Updated: September 2, 2017
The Eurotrip saga continues. So far, we've visited a bunch of countries, in a bunch of cars. We started off with Croatia, in a diesel Opel Insignia, followed it up in a Ford C-Max through Italy, and then bravely ventured into Belgium and Germany in a very posh and elegant Skoda Superb estate. After that, we did our Netherlands journey, driving a Volvo XC60, and finally ended up on the British isles, with a variety of cars. It is time to ... go back to Germany and Belgium! Forsprung durch trip!
The car of choice is the most awesome BMW M4 - you've already seen it in my namesake review, but then I should tell you some more about the whole cross-country driving experience. Six days, seven nights, hi hi, and about 1,100 km of roads covered, with and without speed limits. And of course, how could we not, Spa-Francorchamps. Follow me.
West bound and down.
Germany is the one country in this world where you can fully enjoy yourselves while driving. People respect the law, people drive with precision, and you have unrestricted sections of the road network to gain some speed, should you choose so. For me, this was a much needed therapy after the traumatic stint in the UK, where the congestion, the cameras and the lifewill-sapping, passive-aggressive driving style really did me in.
But we're back in Germany, and the plan is similar to the 2014 escapade - head over the border into Belgium, for another track day at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. The last time, I was given a Renault Megane RS, but this time, it's going to be something else. I won't spoil it, we will have a dedicated article on this. But then, that's not all. After Belgium, we are going to return to Germany, and do some more fast autobahn driving. Should be quite interesting. To wit, let's briefly talk about our champion knight, the BMW M4 performance car.
Our transportische funwagen.
As you can imagine, it's a splendid machine. 425 HP going to the rear wheels, 550 Nm of torque, 7-speed DCT, a sleek coupe shape, the understated yet elegant sporty BMW interior with the superior iDrive infotainment and navigation, plus the exhaust sound that makes your soul vibrate. The car is brutal but forgiving at the same time, with excellent dynamics, linear acceleration even above 200 km/h, sharp and precise steering, and confident braking, giving you the ability to explore the speed in a safe and fun manner. Just right.
Relaxing, before the party starts.
After a brief familiarization with the car's behavior, I let the throttle open up, and soon, we were breezing comfortably west, toward the Belgian border. The faster you go the more careful you have to be, looking far, far ahead, and taking your foot off the accelerator when you pass other cars. The thing is, sometimes people in the right lane will misjudge how fast you're going, and they merge at 50-100 km/h slower than your speed, and so caution and good distance are essential to smooth and pain-free sailing on the autobahn.
The M4 handled the challenge well. It provides constant, accurate feedback from the road, it rumbles nicely, and when you need to brake, it slows down without any wiggling or protesting. In the same manner, when you want to build speed back up, the engine sings its deep thrum, and the needle climbs rapidly. With so much torque, the car is quite forgiving, and despite its sporty characteristics, the gearbox is very elastic. You can drive in the 7th gear at 80 km/h, and it will not complain. If you choose to be laid back, you can.
The arrival in the neighboring country is not signified so much by a border sign, although there's one right there, it's the navigation system flashing the speed limit sign, going from infinite down to just 120 km/h. Belgium, much like The Netherlands, loves radar enforcement, so you should stick to the stated numbers. Very soon, the roads change, becoming less fun. More winded, narrower, somehow more congested. You know you're not meant to spread your wings.
At the destination, a nice comfy hotel so that me and my copilot could get a good overnight sleep before the morning Spa event, I was "assisted" in parking my BMW M4 by a passerby. A local lady stopped and decided to help me, using her hands to guide me into my spot between two other cars, even though I had parking sensors and felt quite comfortable with the car's size. I believe it was the presence of the M4 and not my pretty face what did it. This same kind of phenomenon shall be replicated many times over in Germany, with people of all sexes and age groups cheering, thumbing up and otherwise expressing their approval and appreciation for the car, my driving skills and/or both, most likely the first.
Pondering life choices on speed-limited Belgian roads.
The next day, the driving conditions were perfect. Sunny, warm. The last two times, actually the last three times, if we include the Donington Park & Caterham experience, as well, I had rain and fog, and never got to enjoy a dry track day. Although I have to admit I did like the challenge of driving in the wet, plus the fact that it requires more patience and skill, a slower yet more technical approach, and also helps calm down wannabe racers in their supercars.
Consequently, the dry Spa-Francorchamps track day turned out to be a mixed bag of emotions, for two chief reasons. One, with the tarmac all solid and non-slippery-like, everyone thinks they're a hero, so they go mental. We had three rescues in less than two hours, compared to zero casualties during the rainy October day back in 2014, when I drove the Megane.
Neat, but nowhere near as fun as it was in the wet.
The biggest problem was the car of choice - Lotus Exige. Predictably, it was bad. Horrible build quality. Unsafe. It forced me to focus on the wonky mechanics of the driving platform rather than the joy and precision of driving. When you have to worry if your car will change gears correctly, or should you crash, if the rescue team can actually open the doors - not joking - the fun goes away. In fact, it becomes outright dangerous. But then, it's not really surprising, given my previous experiences with the British road and racing products. Caterham is an inferior vehicle, and so is the Exige. Some may call it "pure" and "manly" and whatnot, but only if they feel a need to compensate with national pride for what is distinctly lacking in the engineering space. There's much more to this, but we will talk about this in a separate review.
I've never seen the Spa team tinker so much like with this particular type. Random victims assemble.