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Opulence on wheels

Morgan Flanagan Creagh writes about track days, training and six-figure luxury at the Mondello BMW Driving Experience

I had the good fortune of being whisked off to Mondello Park by BMW for the Irish press reveal of the new 7-Series and X7 SUV. While I was there, they also put me behind the wheel of the latest 330, M2, M4 and M5, to promote its new and upgraded BMW Driving Experience. That’s a lot to cover in one article, I know.

Kicking-off is the behemoth X7, the ‘MacDaddy’ of BMW’s SUV range, which boasts a 2-3-2 seat configuration, offering seven luxurious seats for a whole family of important bottoms. In Ireland, it’s going to be offered with three engines, a 3-litre diesel, 4-litre petrol or 5-litre diesel motor. Aside from the standard spec, there will be M Sport and M Performance models. The entry level starts at €113,000 and moves all the way up to €137,300 for the top model.

I think it’s imperative that I address the elephant in the room at this stage, which is the car’s flared nostrils. According to a source at BMW, the greatly-enlarged grille is to appease the Chinese market, which has complained that BMWs don’t have enough presence for the price compared to rivals like Mercedes. So, to upgrade its Asian-focused aesthetic and street cred, they have endowed the X7 and 7-Series with the largest ever grilles to be attached to a BMW.

This grille looks even more swollen on the new 7-Series saloon; however, this latest incarnation has one of the most beautiful interiors I’ve ever encountered. The long, sleek, executive sedan has been wrapped in extra insulation and thicker glass to improve the acoustic comfort within the car. The 7-Series has also had extensive updates across the range, including latest-generation plug-in hybrid technology. In the engine room, we have a 3-litre and 4-litre diesel, a 4-litre and 5-litre petrol and the most interesting 4.5-litre petrol plug-in hybrid. The 7-Series is offered in short-wheel base (SWB) or long-wheel base (LWB); however, the latter is usually the preserve of political leaders and private transfer companies. The base model 730d sDrive starts at €96,160, the plug-in hybrid starts at €100,510 and the most expensive model you can buy is the M760Li xDrive, at a healthy €234,340.

To promote its upgraded BWM Driving Experience at Mondello, we were plonked behind the wheel of three of the marque’s famous high-performance M-cars. First up was the BMW M2 Competition, armed with an impressive 410 horsepower. This small, nimble coupe gobbled-up the track while taking the bends in its stride, thanks to its short wheel base and M-Division suspension wizardry. Next up was the BMW M4 Competition, which felt a little quicker but less agile along the winding parts of Mondello’s circuit. While they had us at the track, BMW put us into the 330i, which was great, but compared to the M-cars it felt twitchy due to its lack of performance breaks, which is something you’d never notice on the road. BMW’s driving experience costs €199 for the M2, €229 for the M4 or €329 for both (www.mondellopark.ie/bmw-driving-experience).

While we were at the track, one of BMW Ireland’s top executives handed over the keys to his company car so journalists could rattle it around the track. The 591bhp, 4.4-litre BMW M5 was definitely the fastest car I’ve ever driven in a straight line; it was starship-quick, but in the bends you could certainly feel the difference between it and the smaller, lighter and tighter track-derived M2 and M4.

Mini was also represented at the event to promote its Early Drive programme, geared to helping reduce the risks associated with young drivers by training teens aged 15-to-18 at the track. Mini will be providing free training to pupils from schools throughout Ireland. If your school is interested in applying, contact Mini Ireland on Facebook (facebook.com/MINI.Ireland).

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