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A Perfect Day, An Incredible Machine, A Dream Fulfilled: Driving the G87 BMW M2 in Japan

The sun hangs overhead, casting a brilliant glow on the crisp winter air, while the roads encircling me paint a breathtaking picture. As I approach a tightening curve, the vibrant surroundings transform from a motion-blurred spectacle to crystal clear clarity as I dig into the brake pedal and rapidly hit the downshift paddle. With the six-piston calipers up front biting down hard, Fourth, third, and second, arrive — as the resonating echoes of the exhaust reverberate through the mountainous terrain with thunderous claps.

There’s little time to savour the moment though as I unwind the steering wheel and ease into the throttle to once again unleash 453 horses as the hairpin opens up into a long sweeping curve revealing the magnificent sight of a snow-capped Mt Fuji in the distance. It is a splendid sight and a majestic beauty that belies the awesome power lying deep within. But with the cacophony of slightly more minute explosions bursting out the rear pipes of my exhaust, my focus sharpens again as I dive into the next bend. This is Hakone, Japan, and I’m behind the wheel of a BMW M2.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The Backstory

It’s 1998, and a much younger and more impressionable version of myself was about to embark on his first-ever trip to Japan—a genuine adventure beyond the borders of Singapore. Despite a somewhat rushed itinerary covering the essentials of Kansai and Tokyo, the experience was transformative. As a fervent automotive enthusiast engrossed in games like Gran Turismo, this initial visit during the golden era of JDM sportscars left an indelible mark on my life. Even in the outskirts, I encountered a multitude of Skylines, RX7s, Fairladys, numerous 180SXs and Silvias, and the occasional NSX. A serendipitous sighting of an Autech 4-door GTR added a touch of automotive rarity to the experience.

It was also during this visit that, albeit from the confines of a minibus, I first laid eyes on the roads of Hakone, driven by my Japanese teacher, who turned out to be a fan of the Touge as well in his S130 Fairlady!

As I stood on the edge of the rest stop nonchalant to the slight drizzle of rain lightly misting down my jacket I caught sight of Hakone’s meandering roads, A delicate fog descended upon the asphalt like a spectral veil. Amid the occasional crackle of branches and the haunting wind, it seemed as though time had momentarily paused, if only for a few milliseconds. At that moment, I made a silent promise to myself – one day, I will be back to drive these roads.

As we all know, time has a way of altering plans. Despite visiting Japan almost every year for nearly two decades, I never managed to return to Hakone, at least not in the manner I initially envisioned (I’m pretty sure Pirate ships don’t count). Until now.

Interestingly, while I never did make it back to drive in Japan, my love for cars never waned and through years of hard work or perhaps just sheer luck, I’ve had the pleasure of driving some amazing BMWs in a multitude of beautiful locations. It was during one of these overseas assignments that I had the opportunity to meet a representative from BMW Group Japan. I think you can see where this is going.

Enter BMW Group Japan. Enter the Hakone Turnpike.

As I navigated through Tokyo’s congested roads en route towards destiny, the G87 M2, generously entrusted to me by BMW Group Japan, effortlessly devoured the motorway miles (or kilometers). Despite certain critiques about the new M2’s more mature handling compared to its predecessor, the heightened stability and improved ride quality derived from its M3/M4 chassis contributed significantly to the overall enjoyment of the commute.

It didn’t take very long before the signs towards one of Japan’s most legendary and iconic roads loomed into view.

Extending just over 15 kilometers with an elevation climb of over 1,000 meters, the Hakone Turnpike was inaugurated in 1969 as a toll road (with a mostly 50km/h speed limit) linking Odawara to Yugawara. Over the years, it underwent a couple of name alterations, featuring brand sponsorships from Toyo Tires and Mazda. Presently, the toll road is under the ownership of the Hakone Turnpike subsidiary of the Central Nippon Expressway Company, going by the name Anest Iwata Turnpike. With my entry toll paid, it was time to fulfill a childhood dream.

So delightful is the M2’s torque, so accessible is its power, and so surefooted, competent, and confidence-inspiring is the handling that I find myself pushing harder and harder as the altitude rises. Relentlessly encouraging me to explore its limits with its Turbocharged S58’s heartbeat playfully dancing up and down the digital tachometer with each flick of my wrists. Powering down a long sweeping bend, the M2 leans just enough to communicate what’s happening, and as I keep the throttle down, I feel the rear end dig into the ground as the M2’s computerized active differentials perform their mathematical wizardry to provide the best possible power delivery.

With the Turnpike’s sweeping curves that hug the hillsides and stretches of tarmac that punch through dense forest and trees before opening up into a beautifully scenic bridge for you to power through. This combination of road and machine provided an almost dream-like driving experience, offering a smooth, intoxicating journey so beautifully presented and so enjoyable to sample that I catch myself on multiple occasions wishing it never ends.

Skylines and skylines.

