Being an exotic, it’s how normal it feels that makes the 720S Spider so good. It’s easy to drive, enter, and exit, the controls are intuitive, the trunk space is surprisingly large, and the dihedral doors open in less space than most standard cars. But with a flick of the switch, the instrument cluster lowers, the car tightens, and over fifty years of racing heritage is unleashed, and just like that, you’re behind the wheel of a truly spectacular supercar.

 

The 720S Spider also has one other thing going for it. Something that McLaren hasn’t always been known for…it’s actually pretty. While function always overtakes form, the McLaren 720S is one of their most elegant cars, and taking the top off makes it even better. Starting at $315,000, the 720S Spider is delivering significant value in the topless supercar space. With the new Lamborghini Aventador SVJ Roadster coming in at over $573,000 and a Ferrari 488 Pista Spider starting at over $350,000, the McLaren is the best deal for a very, very fast car with no top.

ROVING THE LAND

ROVING THE LAND

The Luxury Of Utility Is Found In The New Land Rover Defender

By Michael Satterfield

Photography by Lucas Kepner

HOME ON THE RANGE

Few vehicles are as beloved as the original Land Rover Defender. The iconic off-roader gained a reputation globally for its rugged capability and broad appeal. You could spot almost anyone behind the wheel of a Defender…from the local farmer to the Prince of Wales, that’s how ubiquitous they are. It was considered to be the British equivalent of the Willys Jeep (the original Land Rover prototype was built on a Jeep chassis). In fact, the utilitarian design was part tractor and part passenger car. What started as a simple farm implement became an international icon and the legacy behind one of the most well-known luxury brands in the world.

 

In 2016, the original Defender’s over thirty-year production run came to an end, so replacing a vehicle beloved by so many would be a monumental task. The new Defender would need to harness the rugged image and styling of the classic Defender, yet in a modern package. Somehow the two-door 2021 Defender 90 ticks all the boxes, with its timeless retro style, rugged utilitarian interior, and the right amount of luxury without being pretentious. This isn’t an ultra-luxurious Range Rover; this is a proper go-anywhere off-road vehicle built for the country but still civilized enough to drive to the city. Plus, it looks even better once you get it dirty.

 

I decided to take the Defender out to its natural habitat, a country estate here in Texas, to put it through its paces. This model is the limited-production First Edition, which gets several upgrades over the base model, including a 3.0-liter V6 that produces 395hp, a front jump seat, white contrast painted roof, 20-inch wheels, Electronic Air Suspension, and several other technology features. But by far, the best option is the folding fabric roof that spans almost the entire length of the passenger compartment for when you want to feel the wind in your hair, and the sun on your face while driving down a narrow country byway.

DETAILED DATA

Inside is sparse. The rubber floors, rugged door panels with exposed body-color sheet metal, simple controls, and weather-resistant materials cover the seats and dash. The First Edition has a unique leather and woven textile seating combination that looks like it will hold up to almost anything, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob. Looking graceful while getting in and out of the back seat is quite the task, yet with the front jump seat, the Defender 90 offers seating for six in a pinch. It is perfectly comfortable for four adults. Cargo space is limited, so plan on adding a roof rack if you want to haul people and luggage.

 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Defender’s air suspension can be set in the Off-Road mode, which gives the little Rover 11.5 inches of ground clearance, while the base model with its standard coil suspension still offers 8.9 inches of clearance. Across the fields, streams, and through the woods, the Defender was confident, inspiring, and felt planted. When the trail gets tight, or there are obstacles to overcome, the standard surround-view camera system shows both front wheels, so no one has to get out to spot where the big rock is on the trail. The Terrain Response system also takes the guesswork out of off-roading.  Simply select the mode: Auto, Grass, Gravel, Snow, Mud Ruts, Sand, or Rock Crawl. Combined with the Hill Descent Control and All-Terrain Progress Control systems, the 90 can make almost anyone feel like an off-road hero.

While I don’t think you can go wrong buying any Defender, I would put my money down on the Defender 90 base model. With its simple mechanical suspension, 296 hp turbocharged four-cylinder, and an extensive ala carte options menu, you can be driving a Defender 90 for under $50,000. That is a deal considering a fully loaded Defender 90 X can come in at just over $90,000.

