"Nice car, you yuppie prick," yells the guy in the Ford F-150 Lariat. Our paths had crossed along US 208 in upstate New York, a major battleground in the struggle between locals cashing in on a land grab by wealthy Manhattanites and that latter camp of — to some minds — BMW-driving interlopers.
"Let 'em eat cake," I yell back.
By his thousand-yard stare, I get that my gag has fallen flat, and that I've inadvertently brought us to a ludicrous impasse. With nothing left to say, save a firey yowl from the BMW M Roadster's 3.2-liter straight six, I bid the hater, his $40,000 truck and whichever talk-radio rant was likely filling his leather-appointed cab with bile, adieu.
Then, owing greatly to Professor Ulrich Bruhnke and his lab-coated wonders at BMW's M performance division, the interlagos-blue roadster in my charge departs like a slapped jackrabbit. Its five-octave vocal range hits a raspy mezzo-soprano before laying back into a cool baritone, steering-feel growing sharper with each quantity upward on the speedo, six-speed shifter gliding elegantly from gate to gate. The M Roadster may not be a uniter, but it sure is one bloody hell of a divider.
I wasn't just roaming around Ulster County for the antiques. The region's circuitous byways, which tease the lower Catskill Mountains before wending gently among apple orchards, make up super-prime real estate for a drivers' car like the M Roadster. They're also the kind of roads that can arrange for an overzealous dilletante to sip his meals through a coffee stirrer for the next six months.
That's all well and good, because the M is actually two roadsters. Dabblers can enjoy the sunshine and be largely satisfied to ride the M's wide-enough torque band over hill and dale, downshifting only at the occasional hairpin bend. If they stretch out a bit too far, it's easy enough to lean on the M's monster set of cross-drilled, ventilated discs — and let the stern nanny in the Dynamic Stability Control tamp down a bias toward understeer — to keep nose out of the fruit trees.
But with the M's electronics set in the off position, and Sport mode engaged, amateur hour is over. Now, there's nothing but a variable limited-slip differential and a set of fat meats separating ground control from Major Tom. The difference here is palpable, and requires commensurate attention to things like braking in a straight line, rolling on the power and praying like a, well, you know. In this mode, there's a slight nagging issue with the ride, which is generally soft enough — for a roadster — to prevent spines in their peak earning years from compressing while on rough pavement. That extra wiggle room, however, can lead to some false-negative feedback over the most challenging roadways.
With the on-board help sent home, the M Roadster is probably best reserved for track-day carving by certified heel-and-toe artistes. Of course, for that crowd, BMW offers the M Coupe, which provides the extra stiffness a droptop like the M Roadster cannot. But in life, as on the road, compromises must be made, and there are probably worse ones than a morning ride to the track along a country lane.
Which brings us back to US 208, where the sun is warm, the turns are sweet and the locals prefer I'd keep moving. Yeah, me too. [by Mike Spinelli]