As I summit the Turnpike, my day has only just begun. Pulling into the Anest rest stop, my eyes catch a glimpse of a beautiful Hakosuka Skyline. Judging by its battle scars, it seems to be in a similar Touge-hunting mood.

Sporting its dings, scratches, dirt, and chips with pride, this vintage Nissan hotrod looks far from a garage queen.

Despite the GT-X insignia in the cabin, implying its likely modest beginnings, the fat, worn tires, wheels coated with brake dust, exhaust-stained rear panels, and fully stripped-out, caged interior signal a build that transcends mere aesthetics. Could that S20 window decal offer a glimpse of what truly hides beneath its bonnet?

It seems I wasn’t the only one captivated by the allure of the Hakosuka Skyline, as its distinctive features, battle scars, and unique modifications garnered attention and admiration from fellow travelers at the Anest rest stop.

With lunch devoured, it was time to ignite the M2 for the picturesque journey along the Tsubaki Line and Izu Skyline Touge roads. These winding roads, characterized by narrower paths, intricate bends, and blind corners, occasionally unveil expansive and breathtaking views of Mt. Fuji. As I unleash the power of the S58 once more, let’s circle back to our introduction as I power down a short straightaway into a blind crest before dabbing on the brakes to rein in the charging Bavarian, Orbital’s Halycon On and On playing in the background as the M2 flawlessly and joyously absorbs every moment of the drive, never missing a beat.

Taking a moment at a secluded but very picturesque side road to also rein in my adrenaline, I found myself pondering the significance of the colour red. Beyond its visual allure, this scarlet hue embodies essences of passion, joy, happiness, celebration, and vitality. Characteristics that resonated perfectly with how it has felt powering this rouge beauty through the dynamic landscapes of Hakone.

The Perfect Partner.

With traffic ahead, I settled into the cruise along the West Izu Skyline, the M2 gracefully navigating the winding roads leading to the coastal town of Numazu, Shizuoka. The scenery unfolds in a captivating display of nature’s beauty, enhancing my sense of awe and exhilaration. The memories of the exuberant morning drive lingered, merging seamlessly with the present moment. It was sheer bliss and the M2 was the perfect partner to enjoy it with. Until I saw it, as the lumbering bus ahead of me pulled off, I caught sight of the unmistakable rear end of a G82 M4. Without hesitation, I punched the M2 button, prompting a burst of acceleration as I eagerly closed in on the M4 whose driver, likely sensing the impending arrival of his car’s baby sibling, responded by unleashing the power of the M4, it was go time.

It must have been quite the spectacle as we gracefully danced along the winding roads of Nishi-Izu Skyline, the M4 leading while I kept pace. Two of Munich’s finest machines playfully carving up and down the mountains in unison, with the M4 occasionally surging into the distance, aided by a driver much more acquainted with these roads. As the M4 pulled away into the distance as I hooked a left into another narrow Touge road leading towards Numazu, it felt like a beautiful moment that perfectly encapsulated the phrase “Freude Am Fahren” had just unfolded.

Numazu, Toronto, and Mount Fuji.

Nestled along the picturesque Shizuoka coastline and with roots dating back to ancient times, Numazu has evolved into a modern town while retaining its historical essence. Known for its tranquil atmosphere, coastal charm, seafood offerings and local markets, This scenic coastal town offers a mix of coastal simplicity and natural beauty ideal for a noteworthy stop on any road journey. Me? I only had time to stop for a photo. But what a view!

As the sun cast its warm glow on the G87’s Toronto Red body, I marveled at the fresh aesthetic perspective it offered compared to the Zandvoort Blue example I drove in Singapore. While the M2’s signature baby blue shade may attract attention, it doesn’t handle reflections, depth, and shadows as effectively as this crimson beauty. Complemented by the 930M Bicolour wheels, the new M2’s more daring and assertive design language truly came to life, especially with Mt. Fuji in the background, creating a truly breathtaking sight.

Chasing the sun, chasing a dream.

With this picturesque scene etched in my memory, the next leg of my journey led me along the coastal roads of Numazu, through the city of Mishima towards my next Touge. The city’s traffic slowed my progress considerably, and the sunlight was slowly but surely subsiding by the time I reached the Ashinoko Skyline.

Linking National Route 1 near Hakone Pass to Kojiri on the northern shores of Lake Ashi, the Ashinoko Skyline is a picturesque toll road winding along the border of Kanagawa and Shizuoka prefectures on the western side of Hakone. Tracing the western ridge of the Hakone mountains, it offers vistas of Lake Ashi, Mt. Fuji, Mishima city, Numazu city, Suruga Bay, and the Izu Peninsula. As I pulled into a viewpoint with the sun setting, words almost failed to capture the awe-inspiring scene unfolding before me. It was truly a spectacular sight.

With my dream now fulfilled, I couldn’t help but feel a surge of emotion. The beauty of the moment was overwhelming, and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. Thank you BMW Group Japan, it was the best drive I’ve ever had and the G87 M2 will forever remain special.

It was now time to have dinner and return to Tokyo. Thank you for reading.

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