BMWs can drift.
I think we often confine BMW to a particular discipline of motorsports, which in turn leads us to forget that they excel in other disciplines as well. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing our favorite bimmers dominate the circuits in road racing, backed by privateer and factory teams, and while I’ll never object to watching a IMSA or DTM race, there’s a part of me that wants to see the full spectrum of performance that our Bavarian beauties have to offer.
Vehicle control is an art; it requires patience, coordination, and a little bit of courage. Precision driving is where German-engineering truly shines. While I certainly won’t debate the exceptional performance of our favorite Bimmers on the tarmac or through canyon chicanes, grip-driving is only a portion of the performance we can extract from our multifarious machines. Lose traction, and you’ve discovered a new performance personality. A high redline, ample torque, appropriate steering angle, and responsive throttle delivery are all key factors when initiating and controlling a drift, but does BMW do that philosophy justice? It’s time to highlight what BMWs can do—with no traction.
While I’ve participated in a few drift events at my local kart track, my enthusiasm for the discipline only grew after my (rather) recent Pazifik Eskapade trip with the LA chapter of the CCA to the BMW Performance Driving Center West in Thermal, California.
I’ll level with you all—as much as it bruises my wannabe racecar driver alter ego, I’m no Ken Block. In other words, I wasn’t expecting to be fast, or competitive for that matter, during the events of the day, especially with no track experience. I was, however, expecting to have an incredible time. My prediction proved correct for most of the grip-based events—I drove harder than I ever had, grinning the entire time, but I was getting crushed by the expeditious times of the other more experienced members. My luck seemed to change tremendously, however, once I got behind the wheel of an M5 for the rat race.
For those of you that have yet to visit the Performance Center, the so-called, “rat race” is an event held at the on-site circular drift track, which is made of polished concrete that is hosed down by the instructors and guaranteed to get you sideways—which it certainly did. With the M5’s xDrive system set to deliver power exclusively to the rear wheels instead of all four, something clicked, and I went from timid commuter to Tokyo Drifter in seconds. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I figured out the right oversteer-throttle ratio to control the M5’s slides, and a thick plume of smoke erupting from the smoking Michelins behind me rewarded my efforts. Was I actually better at drifting than I was at grip driving? It was certainly ironic, and I tried to piece together why this event was easier for me than the others. I was enraptured by the experience. Was it my skill? Psh. More like lack thereof—I had zero experience. Was it the incredible coaching of the instructors? Quite possibly. Was it the car? We’re getting warmer.
The M5, without a doubt, was largely responsible for my success in the rat race. It has a long wheelbase, instantaneous power delivery, and a surplus of galloping ponies on tap. It was the perfect recipe for a drift car, and each slide was effortless and controllable. I was beyond happy that I had the opportunity to experience it then, and I am looking forward to doing it again.
That being said, the M5’s ability to powerslide through life shouldn’t have been as much of a shock to me as it was. Enthusiasts have been breaking traction in BMWs for decades, with bimmers both new and old. Whether it was an E30 or the quintessential E36, as long as you had decent torque, rear-wheel drive, and a limited-slip differential, you were in for a good time.
Today, if you’re looking for a new, slide-happy BMW, you have quite a few options—and the officials in Munich want to make sure you know what you’re getting, with some impressive ad campaigns and magnificent cinematography.
As a result, you can pretty much find a drift-worthy BMW for any budget.
These Munich monsters may be well-known for sweeping road-racing podiums, but their skills are much more widespread and diverse than just that. Leaving rubber on the track with a perfect choreography of oversteer ballet is also one of their many talents.
You already knew I was going to put the M5 on this list, right? With two Guinness World Records for the longest drift and the longest tandem drift, the M5 inscribes its own legacy into drift history as the ultimate tire punisher. A long wheelbase, coupled with a healthy 600 horsepower makes the M5 the ultimate drift weapon. While the latest all-wheel-drive F90 generation M5 can have its power-delivery electronically directed only to the rear wheels instead of all four, enthusiasts know that any generation will be more than happy to swing the rear end around. F10, E60, E39, E28, or a manual E34 M5—you’re guaranteed to be smiling when you you mash the throttle.
The M4 Coupé was unveiled in 2014 from behind a curtain of smoke, literally. It made its video debut around the same time, laying down rubber on nothing other than an aircraft carrier afloat in a tumultuous sea. As if that level of tire abuse wasn’t satisfying enough, famed rally and drift driver Rhys Millen also ripped a stunning M4 CS around the Nordschleife for Pennzoil. Not a bad day at the office, I’d say.
Once it has been allowed to build boost, the high-revving turbos provide ample torque and rocket power to the rear wheels, a palpable g-force evident as you’re launched forward. I experienced this behavior first hand at our Pazifik Eskapade event when my lead-foot got the best of me around an apex on South Palm Circuit and the tail stepped out—oops. The resulting powerslide made it all worth it, though.
During my Pazifik Eskapdes trip, I also had the privilege of riding shotgun in the Continental Tire F80 M3 while instructor Christopher Hill absolutely demolished the small autocross circuit, with zero mechanical sympathy. Everyone in the car lost their hat as Hill took each turn at full speed, bouncing over the tarmac and laying a wheel in the dirt once or twice, the Conty tires screaming for traction the entire time, but finding none. When he decelerated into the drop-off, I snuck a glance at the rear rubber and was delighted to find that they were smoking. “That’s how a BMW should be driven,” I remember saying, and that particular F80 made it obvious to me that it was more than happy to do just that.
