Winton Motor Raceway outside of Benalla in Victoria’s Ned Kelly country, is the race track that time forgot. It still hosts a round of the Supercar championship, but the most recent piece of racing memorabilia hanging in the time-warp canteen dates from 1995. Brock, Johnson, Seton, Bowe and Perkins are still the heroes of Winton.
Despite the crumbling dagginess, I’ve a real affinity for Winton. It’s the first race track at which I drove, and while I’ve not spent much time here in the last few years, I’ve probably racked up over 1000 laps.
After years of 40-degree mid-summer testing at Winton, it’s a shock to be standing in pit lane with the temperature in the mid-single digits. In fact, the unseasonably cool late Spring day began with the ambient just a pair of degrees above freezing.
The circuit is still shrouded in fog as the M240i burbles down pit lane for the first time. On paper, Winton looks like a simple circuit but parts of it are very technical and there’s often a choice of lines depending upon the car and driving style. Also, you’re forced to sacrifice some corners in order to hook up a later sequence.
On cold tyres, the M240i isn’t keen to get its nose into the apex of the tighter corners. With a few more laps the tyres have warmed through and are finding better purchase on the cold tarmac. Speaking of tarmac, Winton has been resurfaced and the bumps in the brakingzone for turn one have been smoothed over.
It makes it easier to attack the one, two complex for the run up the hill past the canteen, but it has removed some of the challenge. The M240i’s turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six now punches out 250kW at 5500rpm and 500Nm from 1520-4500rpm. These figures are up 10kW and 50Nm over the M235i, and the power upgrade also applies to the M240i Convertible and M140i hatch.
These new figures make for an interesting comparison to the M2, whose 3.0-litre straight six makes 272kW and 465Nm, or an M240i matching 500Nm during bursts of overboost. When fitted with the standard eight-speed torque converter automatic, the M240i Coupe will accelerate to 100km/h in a claimed 4.6 seconds, while the no-cost option six-speed manual (and our clear favourite) adds 0.2sec to that time. The manual M2 Pure takes 4.5 seconds, while the seven-speed DCT M2 does the deed in 4.3 seconds.
The M240i Coupe and Convertible have both had $2600 shaved off their prices and now cost $74,900 (Coupe) and $83,900 (Convertible). An M2 Pure is $90K while the M2 is $99K.
Though similar on paper, the M240i Coupe and M2 are vastly different in character. Where the M2 is overt, the M240i is more subdued. Its engine produces an encouraging snarl as you close in on the 7000rpm redline, but the drive train and chassis don’t fizz with the tension evident in the hard-wired M2.
Around Winton, the M240i prefers to be flow around corners, rather than be driven by the scruff of the neck. Driven in such a manner, the inherent composure begins to wobble into understeer or roll oversteer. However, drive the M240i within the limits of its road-focused tyres and softer, everyday-friendly suspension, and it really does shine.
It shines even more brightly away from the ripple strips and tyre walls where its true character — fast, everyday road car— can come to the fore. The suspension treads a finely judged line of pliancy and body control, while the engine’s punch feels amplified in the real world. Just as I found with the long termer M135i that I ran, the upgraded M240i and M140i aren’t natural-born oversteerers. Sure, they will oversteer but you’ve got to be pretty brutal to unload and then reload the rear axle. Again, it’s best to make fast smooth progress with more measured inputs.
Good though the eight-speed auto is, we’d tick the box for the no-cost option six-speed manual. While many cars are getting to fast and powerful for a manual gearbox, the M240i’s 250kW is still within the sweet spot of a manual. Like that of the M2 and of M3s and M5 of old, the shift isn’t the shortest or sharpest, with a distinctly rubbery action. Still, it adds a layer of interaction that any driver will crave.
The spec sheet may suggest that the M240i is a cut-priced M2, but it’s an altogether more road-biased proposition than the M product. That BMW can find room in the showroom for both models should be applauded.
Specification: Fast road car, sweet engine
Engine: 2998cc in-line 6-cyl, dohc, 24v, turbo
Power: 250kW @550Orpm
Torque: 500Nm @1520-4500rpm
Weight: 1470kg, (170kW/tonne)
Top speed: 250km/h (limited)