PATRICIAN EDITION 

No matter which Defender model you choose, Land Rover has made it simple to add on four choices of accessories to fit any lifestyle. The $1,902 Country Pack includes mudflaps, additional scuff plates, fender flares, and even a portable rinse system. The $2,817 Adventure Pack includes gear racks, an integrated air compressor, and several other off-road-focused accessories. At $4,259, the Explorer Pack is designed for the hardcore off-road enthusiast and includes the Expedition Roof Rack, a raised air intake, and other overland-focused accessories. Finally, for the more urban explorer, Land Rover offers the Urban Pack at $1,317 that includes metal pedals, rear scuff plate, front under shield, and a spare wheel cover.

 

For those seeking the ultimate adventure, Land Rover has released the limited production Trophy Edition. Starting at $90,000, just 220 of this unique Defender model will be sold in the United States. Owners who opt to purchase the Trophy Edition will be invited to compete in an off-road adventure competition hosted at the world-famous Biltmore Estate in Ashville, North Carolina. The competition will consist of a series of challenges ranging from off-roading to teamwork and physical skills. The winning team from the U.S. will earn the chance to compete in the 2022 Eastnor Trophy Experience in the United Kingdom against teams from around the world.

The Defender is currently available at dealerships and is priced in the ballpark of the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon or a well-optioned Ford Bronco, but with the Defender, you become part of the legend. Even if you never take an adventure to a distant land, even driving the Defender to the grocery store feels more adventurous. Besides, who doesn’t need a little more adventure in their life these days?  

HITTING THE TRACK

HITTING THE TRACK

Have the need for speed? Look no further than the BMW M4 GT4 experience, according to our man-about-track, Michael Satterfield of TheGentlemanRacer.com.

Photography courtesy of TheGentlemanRacer.com

THE REAL DEAL

At the Circuit of the Americas, I was standing outside one of the V.I.P. suites on the front straightaway, watching a practice session for the GT4 America, as the rain rolled in. The BMW M4 GT4 of Stephen Cameron Racing set the fastest lap of the session, lapping the 3.4-mile track in just 2:19.360 on a damp track. The next session, the BimmerWorld Racing team would put down a 2:17.383 when it was dry. The speed, sound, and excitement are why we love motorsports, but like most automotive enthusiasts, I have always wondered what it would be like to drive these cars on the track, haven’t you?

 

As I watched the professional drivers make their laps in Austin, I had no idea that just a few weeks later, I would be invited to participate in the BMW M and M4 GT4 Experience at the BMW Performance Center in The Thermal Club (near Palm Springs.). While I have driven many, many cars on many tracks, this experience would put me behind the wheels of the same cars driven in professional racing series around the world. This wasn’t a track day or a streetcar driving school. This was the real deal, without an instructor in the right seat. Flying into Palm Springs, the BMW Performance Center West is in the heart of the Coachella Valley. For flying privately, the Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport is next door. The Palm Springs area is the perfect home for the BMW Center, offering guests access to world-class hotels, dining, golf courses, and an average of 350 sunny days a year.

 

LET THE CLASS BEGIN
The BMW M4 and M4 GT4 Experience starts in the classroom. After introducing the instructors and a basic program outline, we began by learning the basics of seat and steering wheel positioning, tire dynamics, and all the basics we need to know on the track. The experience is limited to only 15 people per class, and each class is broken into smaller groups to maximize track time and personal interaction with the instructors. Our class was divided into two groups, Blue and Green, and each member was given a number that would correspond with their car on the track.

 

We would first go outside to learn more about the BMW M4 GT4 race car, with instructors answering questions and showing us how the racing steering wheel, pedal box, and shifter systems work. They also highlighted many of the special race-only features on the GT4 and how similar the GT4 race car is to the factory street BMW M4. The BMW M4 GT4 uses the same engine and transmission, including control electronics as the BMW M4 street car with only slight gearing changes. The M4 GT4 also uses an innovative tuning software, power sticks (USB drives), that give race teams the ability to make pre-approved software changes to meet the balance of performance for different racing series.

 

Next, we were shown to another room in the BMW building, where we picked out our race suits, gloves, Nomex socks, and racing shoes. All in red, white, and blue matching the famous BMW M livery on the GT4 cars. Once fitted for our safety, each group is directed to one of two tracks. The Blue Group to the two-mile-long South Palm track to drive the BMW M4 street car in a series of lead-follow laps. My Green group went to the handling course on the BMW campus to get some laps done in the BMW M2. Eventually, we went against the clock and our fellow classmates to see who could set the fastest time on the course in the M2.