The executives at BMW seem to share a similar sentiment, as they’ve released numerous videos online showcasing the M3’s maneuverability and well-balanced cornering, with one Münchner Wirte livery-clad example power-sliding in celebration of Oktoberfest, while an M1 Pro car with a similar livery looks on.
1M and M2
There’s a reason why the M2 was modeled after the legendary 1 Series M Coupe. With a shorter wheelbase, lighter chassis, impeccable handling, and a proper three-pedal setup, both cars are a masterclass in automotive precision. The level of refinement that is present in such a small package makes them an obvious choice for the enthusiast looking to set solid lap times on grip days and get sideways on drift days. It’s the perfect balance.
The 1M’s precise, immaculate turn-in has been displayed on numerous occasions, but none more notable than the time BMW let it rip on top of a helipad. The 1M does not even have the word ‘error’ in its vocabulary—there’s simply no margin for it, especially when you’re power drifting through concrete walls at high speeds, as in this video.
While I think we can all agree that we wouldn’t mind more than one bimmer in the garage, sometimes we need a daily-driver that does everything, except breaking the bank. Below you’ll find some of my personal favorites, capable of dominating grip, drift, and your local interstate.
You’ve heard of flash mobs, but I doubt you’ve ever heard the words ‘drift mob’ uttered aloud. Back in 2014, BMW took the M235i sports coupe out for a good ol’ synchronized slide around a Cape Town roundabout. While not as fast as its full-blown M sibling, the M235i is lighter and arguably more agile than its big brother, which means that quick pivoting and fluid counter-steering is not a problem for this M-Performance machine. That, and you can commute to work the next day, no problem—minus some tread on those summer Michelins.
Ah, yes, the catalyst for many drift careers. The 328is is a highly-sought after BMW, and for good reason. It’s relatively inexpensive, it has the naturally-aspirated M52, the bulletproof ZF 5-speed manual, and of course a limited slip differential, an addition indicated by the ‘is’ badging adorning its rear fascia. With well-seasoned German technology under the hood, you’re also benefitting from a wealth of community knowledge. With the E36’s popularity comes a cult following, and consequently, a massive selection of aftermarket parts, at affordable prices. So, next time someone harasses you about buying another project car, you can assure them it was a frugal choice (while also asserting that you do not have a BMW addiction).
I think it’s safe to assume that all car enthusiasts have dreamed about being a professional racecar driver at least once in their life. The drivers below achieved their dream, along with the construction of some insane BMW builds. I will make a disclaimer for the purists and say that while these drift builds are not true BMWs, they are nonetheless remarkable.
HGK Eurofighter E46, E92, F22-Kristaps Bluss
If you’re not familiar with HGK Motorsports, I recommend that you become acquainted. This Latvia-based drift team has some seriously bonkers builds, and the implementation of their own research and development into their creations never ceases to amaze me. HGK’s Kristaps Bluss, a professional drifter and racecar driver, has been behind the wheel of some of my favorite mutant BMW builds over the years.
Bluss is an absolute madman, and if I knew any better I’d say that his brain doesn’t register fear. He’s drifted his supercharged V8 E46 M3 through an abandoned Soviet military compound in Latvia with fellow Formula Drift driver Ryan Tuerck (in an E92 M3), piloted a multitude of other E46s, and more importantly, has professionally drifted my favorite E92 M3 drift build of all time, the Eurofighter.
The E92 M3 Eurofighter is a top-tier example of what happens when you have a crazy vision and a talented engineering team. The full-custom, F22 Raptor fighter jet-inspired Carbon/Kevlar exterior encompasses the mechanical beauty of the FD-spec E92, which boasts a 9,000-rpm, 900-horsepower, naturally-aspirated, fire-breathing Chevrolet LS-based V8. Although the car has seen many forms over the course of a few Formula Drift seasons, many modifications stayed put, including a dual-core radiator mounted in the trunk, a 10-gallon fuel cell, Wilwood brakes, Samsonas 5-Speed Sequential transmission, HGK hydraulic E-brake, and Meister L1 3P 3-Piece wheels, to name a few. It sounds brilliant too, that is, if you don’t mind going deaf in the process.
This particular Eurofighter also happens to be the successor to HGK’s original F22 iteration of the same name, which used a 2 Series Coupé and a similar LS V8 power plant as its foundation. The bells and whistles on the resulting creation need not be addressed—only admired. The HGK team without a doubt knows how to craft the perfect drift car, right down to every nut and bolt.
BMW’s pronounced motorsport legacy, as you can see, would not be complete without at least a cursory mention of its drift talents. With a splendid 50:50 weight distribution, precise handling, and superb power delivery, it only makes sense that our favorite bimmers would also make proficient drift machines. I know I’ll be putting that statement to the test with my future M, because life is best lived sideways.—Malia Murphy
[Photos Courtesy BMW AG, BMW M, HGK Motorsport, Jordan Butters for SpeedHunters, Larry Chen for SpeedHunters.]