 

YES, THAT TRACKS

The handling course starts with a few slow lead-follow laps where the instructor guides the group around the course to learn the optimal line. Then we are let loose behind the wheel of a BMW M2 to try and set our best time. While we did our laps, instructors coached us by radio, with tips on braking points and lines. Thanks to their instructions, I shaved seconds off my laps times and started consistently putting in some of the faster times for our group. We had to wait until the afternoon session to learn who set the official fastest time.

 

After some practice in the M2, we swapped courses with the other group to drive the BMW M4 on the South Palm track. These M4s are standard cars, just like you would buy from the dealer, on performance street tires. The point of this exercise is to familiarize yourself with the track layout and rotation procedure when on the track. The instructor has everyone set the car in M1 mode and had us follow behind his lead car about two-to-three car lengths apart. After a few slower warm-up laps, we start picking up speed and are quickly hitting triple digits on the straightaways. The M4 is good, so the M4 GT4 should be even better. After wrapping up on the track, we headed back to the BMW Center building for a lunch break.

 

Time on the track flies before lunch is served in the BMW café that overlooks the track and provides a great vantage point to watch the private jets land at the airport next door. It was the perfect time to meet your fellow classmates, from a father and son duo who took part in a two-day course to improve their racing skills to a young woman who had never been behind the wheel of a race car. This course is designed to accommodate any skill level.

 

Once lunch was over, our group headed back to the M2 course to set our official lap times while the Blue Group took on the M4 GT4. Unlike the first round on the handling course, our official time was now required, and we also must bring the car to a complete stop in the stop box. Stopping before or after the box netted a two-second penalty. My first lap time was just over 49 seconds, yet as the laps went on, I decreased it to around 46 seconds. The other group would also run through the same course, and our times would be compared at day’s end. Wrapping up at the M2 handling course, we suited up in our BMW racing suits, climbed aboard a few BMW X7s and headed back to South Palm, this time to pilot the M4 GT4 car.

 

ZERO TO HERO

After getting fitted with a HANS device and helmet, our instructors helped us into the car, ensuring our belts were perfectly tight and our pedals and steering wheel were in the correct position. Unlike the M4 street car, the seat is fixed in the M4 GT4. As the pedals and steering wheel move, I immediately noticed the seating position was several inches further back than a standard street car, which shifted my line of sight out the side windows dramatically. After a quick radio check, we fired up the cars and fell into line on the pit road behind the instructor.

 

We roll onto the track, and just like with the M4, we roll through a few slow laps to familiarize ourselves with this very different car. BMW designed the M4 GT4 for customer racing, so it’s one of the most user-friendly race cars to drive. It has simple controls, so by the second lap, it feels like I have been driving it for years. The electronic instrument cluster shows far more information than you would have time to look at on the technical South Palm track. The only thing you need to see is the shift light. So, as you make your way through the gears and hit triple digits on the straights, it is hard not to feel like a hero. The sound, sensation of speed, and the thrill of chasing down your classmates on the straightaway is hard to describe until you experience it yourself.

 

The M4 GT4 has an incredible amount of grip, thanks to the sticky tires and aero package. Having driven a number of race cars over the years, the M4 GT4 is by far one of the most composed and easy to navigate, plus the fact that it can do this while still having A/C keeping me cool and comfortable while racing in the California desert is amazing.

 

After our final lap, we pulled back into the pits, leaving the cars running to help cool them down. As we pulled off our helmets, everyone was smiling ear to ear and talking about how awesome the drive was. We piled back into the X7s toward the BMW Performance Center to change and to hear our final results from the M2 handling course. Back in the classroom, our instructors handed out our completion certificates, USB drives that contained our on-track video, and the top three times from the handling course. I brought in third place, beat out only by a few milliseconds by my friend, Manual. However, we were almost two seconds behind Dave, who obviously spent more time on the track than we did.

 

The BMW M4 GT4 Experience is by far one of the best one-day courses in which I have ever taken part. The fact they can take almost anyone and, by the end of the day, have them lapping a GT4 race car on a track is incredible. It comes down to their talented team of instructors that include men and women who are champion race car drivers, stunt drivers, professional drifters, and most importantly, automotive enthusiasts. For those who want more than just the single-day experience, the BMW Performance Center also offers two additional M4 GT4 packages with private coaching, ideal for those who want to make the jump into amateur racing. 

 

For more information or to book your own experience visit BMWPerformanceCenter.com and visit Principle Automotive at PrincipleAuto.com for more information on any BMW.